Common Dreams / March 15, 2021
Israel operates with impunity, while Palestinian actions have been scrutinized and condemned and their protests ignored or silenced.
Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.
It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected.
Operating from this mind-set, the US has given Israel carte blanche, while pressure and punishments have been reserved for the Palestinians. On occasion, policymakers have timidly raised issue with some Israeli practices, but because they’ve taken no effective measures to change these behaviours, Israel has seen no reason to alter its course. As a result, Israel operates with impunity, while Palestinian actions have been scrutinized and condemned and their protests have either been ignored or silenced as disruptive or counterproductive.
Recent actions by the Biden Administration sadly fit this pattern. In just the past few weeks, they have: condemned the decision of the International Criminal Court to begin prosecution of Israel for its war crimes in Gaza since 2014 and its illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank; criticized the UN Human Rights Council for its condemnation of Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights; rejected tying US aid to Israel’s human rights behaviours; declared opposition to Palestinian calls to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel for its violations of Palestinian rights; and “embraced” the expanded definition of anti-Semitism that includes some legitimate criticisms of Israel.
Especially revealing was one of the reasons given for US opposition to Palestinians taking their complaints to international fora. The US charged that, “Such actions against Israel…increase tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.” This appears to suggest that Israel’s aggressive land confiscation, settlement construction, demolition of Palestinian homes, detention without charges or trial of hundreds of Palestinians, collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, and Israel’s mass killing sprees of Palestinians in 2014 and 2018, did not “increase tensions or undercut efforts” at peace making. But Palestinians seeking legal remedies against these Israeli actions is disruptive. In short, Israel can do whatever it wants, with US backing. But when Palestinians protest—precisely because the US will do nothing to defend them—then they are at fault.
Regardless of the US intent, what this says to the Palestinians is that their human rights don’t matter and will always be subordinated to Israeli interests.
Listen to this exchange at a recent State Department briefing. A reporter asked:
“Considering your position on the Palestinians now, where should the Palestinians go to get accountability for what they claim to be problem?”
The State Department official responded:
“Of course the United States is always going to stand up for human rights…That is why you have heard us continue to endorse a two-state solution to this long running conflict…because it protects Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state but it will also give the Palestinians a viable state of their own and fulfil their legitimate aspirations for dignity and self-determination.”
Because the answer was non-responsive to the question asked, the reporter repeated thirteen times “Where do they go?” No further reply was given.
The best this administration has so far offered the Palestinians was the reiteration of a vague commitment to “a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state.” But this remains hollow as long as it fails to address the complete and abusive control Israel exercises over Palestinians and their land, and the US refuses to apply pressure to end these Israeli abuses.
Even more telling was a policy address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict delivered by a US Ambassador at a recent meeting of the UN Security Council. It was so Israel-centric that any acknowledgment of Palestinian concerns were either accompanied by caveats or framed in terms of Israel’s interests.
For example, the Ambassador expressed the hope that Israelis and Palestinians would both get COVID-19 vaccines, but sidestepped any mention of Israel’s refusal to accept its responsibility to do this. He recognized “the unsustainable disparity in economic development” between Israelis and Palestinians but weirdly attributed this to “a structural issue that should be diagnosed and addressed,” without acknowledging that the “structural issue” has a name: “occupation.” He stated the US intention to restart aid to Palestinians, but claimed that it would do so because this “ultimately supports Israel’s security.” And then, of course, added that “our efforts to reengage the Palestinian people and leadership do not detract in any way from our commitment to Israel.”
Forty-five years ago, we started the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. Our motto was a simple affirmation: “Palestinians have human rights too!” I also wrote a monograph entitled “Palestinians: The Invisible Victims.” Our goal was to challenge policymakers to recognize the humanity of this long-beleaguered people. Sadly, that challenge remains as relevant today and it was back then.
James J. Zogby is the author of Arab Voices (Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010) and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington, D.C.-based organization which serves as the political and policy research arm of the Arab American community