In this episode in our "Story/Backstory" miniseries, JWE president Helena Cobban first reads, then reflects on her most recent 1,300-word op-ed on U.S. policies in the Middle East. For more details on this project, visit the blog on our website.Support the show
Today, on Just World Podcast: "The Curious Case of US domination of Palestine-Israel Peacemaking." Hi, I'm Helena Cobban, the President of Just World Educational and this week's podcast is the second in our series "Story-Backstory", which explores various aspects of Washington's current policies in the Middle East within a broader historical perspective. Each week in this project, there'll be an opinion column that I'll write that will be published on the Wednesday, generally on the great Mondoweiss news-site. Then on the Friday, I'll follow that up with this expanded audio version that will start off with me simply reading the column and after that reading, I'll provide yet more backstory or other kinds of riff on that same topic. Please note that all the opinions and judgments I express in this project are my own personal ones. They do not represent the views of Just World Educational or any other organization. So now the curious case of US domination of Palestine/Israel peacemaking: Berkeley, California, February 26, 2019. How weird is it that Palestinians/Israelis and the rest of the world have been agog for months awaiting the launch of a new peace process from a young seldom successful real estate developer named Jared Kushner? There are many different levels at which this is weird. First, it's very strange that there were robust and much respected global organization dedicated to the resolution of international conflicts has existed for 74 years now. Nonetheless, all the other nations of the world still seem content that the United States, which represents fewer than 5% of the world's people, has monopolized all decision-making on this vital issue for the past 45 years. Secondly, the content and track record of the policies Washington has pursued in this diplomatic venture have been bizarre, one-sided and unsuccessful in the extreme. From that perspective. I guess we could say that having Jared Kushner now be Washington's peace-process tsar is par for the course. But why have so few people in the US political elite ever remarked on all this weirdness. At the level of the long history of US monopolization of the peace diplomacy, I suppose a general US jingoism has since the days of Henry Kissinger's much publicized shuttle diplomacy in the 1970s made US peace diplomacy in the Middle East seem like some noble national mission. I'm skeptical. But one truly disgraceful moment in international politics came in 2002 when President George W. Bush created something called the Middle East Quartet. The Quartet was and still sort of is an organization of four bodies, the United Nations, the United States, the EU and Russia, but always under the clear leadership of Washington. Yes, that's right. Back in 2002, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan actually agreed to subordinate the world body that he headed to the leadership of Washington regarding Palestine/Israel peacemaking. Russia's President Putin and the EU also went along. The UN's subordination to the US in the Quartet has had huge consequences throughout the past 17 years. The United Nations as a body has, like the rest of the Quartet, issued no significant challenge at all to Washington's diktat on the Palestine question, whether on Jerusalem, Gaza, Israel settlement building or any other issue related to Palestine. A few years ago, it seemed as if the Quartet had died a quiet and blessed death, but last September, well after president Trump had moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and kicked the PLO's representative out of Washington, the Quartet showed a brief sign of revival. Its four members issued a short joint statement expressing concern about the possibility of escalation between Israel and Gaza, but not a word at all about Jerusalem or the brutal siege of Gaza or Israel's continued settlement building project. And regarding the big central issue, that is, the question of how to end the Palestine-Israel conflict, the Quartet including the UN has also remained mum. This despite 50 years' worth of resolutions from the UN's non-executive General Assembly calling on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian Territories and to allow the Palestinians to exercise their right of self-determination and despite the fact that the UN's executive body, the Security Council, remains committed to its own key resolutions 242 of 1967 and 338 of 1973, which underlying the inaccessibility of the acquisition of territory by force and call on Israel to withdraw from lands it's army occupied in 1967. By subordinating the UN to the leadership of the United States in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking and by failing to insist on the UN's own clearly stated goals in this diplomacy, successive secretaries general of the United Nations had given a green light to the very specific kind of peace-free process that Washington has pursued continuously since 1993. Washington's approach in this diplomacy has focused overwhelmingly on the process rather than the attainment of any actual peace. And let's cast aside any reference to international legality or international resolutions regarding the content of the peace, laying stress instead on the always fruitless search for a formula that the two parties themselves can agree on. If you were Benjamin Netanyahu and you could blow off all the entreaties from a US president, that you throw some small crumbs to the Palestinians and you could march into the US congress and openly humiliate the president as he did to Barack Obama back in 2015 and you could pummel Gaza civilians to smithereens every couple of years and still get a commitment of $38 billion worth of US armaments over the next 10 years from that same Obama, then why on earth would you ever bother to make peace with that fraction of the Palestinian people who have been your captives for the past 51 years? The US approach of focusing endlessly on the process rather than the attainment of peace itself, while giving Israel complete veto power over the peacemaking, was the brainchild primarily of one man, an eminence squeeze who has popped up again and again in high level posts in Washington's Middle East, diplomacy