Chapter 16: Israeli-Palestine Conflict

This is a short history of the U.S.’s foreign policy toward Palestine, from the bloody, genocidal establishment of Israel, to the present. It is Chapter 16 in my book: Racism, Empire and Genocide: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy.

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Chapter 16: Israeli-Palestine Conflict

Like most of the U.S.’s foreign policy initiatives, a complete study of this issue would take volumes.  This work only attempts to portray the conflict in its place in U.S. foreign policy since the founding of the state of Israel, which was accomplished only through the shocking displacement of several hundred-thousand Palestinians.

On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote to Lord Rothschild what came to be known as the Balfour Declaration. This officially proclaimed British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Sadly, this declaration didn’t consider the wishes or rights of the millions of Palestinians who were to be driven out of their homes to accommodate this new nation. The U.S. media at the time seldom mentioned the Palestinian people, and portrayed their struggle for independence as opposition to the establishment of a Jewish state. In the Balfour Declaration, the Palestinians were only referred to as ‘existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.’

“Despite the fact that there was considerable evidence of the extreme nationalistic drive behind the Zionist movement, which was its motivating force, American journals gave a good press to the Zionists’ alleged goal of building a democratic commonwealth in Palestine. How this would be possible when the Arabs constituted two-thirds of the population and were opposed to Zionism, did not seem to be a relevant question to many of the magazines.”[1]

This was only the start of the long-standing, globally-perpetrated injustices to the Palestinian people, injustices that the U.S. has been instrumental in fostering.

Zionist had long wanted their own nation, and looked to Palestine as its sight. The Balfour Declaration came about after years of negotiations with various world leaders.

The unspeakable hypocrisy of the United States is highlighted when looking at the establishment of the nation of Israel in Palestine. The right of peoples to self-determination, recorded as early as the city-states of Mesopatamia, Greece and Rome, was incorporated into the U.S. Declaration of Independence:  “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed….” On May 27, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson said that “Every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live.”[2]

Mr. Wilson continued his lofty rhetoric, saying on February 11, 1918, that “National aspirations must be respected; peoples may not be dominated and governed only by their own consent.”[3]Further: “Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.”[4]

While these principles are continually expressed from the White House, regardless of its occupant, and reiterated from the halls of Congress, they are no more than meaningless platitudes, empty words spoken to foster, at least in the minds of U.S. citizens, the myth of the U.S. as a nation seeking to further the independence and democratic aspirations of people worldwide. However, “The prolongation of conflict in the Middle East is mainly caused by Israel’s denial of the right of the Palestinian people to exercise self-determination in their historic homeland. The United States, because of its unconditional political, moral, economic and military support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, must bear heavy responsibility for the continuing state of unrest in the region.”[5]

On January 8, 1918, President Wilson addressed a joint session of Congress, and presented fourteen points, a statement of basic principles outlining the goals of the post-war global environment. Point Twelve reads as follows:

“The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.”[6]

These lofty goals, of course, could not be expected to stand in the way of U.S. strategic interests; self-determination and human rights are all well and good, as long as they don’t in any way inconvenience the United States. Mr. Wilson’s Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, was acutely aware of this. He arrived in France in December of 1918, and the President’s use of the term ‘self-determination’ troubled him greatly. “In his private notes he wrote that it was loaded with dynamite, might breed disorder, discontent and rebellion. His neat, logical mind saw it leading the President into strange contradictions. ‘Will not the Mohammedans of Syria and Palestine and possibly of Morocco and Tripoli rely on it? How can it be harmonized with Zionism, to which the President is practically committed?’ he asked himself.”[7] Heaven forbid the ‘Mohammedans’ rely on a promise of self-determination. In January of 1919, Wilson’s legal counselor, David Hunter Miller, advised the president that “the rule of self-determination would prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.”[8] And such a state had the firm backing of the president. On March 2, 1919, Mr. Wilson advised that he was “persuaded that the allied nations, with the fullest concurrence of our own government and people, are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of Jewish commonwealth.”[9]

This ‘foundation of a Jewish commonwealth’ would only come at the appalling cost of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the murders of countless thousands of them. And the numbers of displaced Palestinians would climb into the millions with the passage of time, as their right to self-determination continues to be thwarted by the United States.

