The Candidates and Israel

As Israel intensified its collective punishment of the Palestinians, and launched its latest assault on Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended negotiations with the Israelis earlier this month. He was later pressured by visiting US Secretary of State Rice into resuming the talks.


Abbas is gradually coming to realize that his vision of peace is different from the one endorsed by the Bush administration at the Annapolis conference in late November last year.


He told reporters that the peace negotiations with the Israelis endorsed at Annapolis were founded on three pillars: addressing the final status issues, improving the situation on the grounds, and implementing the ‘road map’ plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state before President Bush leaves office next January.


But the Israelis are reluctant to address the final status issues; the “roadmap” for the establishment of a Palestinian state has been torpedoed by the Israelis who ignore its ban on settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. As to the situation on the ground, it is getting worse for most Palestinians. The gross inequalities of the parties is evidenced in the sheer number of victims killed during the latest Israeli assault on Gaza:  120 Palestinians and 3 Israelis. ((NYT.March 5.08)


According to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem: “from 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to the Chief of Staff’s contention, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities..”


Palestinian President Abbas’s despair may tempt him to cast his gaze beyond the Bush administration and look for evidence in the presidential election campaign of possible change in the entrenched Washington’s pro-Israeli bias. If he were to do so he would likely find cause for continued despair.


Of the three presidential hopefuls, Republican Senator John McCain, Democratic senator Barak Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Obama styled himself as the candidate for change. And indeed in an absent-minded moment of compassion in March last year, he told an audience in Iowa that:  "Nobody’s suffering more than the Palestinian people." A compassionate understanding of the plight of the Palestinian people would indeed be a significant change in Washington’s attitude towards the Palestine conflict.


The threat of change in Washington prompted a prominent Democrat and a member of the Israel lobby AIPAC to write to Obama that his comment was "deeply troubling." The Obama campaign quickly reinterpreted the comment: “in the end,” a spokesman for Obama said, Obama believes, “the Palestinian people are suffering from the Hamas-led government’s refusal to renounce terrorism." (Mother Jones, February 4, 2008)


Obama opportunistically distanced himself from any further expression of compassion for the Palestinians and focused instead on espousing the standard line of Washington’s pro-Israeli bias. In his Foreign Affairs article he bases the foundation for peace in the Middle East, not on the principles of justice and international law, not on UN resolutions, but on the interests of Israel: “Our starting point,” he writes, “must always be a clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy.” (Foreign Affairs , July/August 2007)


During the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, Obama went out of his way to express understanding for Israel. He wrote to the US Ambassador at the UN urging him to work to make sure that “The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks against Israel.” (Mother Jones, February 4, 2008).


As for Hillary Clinton her pro-Israeli positions are well-known. And to make sure that they are also well diffused, she lists her pro-Israeli credentials on her website Just She is proudly described as “one of Israel’s leading defenders and supporters in the United States Senate.” Like Obama, she believes that America’s bond with Israel “must continue to be the cornerstone of America’s Middle East policy.”


She is quoted as telling the Israeli lobbying group AIPAC: “Israel,” she said, “is not only a friend and ally for us; it is a beacon of what democracy can and should be.”


She recites her support for American military and economic aid to Israel, her support of a hawkish approach to Iran, and her rejection of negotiations with Hamas. But Clinton goes further than her rivals and even further than Bush. She promised –in defiance of international law and the international community – to recognize all of Jerusalem, including occupied East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thus eliminating one of the core negotiation issues, further impoverishing the ‘peace process.”


As to John McCain, he, too, is a strong defender of Israel. Tellingly, he was appalled when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in an interview with him, portrayed him as having committed the sin of wanting a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestine conflict with concessions from both sides.


He rejected his portrayal as calling for concessions from both sides and told the Jewish Press: "in contrast to the impression left by the Haaretz article, I’ve never held the position that Israel should return to 1967 lines, and that is not my position today."


"I’m proudly pro-Israel,” he said, “and my positions have been consistent and clear."


For Obama, compassion for the Palestinians would be deeply troubling in Washington; Clinton is ready to defy international law to strengthen her pro-Israeli credentials; and McCain is appalled by the heretic thought that both sides to the conflict must make concessions.


Thus, as long as the perennial ‘peace process’ continues to place the interests of the occupier above the rights of the victim, the prospects for a just and lasting peace will continue to be elusive.


Prof. Adel Safty is Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Siberian Academy of Public Administration, Novosibirsk, Russia. He is author of From Camp David to the Gulf, Montreal, New York; and Leadership and Democracy, New York

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