in administrations run by both the parties. His name is Dennis Ross. He is someone who's been much more consistently committed to the Zionist project itself than he has to any of the presidents he's worked for. Ross, his whole biography is fascinating. One notable point came in the mid 1980s when along with his ally Martin Indyk, he cofounded a brand new AIPAC-backed think tank called the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). In the 1990s Ross an Indyk completely dominated all of President Clinton's Middle East policy-making. One of the key innovations Ross introduced was wherever possible to avoid any discussion of a final status agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Whenever he came on that unbearable pressure to do something in the peacemaking, he would pull something we could call the "Ross confidence trick". He would argue that the parties could not address the final issues until more confidence had been built between them. So, his diplomacy would focus on ever smaller and smaller interim stage issues. And meanwhile, Palestine and the Palestinians remained occupied and the Israelis built yet more settlements. In 2002, after his gig with Clinton ended, Ross went to Jerusalem, where with backing from the avowedly Zionist Jewish Agency, he and veteran democratic polls, Stuart Eisenstadt founded a new think-tank. This one called the Jewish People Policy Institute, which is dedicated to the idea that the Jewish people worldwide constitute a single people with Israel at the core. Convicted felon Elliott Abrams is also on their board. Throughout the years that Ross and Indyk ran Washington's Middle East policy, they failed to complete any of the negotiations they attempted, except for the always-easy 1994 final peace between Israel and Jordan. Yet ,these days, Ross, Indyk, and their wing-man Aaron Miller regularly get quoted in the corporate media as if they were somehow experts on negotiations on the Arab mind or on Palestinian affairs. Go figure. The long sorry-story of Washington's monopolization of Israeli-Arab peacemaking has many chapters. Americans, who want to push for a just and sustainable peace between Israel and Palestine need I think to break free of the mindset that it's somehow desirable or even normal, that this monopoly should continue. Instead, we should demand that our government and the Israeli government both comply fully with international law. There should be no Israel exception to international legality-- and no American exception either. We need to work with likeminded allies around the world to ensure that the UN and the legitimate international bodies take back control of the diplomacy and that they do so on the basis of the long stated principles of international law. And now this just in from Trump world at the recent Warsaw Summit that Mike Pompeo convened as part of the current push against Iran, guess which former US official was given a starring role? Yes, Dennis Ross. Watch closely to see whether he will now slide back, perhaps alongside Jared Kushner, into some even more powerful government. Okay! That was the written text. So now here are the riffs. On the column. I was looking primarily at the fact that for the past 45 years, that is since 1974, Washington has monopolized all the international diplomacy around Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, a fact that I really want people to understand is very strange and anomalous. I was also looking at the extremely one-sided and from a technical-negotiating point of view, unsuccessful nature of this trend of us diplomacy. Of course, if your goals were to keep Palestine occupied and the Palestinian leaders occupied traveling to numerous conferences to discuss picayune little details of this or that while leaving Israel's leaders quite free to continue the implantation of new settlements, and new settlement infrastructure into the occupied territories. Then you could say the US diplomacy has been successful. For most Americans, I'm pretty certain those have not been the goals, but for perennial American peace processor Dennis Ross and his allies, the gang who have dominated most of Washington's Palestine-Israel peacemaking almost continuously since 1993, that is indeed what they achieved, and almost no one in the corporate media has ever been prepared to call them out on their failure to achieve an actual final peace. Of course, in general, just about all the talking-heads in the corporate media have blamed the failure of US diplomacy clearly on the Arabs involved. I guess, because most of those people either know very little about the Middle East apart from what AIPAC tells them, or they just want the Palestinians and Syrians to roll over and do whatever it is that Israel wants them to. Washington's position over recent years stands in sharp contrast to the diplomacy that President Dwight Eisenhower led back in late 1956 and the aftermath of the Israeli- French-British assault against the Egyptian military's positions in Sinai along the Suez Canal and in-then Egypt-occupied Gaza. The Israelis, British and French launched their coordinated attack on October 29th of that year with the goal of provoking the toppling of Egypt's president Gamal Abdul-Nasser. Eisenhower was vehemently opposed to their action. He almost immediately pulled the plug on the vulnerable British Pound and rushed to the Security Council to argue for a full withdrawal of all three of the invading armies. Eisenhower's tough use economic and diplomatic tools during the Suez Crisis forced the three aggressing powers to agree to a ceasefire on November six and to commit to withdrawing their forces speedily after that. The British and French governments completed the withdrawal of their forces by the end of 1956 and the Israelis completed their pullout from Sinai and Gaza in March 1957 less than five months after the start of the invasion. So we can look at the contrast between the Israelis and their allies withdrawing from the territories they occupied within five months after the 1956 war, while here we are now more than 51 years after the war of 1967 and the Israelis are still resolutely hanging on to many of the Arab lands that they occupied that year.Okay. What happened in 1956 is important for a number of reasons. During the 1956 Crisis, Senate majority leader, Lyndon B Johnson and minority leader William Knowland told Eisenhower, they objected to him putting any American