Self-Interest, Disinterest, and Distance: Some Remarks on US Policy


The American role and the degree of involvement in the escalating crisis and the ongoing Israeli onslaughts against the captive Palestinian people are marked more by their absence than anything else.

Having said that, however, it is appropriate to point out that such “sins of omission” are in reality translated into lethal sins of commission when the aggressor is the foremost “ally” of the US-Israel.

Not only nature, but also the Israeli government hates a vacuum; hence the distinctive absence of a clear-sighted, decisive, and responsible US policy has been directly instrumental in Israel’s hijacking of the political agenda and the public discourse in the US.

Whether through the activation of the pro-Israeli lobby (including AIPAC and the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations) or by means of unprecedented contacts at all levels (including the US administration and the Congress), the extremist ideological government in Israel has managed to lay siege not only to the Occupied Palestinian territories but also to the political will and policy of the US.

Predictably, the push and pull of President Bush’s domestic agenda and the need to placate a largely pro-Israeli Congress to pass his legislation on such things as energy and the environment, as well as aspirations for reelection in 2004, compounded by the not-so-distant memory of the price that Bush the father had to pay for the mere linkage of American loan guarantees to Israel’s illegal settlement policy, plus President Clinton’s micromanagement and sour-grapes words of caution-all form the backdrop for the current Bush timidity and reluctance to engage or confront.

A more strategic assessment, however, could have informed the current administration of the extreme consequences inherent in the pursuit of such a non-policy, both on the region and on US strategic interests.

The sight (and sound) of a floundering administration, flip-flopping between “reasonable” levels of violence and “zero violence,” between “international monitors” and CIA agents or state department diplomats, between signaling the beginning of the “cooling off” period and designating Sharon as the sole arbiter, and between “involvement” in peace making or avoiding “getting burned” by the Middle East peace process-have not done the credibility and standing of the US any favors.

Nor has the devaluation of American discourse. By calling on both sides to “end the violence,” the US has enhanced the deceptive false symmetry between occupier and occupied.

Worse yet, by blaming the Palestinians for the violence and exonerating the Israelis, once again the US has indulged in a favorite Israeli exercise of blaming the victim while totally neglecting the fact of the Israeli occupation itself-the most pervasive and cruel form of violence and violation of the most basic rights and fundamental freedoms of a whole nation.

Parroting Israeli diction on “Palestinian terrorism and violence” also plays into the hands of racist and extremist elements in Israel and the US who never run out of convenient stereotypical labels with which to malign the Palestinian people as a whole.

The acceptance of the tired Israeli spin of “self defense” is a blind and blanket excuse for its own criminal activities and various forms of state terrorism that it employs against the Palestinians. An occupying power using unbridled military violence against a besieged civilian population has never been described as engaged in self-defense except by the most ignorant, misguided, or immoral apologists.

Thus Israel’s depiction of its policy of assassinations and cold-blooded murder as one of “active self defense” is not only a euphemism; it is a deliberate act of deception.

The American open-doors (and open ears) policy vis-é-vis any and all Israeli guests and messages is in sharp contrast to the ostracism of the Palestinian leadership and a clear indication of a closed ears/closed minds stance towards the Palestinians as a whole.

There is no price to be paid for the “privilege” of being received at the White House, particularly if it is to be paid in the currency of Palestinian national rights and the legitimacy of the leadership.

Nor should the Palestinian people be made to pay the price for the “privilege” of a visit by the secretary of state who had demoted the region to the level of assistant to the assistant secretary who reports to the undersecretary who is responsible before the deputy to the secretary.

Such disinterest and distancing can come only from a total disregard for American national interests.

The time has come for the Arab world to do a similar distancing and exhibit a parallel disinterest in the US interests in the region.

Oil is not the only focus, although a-dollar-a-barrel price hike may be an appropriate expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Perhaps the time has come for defense, food, and consumer goods contracts as well as cash investments to be reconsidered and reallocated on the basis of fairness and responsible political decisions.

Self-interest is a two-way street, and the Arab billions should not always be headed one way towards American banks and companies.

Arab public opinion is heading towards greater political accountability; if the US administration still suffers from the illusion that it can take its Arab allies for granted, or that they would confront their own people for the sake of American approval, it is sadly mistaken.

In the end, something must be said about morality and integrity in those who hold public office-no matter how naéve or inapplicable that may seem at present.

With global power comes global responsibility, and no mater how powerful the motivation of narrow self-interest may be, ultimately human values and a global rule of law must emerge. These are still the only genuine tests of leadership and responsibility.

The US should expect no less and deserves no more.