“Contrary to Wilson’s public utterances contained in his point Twelve…Palestine was, in fact, handled precisely ‘upon the basis of the material interest’ and ‘advantage’ of other nations and was not based upon ‘the free acceptance of’ consultation with  ‘the people immediately concerned.’ The fate of Palestine was determined in accordance with what the Allies had already planned, in contradiction to Wilson’s publicly declared opposition to the implementation of secret treaties arrived at during the war.”[10]

The Anglo-American Convention of 3 December 1924 cemented the U.S.’s dominant role in the future of the Palestinian people. It stated that any change to the status of Palestine by the British be approved by the U.S., although any such change could be made without any input from the Palestinians. It further emphasized that the rights of U.S. missionaries in Palestine would be protected, but said nothing about protecting the rights of the Palestinians. “As the political and military status of the United States began to rise to preeminence in the global arena, the American government began to play a more and more substantial role in the denial of Palestinian rights.”[11]

Following World War II, the newly-formed United Nations, wanting to make some compensation to the international Jewish community for the unspeakable horrors it had suffered during the war, established the United Nations Special Committee for Palestine (UNSCOP), comprised of members with little experience in conflict resolution, and almost no knowledge of Palestine’s history. On November 29, 1947, General Assembly Resolution 181 was passed, recommending the partitioning of Palestine into two states.

“It is clear that by accepting the Partition Resolution, the UN totally ignored the ethnic composition of the country’s population. Had the UN decided to make the territory the Jews had settled on in Palestine correspond with the size of their future state, they would have entitled them to no more than ten per cent of the land. But the UN accepted the nationalist claims the Zionist movement was making for Palestine and, furthermore, sought to compensate the Jews for the Nazi holocaust in Europe.

As a result, the Zionist movement was ‘given’ a state that stretched over more than half of the country.”[12]

In order for the new Jewish settlers to enter, Palestinians had to leave. This was done with the consent of U.S. President Harry Truman.

Mr. Truman formed his opinions and polices on Palestine based on three aspects related far more to U.S. domestic polices than foreign needs.

1)      Lobbying by the Zionist movement. There appears to have been “…a concerted effort by American Jews to persuade Truman to ignore or override the advice of officials in the departments of State and Defense who opposed unequivocal American support for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.”[13] And while this probably had a significant impact on the president’s policies, he did eventually grow tired of the almost ceaseless lobbying efforts on behalf of partition. “As the pressure mounted, I found it necessary to give instructions that I did not want to be approached by any more spokesmen for the Zionist cause.”[14]

2)      Financial and electoral support for the election of 1948. The president, who came to office upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, did not appear in a good position to be elected for a term on his own merits. Democratic Party leaders felt that a supportive U.S. policy towards the establishment of Israel would benefit the president.

3)      Conflicts about partition and related issues among top Cabinet officials and senior staff. Mr. Truman seemed to vacillate between one group and the other, depending on domestic policies, global events, or even the strength of the arguments made by his advisors.

In the end, these forces compelled U.S. policy toward support for the creation of the Jewish state, with complete disregard for the rights or interests of the area’s majority Arab population. “It is questionable whether Truman thought through the long-term international consequences for American interest of his position on Palestine or if he simply responded to the pressure of the moment….[T]he president did not demonstrate any awareness of the humanitarian problems his policies were creating for the indigenous Arab inhabitants of Palestine.”[15]

In December of 1947, approximately 75,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes, most of them into refugee camps, all of them without any compensation for lost homes, farmlands, etc. By April of that same year, an additional 250,000 had been forced from their homes, carrying whatever possessions they could with them.  During this time, the Dier Yassin massacre took place. “A combined IZP and LHI (Zionist paramilitary groups at the time) unit, supported by Hagana (another Zionist paramilitary group that formed the basis for today’s Israeli Defense Forces) mortar fire, attacked and conquered Deir Yassin, an Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, not far from al-Qastal. During the takeover of the village, which up to that moment had remained out of the fighting, the Jewish forces massacred some 120 men, women and children, and the survivors were expelled to East Jerusalem. [David] Shaltiel [military commander of Jerusalem] objected to the operation, as the village was peaceful, and had not been involved in the fighting.”[16]

By the end of 1948, at least 750,000 Palestinians had been forcibly displaced from their homes, with thousands killed.

John Foster Dules, later Secretary of State under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “…was no stranger to the intractable problems surrounding the question of Palestine. His sympathetic attitude toward the Jews there was reflected in the active role he played in the adoption of a plank in the Republican convention platform of 1944 calling for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine and the protection of Jewish political rights in the area. He also supported and urged U.S. backing of the UN partition resolution of November, 1947.”[17] Not surprising, this set the tone for the Eisenhower administration’s attitude toward Israel and Palestine.

This support for Israel by Mr. Eisenhower was not always the case. Although providing humanitarian support to Jews after World War II in his role as military governor of Germany, he was not enthusiastic about the establishment of a Jewish state. Later, as president, he spoke to Philip Klutznick, the president of B’nai B’rith. He expressed “… his doubts as to whether he would have favored the establishment of Israel. But ‘now that it was done,’ said Eisenhower, ‘we’ll have to live with it.’”[18]

Mr. Eisenhower was concerned about the vast oil reserves that the Middle East had, as well as the Soviet ‘threat,’ as was the case with several predecessors and successors. He wanted ready access to the oil, expressing the need for it for both military and civilian purposes. He also felt that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict provided an opportunity for the Soviets to exploit the situation, and get a strong foothold in the Middle East.

