Bribing Israel

In mid-November, the U.S. offered Israel an incentives package in exchange for a new "settlement freeze" in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. What's supposed to be the main point of it all—new negotiations leading to something remotely resembling a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace—is simply not on the agenda of either Israel or the U.S.


The actual bribe—oh, sorry, "incentives"—being offered to Israel this time around is significant. Among other things, it will massively escalate the offensive capacity and reach of Israel's Air Force, already by far the most powerful in the region. The offer starts with 20 brand new state-of-the-art F-35 Joint Strike Fighter planes—$3 billion worth. That's on top of the almost $3 billion of military aid already paid to Israel this year. According to the influential Israeli daily Ha'aretz, it will double the number of the F-35 stealth aircraft that the U.S. will send to Israel. Tel Aviv had already ordered 20 using the "normal" military aid to Israel, and now they're being offered 20 more free of charge.


Then there's the guarantee that the U.S. will veto any effort in the United Nations aimed at winning Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state as well as the promise to prevent any UN effort to hold Israel accountable for possible war crimes in Gaza, such as moving the Goldstone report forward in the Council and potentially moving the investigation to the International Criminal Court. From what we know of the offer, it will also include a broad commitment to veto essentially any UN resolution that Israel claims undermines its increasingly precarious international legitimacy.


What it all means is that the Obama administration is promising to interfere with and prevent any effort to hold Israel accountable in the international arena. The U.S. is staking out a position that allowing the UN to function unhindered, or implementing UN resolutions such as the Goldstone report's recommendations, are simply gifts to be bestowed or withheld according to politically-driven, not international law-driven, considerations.


And what does Israel have to give up? A one-time-only 90-day partial settlement moratorium in the West Bank, not including Occupied Arab East Jerusalem. Sure, most of the swag is stuff Israel would have gotten anyway. The U.S. has been vetoing Security Council resolutions criticizing Israel for decades. Just a couple of weeks ago the Obama administration engineered the withdrawal of a mild request in the UN's nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, asking that Israel finally acknowledge its widely known but officially secret nuclear weapons arsenal. That's nothing new. But 20 additional new F-35 warplanes, at $130 million a pop, paid for by U.S. taxpayers? Now that's nothing to sneeze at.


On the other hand, sneezing at this "settlement freeze" isn't such a bad idea. It simply isn't serious. Settlement expansion—which translates into house demolitions, land grabs, and population expulsions—will be allowed to continue at their current record pace in Occupied East Jerusalem. Even if the new West Bank "freeze" is total (which it certainly won't be), all it does is delay the settler building frenzy for 90 days at which point it can explode again, since the U.S. promised that this settlement slow-down will be the last ever requested.


So with U.S. complicity, Israel's settlements—all of which are illegal, whether in the West Bank or East Jerusalem, whether tiny outposts or the giant settlement cities—will continue. With 500,000 illegal settlers in the Occupied Territory, who are breaking international law just by waking up in the morning, Israel will continue to violate the Geneva Convention's prohibition on moving people into occupied territory. This "freeze" will do nothing to change that. In fact, the Israeli settlement real estate boom is being aided by U.S. organizations like the Hebron Fund, which raises tax-exempt funds to support the illegal and particularly violent settlers in Hebron.


Unfortunately, the Obama administration seems to welcome the reality that the U.S. is supporting the illegal occupation. According to the noted analyst and former head of the American Jewish Congress Henry Siegman, "How else to understand what Vice President Joe Biden told Netanyahu on November 8 in New Orleans before a gathering of Jewish Federation officials, that differences between Israel and the United States on the subject of construction in Jerusalem and in the West Bank are nothing more than 'tactical in nature.' Is the continuation of Israel's military occupation and its denial of all rights to millions of Palestinians for nearly half a century nothing more than a minor tactical issue for the United States? Is that what President Obama told the Arab and Muslim world in his speech in Cairo? President Obama will have to take his own words about the Middle East peace process and its deep moral and strategic implications for America more seriously than he has so far if he expects Bibi Netanyahu to do so as well." We will have to take those words seriously too.


Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author with David Wildman of Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan: A Primer.