The hijacked aircraft which crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11 may well have had the US Capitol, seat of the US Congress, as its target. While we may never know for certain, if members of Congress suspect this to be true, their natural human response may provide the best hope in decades for actually achieving peace with some measure of justice in the Middle East.
It is widely believed that the same terrorist organisation responsible for bringing down the World Trade Centre was also behind the earlier bomb attack on it. It seems that the twin towers were “unfinished business”. If the US Congress views itself as “unfinished business” for terrorists who are filled with anti-American rage, determined, highly competent and suicidal (and who, if and when they try again, will almost certainly use a method not tried before and perhaps not even imagined yet), what is a rational member of Congress to do? Finally, doing the right and decent thing in terms of US Middle East policy should no longer be ruled out.
Foreign affairs experts outside the United States have long pounded their heads against walls trying to discern the American national interest served by the US government’s unconditional support for Israel’s defiance of international law and UN resolutions through its continuing occupation of Arab lands conquered in 1967. This fruitless search for an explanation has been based on two false premises – that the United States has “national interests” (as opposed to simply the particular interests of particular special interest groups) and that American politicians genuinely care about “American national interests”. Prior to Sept. 11, when diminishing the risk of further massive terrorist attacks on American targets became a clear “national interest”, there was little evidence to support either premise. America’s Middle East policies have been based purely on the calculations of American politicians as to their personal self-interest.
American politicians are (with a few honourable exceptions) among the most selfish and self-interested people in one of the world’s most selfish and self-interested countries. When it comes to Israel and Palestine, they are motivated overwhelmingly by fear – knee-knocking, sweaty-palmed, incontinent fear that the Israel-First lobby will destroy their careers if they manifest anything less than total and abject subservience.
Roughly two decades ago, three prominent and highly respected members of Congress, Senators J. William Fulbright and Charles Percy and Representative Paul Findley, were perceived to have lost their seemingly “safe seats” due to massive Israel-First contributions to their electoral opponents. Their demise was particularly chilling since none of them had done anything that could be even remotely characterised as “anti-Israeli”. They had simply supported balanced positions suggesting a willingness to put American interests ahead of Israeli desires. Ever since, American politicians have been paralysed by the fear of being “Percyed” or “Findleyed”.
The alternative explanation for the behaviour of American politicians, that it is based on “conviction” (that is, that they support racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing as a matter of principle) is clearly defamatory, attributing to them even a higher degree of moral and ethical bankruptcy than is justified. After all, keeping one’s job and advancing one’s career is the principal focus of most people’s lives, and no politician has ever lost an American election for being too supportive of Israel.
So, what is a rational member of Congress, now with good reason to fear not just for his job and career but also for his life, to do? Surely a “repositioning” of the US government’s Middle East policy so as to make it consistent with international law, UN resolutions and the moral and ethical principles which America purports to support elsewhere could be accomplished without undue embarrassment.
Imagine that Congress adopted a resolution along the following lines: “This House believes that a just and durable peace in the Middle East can only be achieved on the basis of full compliance with international law and relevant UN resolutions by all states in the region. We believe that it is self-evident that Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation will continue as long as the occupation continues, that Israel will have peace and security when it ends the occupation but that Israel will never have either until it ends the occupation. The choice is Israel’s to make, but we strongly urge Israel to choose peace and security by ending the occupation in all its aspects and withdrawing to its internationally recognised, pre-1967 borders.”
If American politicians had ever cared genuinely about the best interests of Israel and Israelis, rather than simply about their own reelections, they would have said something similar long ago. While such a “repositioning” by the United States would be most unlikely to change the policies of the Sharon regime, it would be likely to accelerate its replacement by a new Israeli government with which a renewed peace process could actually produce peace, not simply more process.
It would also, in a moment, lift the sense of menace currently hanging over the United States and the world. Anti-American rage is not an incurable congenital disease. It is a relatively recent development directly related to what America does in and to the rest of the world.
Terrorists strike at moments when they believe that their acts will receive the highest level of support in the constituencies which they seek to please. (In this regard, the timing of the Sept. 11 attacks so soon after the extraordinary American performance at the Durban Conference Against Racism and Racial Discrimination was surely no accident.) If the United States were to reverse direction and start treating Palestinians (and Arabs generally) as human beings entitled to basic human rights, support for inflicting further punishment on the United States would become minimal. The white-hot hatred of the United States prevalent in the Arab and Muslim worlds would cool dramatically. The multi-faceted “war on terrorism” would score a major victory.
For decades, the United States has been an obstacle to Middle East peace, not an asset. (If it had not existed, it is difficult to believe that the occupation would be entering its 35th year.) It would, of course, be preferable to have the American policy change for the right reasons, not simply as a result of the spirit of self-interest (indeed, self-preservation) of its politicians.
However, fundamental change away from America’s illegal and immoral foreign policy positions and behaviour with respect to the Middle East is clearly in the American national interest, in the interests of all who live in the region (including Israelis, most of whom would, like white South Africans, find the quality of their lives enhanced by escaping from the role of oppressors and enforcers of injustice) and in the interest of peace and human understanding in the 21st century.
If such a change occurs, even for a tragically wrong reason and, as a result, the world is able to pull back from the brink of the abyss, those who lost their lives in the atrocities of Sept. 11 will not have died in vain and the world will be a safer and better place for all who live in it.
The writer is an international lawyer who writes frequently on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He contributed this article to the Jordan Times.