The foreign policy of the Eisenhower administration was rooted in two basic goals: 1) protecting the oil supplies of the Middle East, and 2) minimizing any Soviet (read: communist) involvement in the region. Palestine had no direct control over any oil resources, and was not strong enough militarily to be seen as a target of Soviet interests. This might, one may think, exempt it from unwanted attention by the U.S. However, “Finding a resolution to the Arab-Israeli dispute and the Palestine issue…was important only insofar as the failure to do so might damage U.S. and Western relations with the Arab world, make Arab states susceptible to Soviet influence, and risk the security of Middle Eastern oil resources. In the 1950s, many in the Foreign Service felt that ‘the question of the future status of the Palestinians was one that, unless it were resolved promptly, would pose a far greater threat to the U.S. and Western influence in the area than would any overt moves by the communist bloc.’ Yet the polices made in Washington did not reflect this sense of urgency.”[19]

Eisenhower wanted to develop strong ties with all anti-communist countries in the Middle East, rather than simply favoring Israel, as President Truman had eventually done.  In the spring of 1953, Secretary of State Dulles went on a fact-finding trip to the Near East and South Asia. In a radio address following this trip, he addressed the American people via radio.

“Closely huddles around Israel are most of the over 800,000 Arab refugees, who fled from Palestine as the Israeli took over. They exist mostly in makeshift camps, with few facilities either for health, work or recreation….

The United States should seek to allay the deep resentment against it that has resulted from the creation of Israel. In the past we had good relations with the Arab peoples….

Today the Arab peoples are afraid that the United States will back the new state of Israel in aggressive expansionism. They are more fearful of Zionism than of communism, and they fear lest the United States become the backer of expansionist Zionism….

We cannot afford to be distrusted by millions who could be sturdy friends of freedom….

Israel should become part of the Near East community and cease to look upon itself, or be looked upon by others, as alien to this community. To achieve this will require concessions on the part of both sides.”[20]

While these sentiments would be proclaimed for years, recognition of Palestine as a national group was never considered.

The administration of President John F. Kennedy ushered in a new epoch in U.S.-Israeli relations, and consequently, in U.S. – Palestinian relations. Mr. Kennedy was concerned about the problem of Palestinian refugees, and sought to alleviate it. The basis for his efforts was Paragraph 11 of United Nations General Assembly Resolution of December 11, 1948. It reads as follows:

“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Government or authorities responsible.”[21]

Mr. Kennedy wanted the refugees to decide what they wanted: a return to their homes, or resettlement with compensation.

His efforts were opposed by Israel, which saw the return of the refugees as a threat to their national security. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion told the Knesset that “Israel categorically rejects the insidious proposal for freedom of choice for the refugees, for she is convinced that this proposal is designed and calculated only to destroy Israel. There is only one practical and fair solution for the problem of the refugees: to resettle them among their own people in countries having plenty of good land and water and which are in need  of additional manpower.”[22]

The Palestinians and other Arab states, too, were not impressed with Mr. Kennedy’s efforts. They worried that a resolution of the refugee problem would cause their national aspirations to be ignored. Egyptian President Abdul Nasser saw Mr. Kennedy’s proposal as a possible trap. “The trap, he warned, was that Arab states were invited to take the initiative in proposing a solution of the refugee problem ‘on the assumption that that would lead to the disintegration of the Palestine Question altogether.”[23]

President Kennedy was also the first U.S. president to praise Israel in emotional terms. In addressing the Zionist Organization of America in August of 1960, shortly before his election, he said that “friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter, it is a national commitment.”[24]

Mr. Kennedy’s electoral victory three months later may also have influenced his policies toward Israel, and certainly played a role in his successors’ policies. In the November, 1960 presidential election, Mr. Kennedy garnered an astounding (at that time) 80% of the Jewish vote. U.S. politicians, always with an eye on the next election, do not want to alienate such a lucrative voting gold mine; again, human rights, and the lofty talk of self-determination take a distant back seat to political expediency.

With the November, 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, assumed office. President Johnson had no interest in resolving the refugee problem that Mr. Kennedy had worked on; the Democratic Party platform on which Mr. Johnson was elected the following year included a provision to “encourage the resettlement of Arab refugees in lands where there is room and opportunity.”[25] Work by the U.S. towards any kind of an equitable resolution for the refugees, such as it was, died with Mr. Kennedy.

