Dishonest Broker


Rico Cleffi, “Book Review,” Z Magazine, April 2004:

Dishonest Broker covers the diplomatic history from the beginning of the Cold War and the Baghdad Pact. The basic rundown goes something like this: with U.S. post-war ascendance and British colonial decline, the U.S. government gradually moved towards increased support of Israel. But the U.S. stance wasn’t always one of unrequited support for the Jewish State. Some of the history even seems unthinkable by today’s standards: most strikingly, Dwight Eisenhower’s denunciation of the Suez Invasion in 1956 and the U.S. condemnation of Israel’s 1954 assault on the West Bank village of Qibya (the latter was coupled with a cut in aid money to Israel).

In 1957 the Eisenhower Doctrine, largely aimed at former ally Egypt, laid down the law in terms of U.S. willingness to protect what it saw as its “national interest.” It was no great shift for Israel to assume the role of regional proxy after its crushing victory (over the Arab States, over Nasserism) in the Six Day War of June 1967.

When the Palestinian nationalist movement appeared to be on the verge of toppling Jordan’s King Hussein in 1970 “…the United States alerted airborne units from the Sixth Fleet, which began to steam toward the East Mediterranean, and Israel expressed willingness to intervene in the event of a Palestinian triumph…. After the battle of Al-Karameh (March 1968) which galvanized Palestinian and Arab masses into action, the Palestinian guerilla movement began to be viewed as a serious challenge not only to Israel, but to U.S. ambitions in the area, as well as to the conservative Arab states. The Rogers Plan of December 1969, which was based on UN Resolution 242, was in fact intended to effect a Jordanian settlement that would bypass the Palestinian resistance.”

Israel later rejected the plan put forward by then Secretary of State William Rogers. But the framework of a settlement as a means of cementing U.S.-Israeli dominance of the region would be closely adhered to. This is where the book is strongest. Aruri shines when he dissects the various uses of diplomacy as a mechanism of control.

Aruri places considerable emphasis on the upgrading of Israel’s relationship with the U.S. to the point where it became what has been known as a “strategic asset.” Citing the 2001 Congressional Research Service Report, “Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance,” the author notes what ought to be obvious, but isn’t: “A review of U.S. assistance to Israel shows a substantial increase in aid during years in which Israel presumably demonstrated its utility to the U.S. national security establishment as a strategic asset. From 1949 through 1965, U.S. aid to Israel averaged about $63 million per year. It increased to an average of $102 million annually between 1966 and 1970, and then, due to its increasing utility, jumped to about $1 billion annually during the next five years. From 1976 to 1984, U.S. aid to Israel averaged about $2.5 billion per year. With the upgrading of the special relationship to a strategic alliance during the Reagan period, U.S. aid began to escalate further, reaching about $5.5 billion annually at present, over one third of total U.S. foreign aid.”

Aruri points out that all of the diplomatic plans accepted by Israel came as a result of significant realignments of forces in the region; Nasser’s passing in Egypt, and the Israeli weakening of the Palestinian movement in Lebanon were two cornerstones. The U.S. victory over Saddam Hussein in 1991 was accompanied by Arafat’s humiliation for supporting him, and allowed Israel to roll-back of many of the gains of the Intifada, notably in “the diplomatic, political, and economic fields and in health care and social organization.” The U.S. realized it could score a bargain settlement and undermine the international push for a multilateral solution. Out of this context came the 1991 Madrid talks, which led to the Oslo accords.

The once radical PLO had been coopted the PLO was transformed into the Palestinian Authority (PA), a vague stateless designation equipped with all manner of security forces including a naval police—all the more disturbing, considering the PA was allowed no control over the Gazan waters. Eventually, though, it was Arafat’s inability to “utilize that security apparatus to the extent required by Israel and the United States that made him a pariah (in Sharon’s words, ‘irrelevant’).”

Ironically, Aruri notes that UN Security Council Resolution 681 “unanimously declared in 1991 that the Geneva Convention protects the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories from being coerced to submit to illegal agreements.”

Oslo, like all other agreements, shared a “nonrecognition of the original injustice done to the Palestinians in 1948. None of these plans has acknowledged the unqualified right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, to real liberation from the 1967 Israeli occupation, or to restitution.” Similarly, the focus has shifted even further to the point where even the universally-recognized illegal 1967 occupation is no longer a determining factor. The Palestinian leadership’s ability to stem terrorism in the midst of its continual collapse has become the watermark to which this drowning body (politic) must always aspire.

