In a recent interview with Democracy Now!, former Senator and Middle East Envoy George Mitchell was questioned by Amy Goodman and Aaron Maté on his views regarding the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran, as well as the Israel-Palestine conflict.
With the rhetoric of the Obama administration butting heads with the lofty (and often contradictory) statements of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there is significant confusion regarding the direction in which the conflict and potential resolutions are headed.
However, there does seem to be some hope for change.
The Obama administration has, at least in word, expressed a desire to “reevaluate” their stance on the conflict following, as Amy Goodman points out, Netanyahu’s claim that a Palestinian state will not exist while he is in a position of power. If history, and indeed recent actions, are any guide, illegal settlement expansion will continue under Netanyahu, perhaps (and hopefully) evoking more pressure from the U.S. government.
Former National Security Council official William Quandt has suggested that there should be “consequences” for Israel’s repeated violations of international law, regarding Israel’s settlements and occupation of Palestinian territory.
When asked for his response to Quandt, George Mitchell performs some interesting mental gymnastics:
The fact is, of course, that both sides have, for a very long time, urged that the United States impose consequences on the other side. Both regard that as the way to resolve the issue.
Palestinians and many Arabs repeatedly told me in meetings that the way to get this issue solved is for the United States to cut off all aid to Israel. They are dependent on you, they said, and if you cut off all aid, they will do what you want.
The Israelis, on the other hand, make the exactly the same statement regarding aid to the Palestinians. They’re dependent on you, they told me, and if you will just cut off all aid to the Palestinians, they will do what you want.
In my judgment, neither of those options is viable or would work. Israel is a democracy — a vibrant democracy. They are a proud and sovereign people. And taking punitive action, I think, would be first, inappropriate, because of our close relationship to them, and secondly, I think it would be counterproductive.
It is striking (and indicative of the pressure that political officials are under to give the “right” answer) that Mitchell would attempt to put U.S. support for Israel and U.S. support for Palestinians anywhere near equal ground.
How one can attempt to equate a military power like Israel to the Palestinians is quite baffling, and Aaron Maté would brilliantly respond, questioning Mitchell on this position:
But, Senator, if we’re talking about taking punitive measures, can we agree that the two parties are not equal? They’re not occupying each other.
It’s Israel that has been occupying the Palestinians for nearly 50 years. They have nuclear weapons, they are a huge power. Even during the so-called peace process, the settlements have expanded massively. So, Palestinians can say, well, look, the status quo of 50 years simply has not worked. Israel — the U.S., Israel’s largest supporter, has to change it’s policy decisively.
Predictably, Mitchell backpedaled:
Well, it is true, that the parties are not equal, of course, and one reason for having outside participation in the process is to provide an independent interlocutor, someone who would assist the parties in reaching an agreement, and despite the criticism of the United States by many, there is, in fact, no other entity in the world that can perform that task other than the United States government.
Mitchell seems to think that it is ridiculous to even suggest imposing punitive measures upon an ally.
However, the United States need not go that far: Simply withdrawing the crucial support that allows Israel to commit crimes would be sufficient.
Noam Chomsky has suggested that removing support for Israel’s illegal actions would have effects similar to those resulting from the U.S. withdrawal of support for apartheid South Africa: namely, that the illegal actions would cost too much for the state committing them to maintain, and they would be forced to cease.
Indeed, Israel is in a position to carry out their occupation, settlement expansion, and military aggression precisely because of U.S. military, economic, and ideological support. Every U.S. citizen should be aware that their tax dollars are being used to occupy, oppress, and violate the rights of a people, and if they are aware, they should be outraged. But this fact sees no light in the press (outside of dissident sources).
There is no doubt that Mitchell is correct in implying that “both sides” have done things that are deplorable; that, I think, is uncontroversial.
However, Israel is the occupying force, which means that, by definition, their activity within the occupied territories is illegal. One cannot claim self-defense while occupying territory illegally, just as a burglar cannot claim self-defense in the process of robbing someone’s home.
We have an obligation to focus on what we can influence. The U.S. government can influence the illegal actions of Israel more than any other power, it simply chooses not to, despite the self-righteous rhetoric of hope and change.