Mr. Johnson, kindly disposed to Israel, was surrounded by advisors who had that nation’s best interests at heart. These included Arthur Goldberg, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations; Eugene V. Rostow, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and John Roche, a speech-writer and close advisor. Additionally, Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman and Ephraim Evron, Israeli Minister at the Embassy, were personal friends of Mr. Johnson, and had easy access to the White House.

Mr. Johnson’s biggest investment in the Palestinian-Israel conflict was the June, 1967 War. The detailed causes of this war are beyond the scope of this work. Suffice it to say that years of hostility between Israel and its Arab neighbors culminated in deep suspicion and distrust on both sides. From 1965 – 1967, Israel staged countless provocations along its border with Syria. There was a strong belief by the Syrians and the Soviet Union that Israel was planning to overthrow the government of Syria. In April of 1967, an incident in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria let to military action on both sides.

The following month, Israel threatened military action against Syria, for that country’s alleged support of Palestinian guerillas. At the end of the month, Egypt and Jordan signed a formal defense pact and the following day, the Iraqi army began deploying troops and armored units within Jordan, at Jordan’s invitation.  Israel, on June 5, launched an air strike, thus starting what became known as the Six-Day War.

President Johnson did not appear to be in much of a dilemma about how to respond. “The line of least resistance in the Middle East ran to Israel, as always since 1948. Pressure from the pro-Israel lobby encouraged Johnson to approve arms deliveries to Israel. His attempts to arrange third-party suppliers suggest that he might not have approved unpressured, despite his own personal concern for Israel’s safety. Pro-Israel pressure made it impossible for him to apply strong sanctions to prevent a preemptive Israeli attack in June 1967. In this instance, Johnson probably did not need the pressure to act as he did, since he sympathized with Israel’s predicament.”[26]

In 1968, with the Vietnam War raging out of control and U.S. universities and streets burning with opposition to it, the president decided not to seek what would have been his second full term. In November of 1968, Richard M. Nixon was elected president.

President Nixon entered office with less obligation to Israel, and less knowledge about Palestine, than most of his predecessors. He received only about 15% of the Jewish vote, and seemed pleased to tell visitors that “the Jewish lobby had no effect on him.”[27] In his memoirs, he wrote of his concern about Israel’s arrogance, especially as demonstrated following the 6-Day War. He described “…an attitude of total intransigence on negotiating any peace agreement that would involve the return of any of the territories they had occupied.”[28]

Mr. Nixon, at least privately, espoused a more balanced approach to the Middle East. “It is apparent that Nixon, as president, was not only acutely aware of the incestuous triangle between Israel, its American supporters, and the White House, but that he was determined to steer his own course.”[29] With this in mind, he sent former Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton to the Middle East, ostensibly to study the situation, but actually to gauge the reaction to a change in U.S. policy toward the Middle East, and to introduce the idea of such a change. Mr. Scranton publicly stated upon his return that a more ‘even-handed’ approach was required.

“As predictable as Scranton’s conclusion was the uproar the remark incited from Israel and from Jewish Americans who considered such a ‘more even-handed’ attitude as anti-Israel, even as proof of anti-Semitism.”[30]

Unfortunately, this new, ‘even-handed’ approach was not meant to be. Mr. Nixon had envisioned a figurehead secretary of state and, in appointing William Rogers, he got exactly what he wanted. Mr. Rogers had little ambition, and even less experience in foreign affairs, and the president instructed him to tame the agency’s “recalcitrant bureaucracy,”[31] and leave the running of foreign affairs to Mr. Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger.

Mr. Nixon had his hands full with Vietnam, but he was also concerned about Russia and China, and Japan’s growing influence. The Middle East wasn’t much of a concern, and that is the only area of the world that he assigned to Secretary of State Rogers. Mr. Rogers’ efforts were mainly to counter “… the intransigence of Israel, a country of only 3 million or so people, a country, moreover, that was totally dependent on the good will and economic support of the United States.  Finally, Rogers had much to bring to the problem: honesty, integrity, objectivity, and experience in government, if not in the Middle East.

“But he was lacking two essentials: the trust of the Israelis and the respect of Nixon’s new National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger.”[32]

Mr. Kissinger had little knowledge of the issues of the Middle East. However, his parents had fled Germany shortly before the Holocaust, and his bias was plainly towards Israel. He had never visited an Arab country, and had been to Israel only three times. This bias was plainly manifested in his dealings with Secretary Rogers. He encouraged U.S. and foreign ambassadors to go directly to him, completely bypassing the State Department.

