A front-page headline in The New York Times last Monday startled me for a few seconds. It read: “Obama brings end to giving in”, which for a few seconds I thought was related to how U.S. President Barak Obama was on the verge of adopting a more even-handed stance towards the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or more correctly twisting the arm of Israel.
After all, recent American administrations have been throughout very supportive of Israel, for one reason or another. But it turned out that the “news analysis” in the Times dealt with the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
In other words, the economic crisis that is facing the U.S. and the apparent refusal of the Republican Party to play ball with Obama.
Why does the Obama administration, like all its predecessors, refuse to confront, squarely and mightily, Israel, considering that the Arab world remains an important asset for U.S. interests in the region?
Here are some examples of U.S. timidity vis-à-vis the blatant Israeli actions that remain overlooked by the Obama administration, just like its predecessors:
— The Palestinians have endured 65 years of dispossession when Israel was sanctioned by the 1948 U.N. Partition Plan, which unfairly gave the small Jewish population in the then-British-ruled Palestine 55 per cent of the country.
The larger Arab community was granted mostly the mountainous region. Following the Arab-Israel war of 1967, Israel grabbed the entire country; thereby the Palestinians remaining in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem have to date endured 45 years of Israeli occupation. And over the last 20 years, the long-percolating peace process had yet to bear fruit, thanks to Israel’s intransigence and the shocking silence of key Western states, particularly the United States.
— In the wake of the Palestinian triumph at the U.N. last week, where Palestine was awarded non-member state observer status (a slap in the face of both Israel and its “ally”, the Obama administration) Israel announced an expansion of Israeli settlement plans near Jerusalem on occupied Palestinian territory — 3,000 housing units in the West Bank, as well as within the so-called E-1 area, which if inhabited, will split the future state of Palestine into two disconnected regions. In other words, a final nail in the two-state coffin!
— Unlike the other U.N. member states — like Britain, France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark who summoned Israeli ambassadors in their capitals and protested their government’s unjustified action — the Obama administration merely criticized Israel’s retaliatory action.
— Israel confiscated $100 million in tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority which administers the occupied West Bank. Moreover, some pro-Israel congressmen vented their fury over the Palestinian achievement at the U.N. and are reportedly introducing legislation that would cut off as much as $935 million in foreign aid to the Palestinians — $495 million in frozen fiscal year 2012 funds and a reported $440 for 2013 — if the Palestinians use their new U.N. standing to take Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Some $200 million of that funding is urgent, “direct budget support” for the PA, according to the State Department, yet the donation has been held up for months in the Congress.
In contrast, the Obama administration’s FY2013 request includes $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel and $15 million for refugee resettlement. Within the U.S. Department of Defence, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency’s FY2013 budget request includes $99.8 million in joint U.S.-Israel military action.
It seems that the serious part of the U.S. relationship with Israel lies in the military field. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reported columnist Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, “plans to supervise construction of a five-storey underground facility for an Israel Defense Forces complex” at an Israeli Air Force base near Tel Aviv.
It would take two years to build, at a cost of up to $100 million. This is the latest, wrote Pincus, in a long history of military construction projects the United States has undertaken for the Israeli army under the U.S. foreign military sales program. Only U.S. construction firms are being allowed to bid on the contract, and since “security concerns are so great” non-Israeli employees can come from a few countries. Palestinians are forbidden to work at these sites.
Pincus said he asked the Pentagon what the purpose of this project was, but was told that “only an Israeli defense ministry spokesman could provide an answer.” He concluded that the purpose of the site “is far less clear.”
Is this what keeps Obama handcuffed?
(George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. The article was published in The Jordan Times on Dec. 7, 2012)