A friendly slap or a sign of ungratefulness

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A friendly slap or a sign of ungratefulness

Dr. Aref Assaf/NJ Voices blogger

History seems to be not a learned lesson when it comes to Israel and its dealings with the United States. It has been a long time since the Americans were pushed too far.

Not since 1990, when then Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Shamir rejected US demands to halt settlement activity, did the administration of George Bush Sr. take action and refuse $10 billion in loan guarantees, resulting in full Israeli compliance.

It is a lesson worthy of recounting, not just for the markedly similar circumstances between that situation and the current rift between the US and Israel over the announcement of 1,600 new settler homes, but to illustrate the efficacy of such an action. The strongly worded condemnations emanating from Washington over the past few days are making everyone wonder whether Israel has pushed us too far again.

Since Shamir’s time in office, successive Israeli governments pursued a period of unadulterated settlement construction in the West Bank to the detriment of a viable Palestinian state, a viable society, and to the peace process itself. Remonstrations from the United States during these years – feeble as they were – did not abate, but crucially, nor did US financial and military support for Israel.

Israel, of course, claims that the settlement freeze decision does not apply to Jerusalem because it unilaterally annexed major parts of East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank and declared the new areas as part of Greater Jerusalem. This further debunks Israel’s so-called “generous offer” of its willingness to cede 95% of the West Bank to the Palestinians. The Israelis do not say that the 95% offer is from the area that excludes Greater Jerusalem effectively leaving the Palestinians with possibly 65% of the West Bank for their future Palestine state.

This decision not only contradicts the spirit of international law dealing with occupied lands but more so it has effectively removed 40% of the West Bank territory from the land-for-peace formula.

What was the result of the unwavering and unconditional support the US has provided Israel during these years? The list of non-state actors whom the US considers a threat to their interests were able to galvanize local anger over this bias, and as a result grew enormously. Al-Qaeda was able to point to the seemingly mindless US support of Israel in its crimes against Arabs as proof that it was waging a war against Islam itself. The people of Palestine and Lebanon know more than most the result of US acquiescence (and in many cases explicit support) in the face of unrestrained Israeli aggression. One could argue convincingly that the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah came as a direct result of attacks against Lebanon in 1996 and 2006, and the blockade and near incessant aggression directed toward the people of Gaza to name a few, all carried out with weapons supplied by the US.

The US has faced repeated insults from Israel in its refusal to give anything back in exchange for the massive support it receives. The standing of the US as a mediator has been severely damaged by the inability to persuade Israel to comply with this most basic demand for a settlement freeze. What hope does this give us for further negotiations? What hope is there for a viable Palestinian state if Israel keeps claiming for itself more of the areas it says it will cede to the Palestinians?

One wonders whether another settlement project at such a crucial time will be enough to force the US to take measures similar to those used by George H. W. Bush. Two decades of the same response to the same intransigence has the tendency to instill a heavy dose of skepticism.

It is high time to consider imposing financial sanctions on Israel for its defiance of declared US positions towards a just resolution to the Middle East conflict. America’s foreign aid is conditioned on furthering American national interests. It is high time to measure Israel’s 4 billion in US aid using the same yardstick we apply to other countries. Admittedly, this requires courageous leadership that puts America’s national interests first before expedient political imperatives.