It must be remembered that President Nixon was a hard-line anti-communist, who saw all world events in this context. Every conflict on the globe was somehow related, in his mind, to the struggle between the U.S.’s rather loosely-defined version of freedom and democracy, against communist encroachment and aggression. Mr. Kissinger shared this skewed belief. Both believed that the Soviets wanted a strong presence in the Middle East only for oil, land and power, rather than any sympathy to Arab nationalism.

Also, reference to Palestinians only appears three times in Mr. Nixon’s memoirs. Focused on the perceived aggression of the Soviets in ‘Arab’ lands, he had little interest in the finer points of the conflicts.

In order to counter what he saw as Soviet advances in the Middle East, President Nixon wanted to improve relations with Arab nations, relations that had been tenuous at best prior to the 1967 war, but were shattered at that time. It was on this point that he and Mr. Kissinger differed.

The U.S. at this time only had relations with Israel, and that suited Mr. Kissinger. “Rather than make any effort toward the Arab states, much less the Palestinians, Kissinger felt the United States should let them stew until they came begging to Washington.”[33]He later wrote: “I thought delay was on the whole in our interests because it enabled us to demonstrate even to radical Arabs that we were indispensable to any progress.”[34]

Those knowledgeable about the Middle East didn’t agree with this analysis. Global issues of communism versus capitalism were, if anything at all, a very minor part of conflicts caused by issues about local control of land and water. Middle East experts saw the dispossession of the Palestinian people and the expansion of Israeli settlements as a major source of conflict in the region.

Mr. Nixon wanted to encourage greater cooperation and diplomacy with the Middle East; Mr. Kissinger preferred to keep things the way they were, with Israel the U.S.’s only ally in the region.

In September, 1970, so called ‘Black September,’ civil war erupted in Jordan. Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan, many refugees from the dispossession of 1947-1948, as well as the 1967 war, sought to take power. Syria, siding with the Palestinians, eventually sent tanks into Jordan to support them. The Palestinian population of Jordan at that time exceeded that of Jordanians. President Nixon, characteristically, saw this conflict through the lens of communist aggression, although there was no evidence at the time, nor has any come forth since, to indicate that the Soviet Union anticipated this conflict any more than the U.S. did. It was this conflict, perhaps, that was a turning point in U.S.-Israel relations. Mr. Kissinger requested Israeli assistance in the war to include a reconnaissance mission, and the possibility of air and land strikes against Syria.

Israel was hesitant to do so, without some very specific assurances from the U.S. Israel demanded, and received, U.S. promises that the U.S. would protect Israel from any Soviet or Egyptian aggression. They also wanted additional weapons, and this, too, was granted. Israel did deploy forces along its borders with Jordan and Syria, but no other action was needed by that nation. Before Israel was asked to make land or air strikes, Jordanian troops pushed Syrian troops back into their own country, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were driven out of Jordan, going mostly to Lebanon, and the conflict ended.

For Mr. Nixon, this was a clear victory in the U.S. – Soviet conflict that consumed him. Said he: “We could not allow Hussein to be overthrown by a Soviet-inspired insurrection. If it succeeded, the entire Middle East might erupt in war…the possibility of a direct U.S. – Soviet confrontation was uncomfortably high. It was a ghastly game of dominoes, with nuclear war waiting at the end.”[35]

Messrs. Nixon and Kissinger publically proclaimed this a global crisis that was resolved by the U.S., with assistance from Israel, and one that thwarted the efforts of the Soviet Union. “This distorted beyond recognition Moscow’s role, which most analysts now agree was limited to cautioning Syria, and greatly exaggerated Israel’s contribution.”[36]

Despite Israel’s very limited contribution to the war, Mr. Kissinger was effusive in his thanks to Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin. “The President will never forget Israel’s role in preventing the deterioration in Jordan and in blocking the attempt to overturn the regime there. He said that the United States is fortunate in having an ally like Israel in the Middle East. These events will be taken into account in all future developments.”[37]

Those events, or at least Mr. Kissinger’s interpretation of them, were indeed taken into account. “During 1971, U.S. aid to Israel was dramatically increased to nearly five times the largest amount and close to fifty times the smallest amount given in any previous year.”[38]

After President Nixon’s resignation, his successor, Gerald Ford, was too busy with trying to keep the country together, and overseeing the end of the Vietnam War, to spend much time on the Middle East. His short administration ended when he was defeated for election by Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Carter campaigned on a pro-Israel, anti-Palestine platform that had gained so much popularity in the U.S.  Yet as president, he demonstrated in the eyes of some, more openness toward the Palestinians than his campaign rhetoric may have intimated. “Indications that the administration might be moving away from a completely pro-Israeli stance and toward consideration of Palestinian rights elicited a predictable reaction from the Zionist lobby. Most Zionists viewed the struggle as a zero sum game in which recognition of the Palestinians – on any level – was a loss for Israel; recognition of, or negotiation with, the Palestinians was therefore totally unacceptable.”[39] Yet their concerns were unfounded; as president, Mr. Carter never seemed to consider the feasibility of a separate Palestinian nation.

