As related by former President Jimmy Carter in his November 26 column in the pages of the Washington Post, “in 1991 there was a major confrontation between the governments of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President George Bush concerning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, with U.S. threats of withholding financial aid if settlement activity continued.” That confrontation resulted in the convening of a conference in Madrid that included “participants from the United States, Syria, and other Arab nations and some Palestinians who did not officially represent the PLO.” For the first time ever, Israel buckled down and finally sat to negotiate with representatives of an organization it had sworn it would not only never address, but never recognize as anything other a terrorist group.
Since those hopeful, though fleeting moments when the possibility of a process towards peace seemed real, things have been steadily sliding from bad to worse for the Palestinians and for the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East. Not only were the subsequent accords signed in Oslo and Washington fatally flawed, giving Israel everything it asked for and more, while further dispossessing the Palestinians, but Israel’s relentless confiscation of land and expansion of settlements have gone on unabated, all under the watchful eyes of a U.S. administration that has outdone all previous administrations in its total subservience and acquiescence to Israeli demands. As Richard Holbrook informed us just a few weeks ago: whatever Israel says must go.
Which brings us to a question that has always been begging to be asked é and never has, at least not by America’s prestigious opinion shapers é is this: are Israeli interests so identical with those of the United States that America must always, and unconditionally, side with Israel?
An answer I have often heard and read is that the US must unconditionally stand alongside Israel because Israel is “the only democracy in a sea of dictatorships”. Could that be the reason why the US supports Israel?
To begin with, let us point out a basic reality that no honest student of history would seriously challenge: the United States has never made the democratic character of a country the overriding criterion for qualifying that country as a friend. After all, the following regimes were America’s “good friends”, and for decades: Pinochet’s Chile, Apartheid’s South Africa, Zaire under Mobutu, Indonesia under Suharto, Iraq before the Gulf War, Iran under the Shah, and down the line, of regime after brutal regime.
Second, Israel is as a much a democracy today as, say, colonial France was a democracy while it occupied Algeria. Indigenous Algerians held seats in the Algerian-French parliament, they were granted French citizenship and r ag the right to vote, and from all outward indications, Algeria under France was a democracy in a sea of “backward tribalism”, as the French were fond of saying. But that did not compel John F. Kennedy to unconditionally support the French, America’s friend since the days of Jefferson and an ally in their common fight against Nazi Germany. As a matter of fact, instead é and for geopolitical reasons — he threw his support behind the nationalist Algerians, who died to the tune of more than one million in their struggle to rid themselves of 132 years of brutal colonial rule, finally attaining full and complete independence from France in 1962.
Well, the “just in case” turned into reality back in August 1990, with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Was Israel useful to the United States during that crisis? Hardly. It was instead a great liability. In its effort to build an Arab and Muslim coalition to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, the United States had to struggle with the “Israeli factor”: the US could not afford to appear to be waging a battle against the invading Iraqis with the help of Israel. And as a matter of fact, Israel served Saddam Hussein well. By pointing to Israel, Saddam was doing nothing more than pointing out America’s hypocritical double standards: when an Arab country invades, it is meted out a punishment like no other in the history of mankind, but when Israel invades, kills, demolishes, assassinates, and bombs whole villages in acts of collective punishment, the US finds excuses, vetoes, and lauds Israel as the only “democracy in a sea of dictatorships”. And Saddam’s strategy delivered its effect: the Arab masses rallied to his side, when at any other time they would not have lifted a finger of support for a criminal such as him, who acts, talks, and suppresses just like their own respective suppressors do.
Which then leaves us with the mystery still hanging: why does the United States support Israel so unconditionally? What is the overriding principle or interest that can justify America’s total acquiescence to Israeli demands and intransigence? The questions desperately need at least a debate.
Mr. Ahmed Bouzid is President of Palestine Media Watch