pressure on Israel, but Eisenhower remained insistent on applying economic sanctions and he told those Senate leaders that he would take the issue directly to the American people. Speaking to the nation by radio and television, he underlined Israel's refusal to withdraw and explained that the UN, and by extension also the United States, therefore had no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel.Okay. Israel's leading supporters here in the US were really angry that Eisenhower was successfully able to turn the screws on Israel. They found they'd work to make sure this would never happen again, and a few years later, directly motivated by what Eisenhower had done in 1956, they founded a powerful nationwide organization dedicated to ensuring that in any future showdown between Israel and Washington, Washington would not be able to exert leverage against Israel in the same way Eisenhower did. That was the origin of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, whose strong influence over elected officials at all levels of American politics and over many areas of the country's public discourse remains extremely strong until today. I want to zoom forward a bit from 1956 and look briefly at what happened in the early 1990s. In January, 1993 Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president and as I noted in the column, he hired the former leaders of the AIPAC's sponsored think-tank WINEP, Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, to run his Middle East policy. How did that happen? After all, neither of those relatively young men had any background in the State Department. Martin Indyk wasn't even, when Clinton first considered hiring him an American citizen. He was an Australian, but he had his naturalization papers pushed through super-fast just so he could take the job. Dennis Ross did have some government experience. He held some low to mid level jobs in the Pentagon and the National Security Council under both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, but his academic specialty in as much as he had one was in Soviet affairs, not the Middle East. What these two men did have was the fabulous connections they enjoyed in the networks of WINEP and AIPAC. Networks, it should be noted, that contained numerous large scale Democratic Party donors. So they got those nice jobs with Clinton, Indyk, first of all, running Middle East affairs for the NSC and then going as US ambassador to Israel and Ross as Clinton's overall Middle East envoy. And ever since 1993, people who are committed ideological supporters of the Zionist project have been in near-total control of the Arab Israeli policies of every single US administration. A few years ago I got the chance to write a short profile for the Nation of a man called Tom Dine from 1980 through 1993. Dine was the executive director of AIPAC, which since its founding in the post-Suez era, had focused on building and keeping rock-solid support for Israel in the legislative branch. Those were the years in the mid 1980s when Ross an Indyk we're founding a think-tank with lots of support from AIPAC. When I was interviewing Dine in the late 2000s he expressed some wonder at the amount of access he had enjoyed during his head years as head of AIPAC to lead us in all the branches of government. He also reflected on the fact that it went up success in affect capturing so much power within the executive branch had changed the dynamic of pro-Israel organizing in Washington considerably. AIPAC, he told me at one point, had been founded on the idea that if there were another Suez-type confrontation between the executive branch and Israel, then this time congress would be able to weigh in on Israel's side much more strongly and effectively than it did in 1956. But by the 1990s, the pro-Israel side had won control of the executive branch as well regarding Middle East affairs. So everything became a lot simpler from then on. For the record, I should note that Tom Dine is one of a small number of former high-level AIPAC staffers who after leaving the organization had some second thoughts about the things they'd done while they were still in it. These people generally only express their regrets very discreetly, but from what I've been able to learn by talking with such recovering AIPAC-ers, their regrets generally track closely with the fact that over that whole period they were inside and then outside AIPAC, the politics of the state of Israel were veering sharply to the right. The people who lead AIPAC today are far more in sync with the aggressive and expansionist policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, than Tom Dine or other recovering AIPAC-ers like MJ Rosenberg ever were. So now, after the midterm elections of last November, there's finally a tiny sliver of hope that AIPAC's decades-long grip over the whole of the US congress maybe starting to fracture just a little bit. Though we have seen how heavily AIPAC and its numerous allies came down on representative Ilhan Omar when she was bold enough to merely mentioned the heavy-handed role the organization plays in swaying funding decisions in our national elections. And we can certainly expect to see more and perhaps even more damaging campaigns against her or anyone else who dares to challenge the-mafia-type rule of omerta that AIPAC and its allies try to maintain regarding such matters. But today, the movement fighting for the full and equal rights of the Palestinians is pushing back against the pro-Israel gang's tactics of intimidation and silencing much more forcefully than ever before. We need to keep our eyes on the ball, specifically on the ball of what it is that international law and international legality require for the Palestinians. The kinds of basic principles such as the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, the right of all nations, including the Palestinians to self-determination and the right of the millions of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes-- principles that have been completely ignored and even derided by American-policy makers for the past several decades. Stay tuned for the next episode of Story-Backstory in which I'll be exploring another key dimension of the politics of the Palestine question and related issues. It will be released here on Just World Podcast on Friday, March 8th. For Just World Podcast, this is Helena Cobban. Thanks for listening and have a great week.