This attitude was not uniform among the Carter Administration. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski certainly supported the president’s view, but in a letter to Mr. Brzezinski from the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James E. Atkins, Mr. Atkins said this: “…there could be no peace in the Middle East unless the rights of the Palestinians are recognized; that this includes the right of self-determination; and that everyone knows the Palestinians want a state of their own.”[40]

A Harris poll administered in 1979 asked the U.S. public to agree or disagree with this statement: “As the most powerful force among Palestinian Arabs, the PLO should be in on negotiations about Gaza or the West Bank, even if the PLO are terrorists.”[41] The bias in this statement is apparent, but it serves to highlight the general attitude toward the Palestinians during this timeframe.  Fifty-seven percent of respondents disagreed with the statement, while 34% agreed.

Mr. Carter presided over the Camp David Accords, a two-framework agreement that was supposed to bring peace to the Middle East. The first of the two dealt with Palestine, and nothing in it was ever achieved. The second led to a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

With multiple problems plaguing him both domestically and internationally, Mr. Carter was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1980, and former actor and governor of California, Ronald Reagan, became president.

Reagan, like President Nixon before him, saw any global conflicts as somehow a manifestation of the Soviet ‘threat’. One way he felt that that threat could be countered was by strengthening U.S. ties with Israel, thereby preventing the Soviet Union from gaining a strong foothold in the Middle East. As a result, his policies were often conflicting. He declared early in his administration that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories were not illegal, despite years of global condemnation of those settlements, including by the United Nations.  In 1982,”He sought to reassure Israel by declaring that the United States would ‘not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the west Bank and Gaza,’ and would endorse Israel’s request for changes in the 1967 territorial lines so as to ensure its security. But he also tried to reassure the Palestinians by declaring that ‘we will not support annexation of permanent control by Israel,’ and by calling for ‘the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel.’”[42]

The first sustained diplomatic efforts to resolve Mid-East problems during the eight years of the Reagan Administration resulted from the intifada of 1987. The U.S. recognized that the long-stalled peace process had led to the uprisings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Secretary of State George Shultz created a plan to hopefully resolve the underlying issues. He called for 1) the convening of an international conference; 2) a six-month negotiating period that would bring about an interim phase for Palestinian self-determination for the West Bank and Gaza Strip; 3) a date of December, 1988 for the start of talks between Israel and Palestine for the final resolution of the conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir immediately rejected this plan, claiming that it did nothing to forward the cause of peace. In response, the U.S. issued a new memorandum, emphasizing economic and security agreements with Israel, and accelerating the delivery of seventy-five F-16 fighter jets. This, ostensibly, was to encourage Israel to accept the peace plan proposals. Yet Israel did not yield. “Instead, as an Israeli journalist commented, the message received was: ‘One may say no to America and still get a bonus.’”[43]

During this time, support for U.S. policies toward the Israel-Palestine conflict began to shift. A Gallup survey in 1988 showed that 30% of Americans viewed Israel less favorably than had done so prior to the intifada. Also, as contrasted to the Harris survey of 1979, respondents in a February – March 1988 Gallup survey indicated that 53% favored direct U.S. talks with the PLO, with only 26% supporting official U.S. policies.[44]

President Reagan was succeeded in the White House by his Vice President, George H.W. Bush. President Bush’s administration saw the strengthening of U.S. – Israel ties, and further marginalization of the Palestinians.  This was done in a variety of ways:

  • Blocking the PLO from membership in multiple international organizations;
  • Complete disregard for unspeakable human rights violations committed by Israel against Palestinians living in the occupied territories;
  • A vision of peace based solely on Israel’s terms;
  • Opposition to U.N. resolutions addressing Israel’s violations of international law in crimes committed against the Palestinians;
  • Support for massive Jewish immigration to the occupied territories, and
  • Increasing financial assistance to Israel, despite that country’s pursuit of policies that contradicted U.S. principles.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times commented on the state of relations between the U.S. and Israel during the Bush Administration: “Although the Bush Administration’s whole approach to peacemaking is almost entirely based on terms dictated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the Israelis nevertheless see the Bush Administration as hostile.”[45] The ‘bonuses’ provided by the Reagan administration, given for Israel’s refusal to support U.S. policies, continued unabated.