Aruri stresses that Israel has consistently received full bipartisan support from the U.S. There were some differences, however slight, between the Democrats and Republicans. Jimmy Carter did at least call for an Israeli withdrawal of Lebanon in 1978 and even “threatened to invoke the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which prohibited the offensive use of American weaponry.”

Aruri, who was born in Jerusalem, came into political consciousness along with the emergence of nonaligned movement and Third World nationalism. Despite this, he doesn’t hold back from criticizing Palestinian and Arab leaders: “While American policy objectives remained fixed, however, the means to achieve these objectives underwent periodic adjustments. Although the tools of U.S. policy remained in place, Arabs and Palestinians in top level positions often mistakenly took such minor aberrations for substantial policy changes. Short-term fluctuations and seductive signals—which invariably included brief threats of assessments of U.S.-Israeli relations by irritated presidents—were mistakenly read as departures, at last, in the direction of fairness. Examples include Gerald Ford’s call for a “reassessment,” Carter’s confrontation with Menachem Begin in 1977, Baker’s ordeals with Yitzak Shamir, and Bush I’s conflict over loan guarantees in 1990 were not seen by Palestinian and other Arab leaders as manifestations of normal disagreements among close allies over tactical differences, but as signs of a fundamental change in U.S. relations with Israel (and hence the Palestinians or the broader Arab world). This naiveté, which overlooked the durability of strategic considerations, seems to derive from a political culture in which policy changes are often attributed to pronouncements of autocratic rulers driven by short-term imperatives of the leaders’ own preferences.”

Similarly, Aruri examines the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1974 dropping of its demand of a single state for both peoples in exchange for the support of the Arab world. The political opportunism and lack of strategic clarity on the Palestinian side led Arafat and Co to sign all agreements put on the table up until Barak’s “generous offer” at Camp David in 2000.

Beginning with Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem, and the first Camp David agreement, the conflict was removed from an international context; agreements on the lands conquered by Israel in 1967 would be negotiated with each of the involved parties separately, weakening potential Arab solidarity, and redefining the parameters of the conflict. By the advent of the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO agreed to a re-characterization of all occupied territories to “disputed” territories. Oslo allowed Israel to defer fundamental issues like refugees, borders, settlement, and Jerusalem to “final status” talks which never took place. In the meantime, “facts on the ground” were established: the settlement population roughly doubled, Jerusalem was effectively sealed off from the West Bank, and Palestinians were subjected to harsh closures preventing them from reaching neighboring villages, or working inside Israel. The onus for the little the Palestinians would achieve under the agreements was generally placed solely on the Palestinian Authority for its inability to keep Israelis secure.

The text of the Oslo accords neglected to mention “such terms as occupation, withdrawal, the Gene- va Convention of 1949, or Palestinian sovereignty, let alone Palestinian emancipation and independent statehood.”

In the context of all this, the Bush administration’s attempts to put forward any kind of resolution to the conflict should be understood for what they are, cynical attempts to score points in the polls, while at the same time further crushing the troublesome Palestinian resistance.

Dishonest Broker’s culmination in a call for a single state for Israelis and Palestinians, however necessary, are often anything but self-evident. The author is capable of sharp, detailed critique and explication of foreign policy, but his own solutions sometimes seem to come up a bit short. After having shown us all that’s wrong with U.S. policy in the region and, more specifically, the sham peace agreements, we are presented with the logical solution. There is quite an argument to be made for a single state, one of the better ones being that Israeli apartheid cannot last forever (after all, Palestinians inside Israel and the territories will soon outnumber the Israeli Jewish population). Yes, the settlements have rendered, for the time being at least, the old two-state solution impossible. But few of the advocates of a single state (binational, or secular democratic, and there is a difference) have explained why the failure of the current situation would lead to a better situation, by definition.

In this age of globalized capital (and resistance), the nature of the state has been increasingly called into question; unfortunately, few states seem about to wither away, at least not in an emancipatory sense. Judging from the opposition the Zionist movement has shown to retreating from the smallest bit of land Israel has captured, it seems unlikely that it will be willing to see Israel proper governed in part by the same people it has consistently oppressed and vilified. A single state might be a good thing to call for in the same way that a revolution is a good thing to call for—as a necessary, if immediately unobtainable goal. In the meantime, I’m not entirely convinced that there isn’t any version of the old two-state solution or the road map that might actually work.

Nitpicking over grand future arrangements aside, Dishonest is an important book, which serves as a necessary catalyst for further debate.

Rico Cleffi lives in Brooklyn, New York where he works on the map production process. He spent 1998–1999 working at Birzeit University on the West Bank.

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