Mr. Bush’s administration is perhaps best remembered for the Gulf War, the invasion to ‘liberate’ Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. “The Provisional Government of the State of Palestine refused to join the so-called Coalition put together by President Bush Sr. to attack Iraq, but instead did its levelheaded best, working in conjunction with Libya and Jordan, to produce a peaceful resolution of this inter-Arab dispute. For their policy of principle and peace, the Palestinian leadership and people were and still are unjustly but predictably vilified by the United States government and Western news media sources.”[46]

President Bush served one term and was defeated by Arkansas governor Bill Clinton.  President Clinton appointed people to high-level cabinet positions who had definite pro-Israel biases. CIA Director James Woolsey and Pentagon chief Les Aspin had long served both the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake had served in the Carter administration, but his deputy, Sandy Berger, had some association with American Friends of Peace Now, thus raising red flags in Israel. This represented a breach in the wall of Zionist organizations that stridently purported to represent Jewish voices in the U.S. In referring to these organizations that did not reflect the Zionist view, The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman said that “…their monopoly on representing Jewish positions is being broken.”[47]

In March of 1993, following clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in both Israel and the occupied Palestine territories, Yitzhak Rabin closed the borders between Israel and Palestine. This had a drastic detrimental effect on lives and basic subsistence for at least tens of thousands of Palestinians.  The Clinton Administration chose to look the other way, as Israel perpetrated this unspeakable act of collective punishment.

The U.S. press during this time toed the U.S. party line. Said The New York Times: “So far in the quid pro quo that is part of negotiations, the concessions have come from Israel. Next week, Israeli and American officials say, it is time for a significant gesture from the Palestinians.”[48]These concessions from Israel included allowing a prominent Palestinian to join the Palestinian delegation, and allowing several Palestinians expelled from Palestine to return. No one seemed to ask why Israel was in a position to allow either of these ‘concessions,’ since both seem to be issues for which the Palestinians alone should decide. Additionally, one might consider that the Palestinians had already made sufficient concessions by surrendering, at gunpoint, a large section of their country.

Following President Clinton’s two terms as president, George W. Bush was appointed by the Supreme Court, after losing the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore. Irregularities in polling in Florida caused the election to be brought before the highest court in the land, and Mr. Bush became president.

Like his predecessors, Mr. Bush was beholden to the Israeli lobby, and paid proper homage to it. Also like previous occupants of the White House, he saw human rights through the skewed lens of the U.S.’s definition of democracy. When Hamas was elected to power in the Gaza Strip in 2006, Congress approved a near-total ban on aid to Palestine. Outside observers generally saw this as a relatively free election, not encumbered by vote count fraud as experienced in the U.S. in 2000, in the election that brought Mr. Bush to power. “Noam Chomsky commented on this situation: ‘You are not allowed to vote the wrong way in a free election. That’s our concept of democracy. Democracy is fine as long as you do what we (the United States) says….’ An exchange between Hearst White House correspondent Helen Thomas and then White House spokesman Tony Snow is also enlightening. Ms. Thomas asked about the foreign aid ban.

‘Well,’ Mr. Snow replied, ‘the U.S. role is one of working with Israel and, when possible, with the Palestinians to try to generate a peace, the same it has always been, Helen’.
‘Then why is it bankrupting the Palestinians?’ she interrupted.
‘The Palestinians are not being bankrupted, Helen. What’s happening, as you know, is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. We do not give money to terrorist organizations. What has happened is that this government has tried in a number of ways to make humanitarian aid available to the Palestinian people. We draw a distinction between Hamas, which is…’
‘And they were democratically elected,’ she interjected.
‘They were democratically elected, and they’re still a terrorist organization,’ Mr. Snow persisted.”[49]

 

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 didn’t bring about the promised ‘hope and change’ on which he’d campaigned, and nowhere is that more apparent than in U.S. relations with Israel and Palestine. Although the U.N. has passed numerous resolutions over the years condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the U.S., under President Obama, has chosen to veto them.  On February 18, 2011, a Security Council resolution came up for a vote. This resolution condemned all Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestine since 1967, saying that such settlements are illegal under international law. The resolution was co-sponsored by more than 120 of the U.N.’s 192 member states, and was voted affirmatively by 14 of the 15 members of the Security Council. Only the U.S. voted against it, effectively vetoing the resolution. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said after the vote that, while the U.S. agrees the settlements are illegal, the resolution harmed chances for peace talks. Incongruously, she emphasized that the U.S. opposes the settlements: “On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace…”[50] The inherent contradiction within her statements is evident.

In October of 2011, the United Nations voted to accept Palestine as a member of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) with 107 member nations voting in favor, 14 voting against, and 52 abstaining from voting. This was despite the U.S. threat to stop all its funding to the organization (22% of UNESCO funding). “The U.S. government is legally required to cut funds to any U.N. agency that recognizes a Palestinian state.”[51] As of October of 2012, this left UNESCO with a shortfall of $152,000,000.

On November 29, 2012, the United Nations again defied the United States, when it voted overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine. This time the vote was 138 in favor, 9 opposed and 41 abstaining. The U.S., naturally, condemned this vote, and threatened to cut aid to Palestine as a result.

Again, human rights are a distant second to the political interests of the U.S. government.

 

 

 

[1] Michael A. Dohshe. ‘American Periodicals and the Palestine Triangle, April, 1936 to February, 1947.” Ph.D Diss., (Mississippi State University, 1966), 240.

[2]  Congressional Record, 64th Congress, 1st Session (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1917), 54, pt 2:1742.

 

[3] Congressional Record, 65 Congress, 2d session. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1918), 56, pt 2, 1952-53.

 

[4] Albert Shaw and Woodrow Wilson, The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson – Vol. 1,( Review of Reviews Corporation 1924), 475.

 

[5] Suleiman, Michael W., ed. U.S. Policy on Palestine from Wilson to Clinton. Page 31.

[6] Michael S. Neiberg, The World War I Reader, (New York University Press, 2006),292.

 

[7] Frank E. Manual, The Realities of American-Palestine Relations, (Review of Reviews Corporation 1924), 217.

 

[8] Harry N. Howard, The King-Crane Commission: an American Inquiry in the Middle East,  (Khayats, 1963), 27.

 

[9] Arthur Walworth, Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919,(W.W. Norton, 1986), 481.

[10] Suelieman, Michael W., ed., U.S. Policy on Palestine from Wilson to Clinton, (Association of Arab-American University Graduates, Inc., 1995), 35.

 

[11] Ibid. 49.

 

[12] Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (One World Publications, Ltd., 2006), 31 – 32.

[13] Suleiman, 59.

 

[14] Robert Silverberg, If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem: American Jews and the State of Israel, (William Morrow, 1970), 372.

 

[15] Cheryl A. Rubenberg, Israel and the American National Interest, (University of Illinois Press, 1989), 31.

[16] David Tal, War in Palestine, 1948: Strategy and Diplomacy, (Routledge, 2003), 92.

 

[17] Isaac Alteras,  Eisenhower and Israel: U.S. – Israeli Relations, 1953 – 1960, (University Press of Florida, 1993), 55.

 

[18] Ibid. 30.

 

[19] Sulieman, 87.

[20] Suleiman, 88.

 

[21] Francis O. Wilcox and Thorsten V. Kalijavi, Recent American Foreign Polciy: Basic Documents 1941 – 1951, (Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1952), 576-577.

[22] Suleiman, 117.

 

[23] Ibid. 115.

 

[24] Ibid. 551.

 

[25] Ibid. 126.

 

[26] H.W. Brands, The Wages of Globalism: Lyndon Johnson and the Limits of American Power, (Oxford University Press, 1997), 262.

 

[27] Henry Kissinger, The White House Years, (Simon and Schuster, 2011), 564.

 

[28] Richard M. Nixon, Memoirs of Richard Nixon, (Buccaneer Books, 1994), 283.

 

[29] Suleiman, 134.

 

[30] Ibid.

 

[31] Nixon, 339.

 

[32] Suleiman, 138 – 139.

 

[33] Ibid. 143.

 

[34] Kissinger, 354.

[35] Alan R. Taylor, The Superpower and the Middle East, (Syracuse University Press, 1991), 84

 

[36] Suleiman, 149.

 

[37] Taylor, 84.

 

[38] Ibid.

[39] Suleiman, 164.

 

[40] Ibid. 169.

 

[41] Ibid. 171.

[42] Ibid. 179.

 

[43] Ibid. 185.

 

[44] Samih K. Farsoun and Christina E. Zacahari,. Palestine and the Palestinians, (Westview Press, 1997), 242 – 243.

 

[45] Thomas Friedman, “A Window on Deep Israel-U.S. Tensions,” The New York Times; September 19, 1991.

 

[46] http://globalresearch.ca/articles/BOY204A.html. Accessed on January 16, 2013.

 

[47] Thomas Friedman, “Clinton Nominees Disturb Some Jews.”The New York Times; January 5, 1993.

 

[48] Steven A. Holmes, “Israeli Concessions Said to Revive Peace Talks.” The New York Times; May 2, 1993.

[49] http://www.stateofnature.org/israelPalestineAndTerror.html. Accessed on January 16, 2013

[50] Brad Knickerbocker,“‘If Obama Opposes Israeli Settlement Activity, Why did US Veto UN Vote?’” The Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 2011.

 

[51] http://www.voanews.com/content/us-funding-for-unesco-cut-over-palestine-agency-struggles/1524934.html. Accessed on January 21, 2013.

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