23 June 2003
Statements by secretary of state Colin Powell would seem to represent a change of heart on the part of the US over the Israeli position on the future of a Palestinian state. But does a call for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the removal of a few shacks (some not even occupied) erected in remote positions on Palestinian territory, represent a fundamental change in US policy, namely that it’s putting ‘pressure’ on Sharon to rollback the expansionist policy that has been in place since 1948? Statements by Sharon signal that regardless, the current expansionist policy will continue. When asked whether building would continue in one large West Bank settlement, Sharon said, ‘We just build.’
A lot hinges on the outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the US, not the least of which is its long-term plans for the Middle East. There are many, even those in opposition to US-Israeli policy who seem to think that Sharon is playing Bush for a ‘sucker’. But is this really true?
There have been three strands to US policy in the Middle East: one is the removal of any viable external military opposition to Israeli expansionism, the second, neutralising a viable Palestinian independence movement and third, making the Middle East safe for US corporations. The three strands are intertwined and herein lies its weakness because it’s based on a lot of assumptions about causes and solutions. In addition, there is the perception which has been created by the US propaganda war, that it wishes to see the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. How can it fulfill its obligations to Israel and at the same time fulfill its publicly stated support for some kind of Palestinian state, especially as its invasion and occupation of Iraq has put paid to any kind broader Middle Eastern support?
The Road Map: A dead end
Even the most cursory analysis of the ‘road map’ reveals that its most basic elements are utterly unacceptable to the Palestinians, even if a ‘puppet’ in the form of the Palestinian ‘Prime Minister’ Abbas (Abu Mazen) can be rolled out to rubber stamp it. That there is no ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, the fact that the ‘removal’ of settlements only goes back to those established since 2000, the loss of 12% of the land on the West Bank, and the rejection of the demand for Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, are the four fundamental obstacles that make the ‘road map’ an unattainable objective. And as the US was author of the road map, it knew it too. So what is the hidden US objective?
In the first place, it’s obvious that the removal of Yassir Arafat was part of a long term US-Israeli strategy, based on the belief that with Arafat’s removal and the installation of a more ‘moderate’ Palestinian leader could somehow, lead to a ‘solution’ and this would be more ‘acceptable’ to the Israelis. But how realistic is this? Thus far, it’s proved to be an illusion, for no matter how accommodating Abbas is, he has very little room for manouver, in fact even less than Arafat had. The conditions for the current impasse have their roots in a policy that extends back the establishment of the state of Israel which no matter how the ‘Greater Israel posse’ play it, short of either total expulsion of the Palestinians or their physical extermination, is not an option that the US administration are in a position to countenance.
Second, removal of Saddam Hussein and even the removal of Assad in Syria, whilst it may assure complete US-Israeli military domination of the Middle East, contributes nothing toward solving the Palestinian issue. If anything, it only makes the situation even more intractable and ultimately, more unstable than it is already.
A bridge too far?
The US is caught between a rock and hard place, and it’s this dilemma that forms the basis for Colin Powell’s statements reluctantly ‘condemning’ Israel’s policy of assassinations and the ‘pressure’ on Israel to remove a tiny fraction of the illegal settlements. In the short term, in order for the US to carry out its larger strategic objectives, it has somehow to rein in the Sharon government whilst creating the appearance of satisfying the legitimate demands of the Palestinian people for a viable and independent state. And increasingly, the gulf between US public diplomacy and the realities of the situation, grows wider and wider.
How is the US to resolve this fundamental contradiction without either, withdrawing its support for Israel or going for broke and backing the Israeli extremists demand (and its core of supporters ensconced in the Bush administration) for the expulsion of the Palestinians completely? Is it possible that the US would ‘sacrifice’ Israeli n order to carry out its larger objectives?
On the one hand, with the removal of any viable opposition to joint US-Israeli aims in the Middle East, Israel’s strategic importance is diminished, hence one aspect of the current criticism of Israeli policies is set within this context. On the other, the removal of anti-Israeli governments is at yet, only partially complete. So the ‘road map’ is to some extent, also a delaying tactic. To a lesser degree it’s also a response to a growing demand from the EU and others, for some kind of permanent solution to what is seen as an intractable problem. Assume however, that the US removes Assad in Syria and by some miracle installs a compliant, pro-Israeli regime in Tehran. If this came to pass, then it’s more than possible that the US would dump Israel, as it would cease to play a central, strategic role in US policies. However, the US administration by no means speaks with one voice on this strategy.
Whilst the media have presented the divisions within the US administration as between the ‘hawks’ and the ‘moderates’, a more accurate description would be that it’s a disagreement over tactics. The hardcore pro-Israeli group who surround Bush, are a ‘go for the jugular’ crew, whose fanatical allegiance to Israel sets them against the more realistic voices that have no compunction about dumping Israel in order to carry out the long term objectives of US imperialism. And history backs up this view. There are innumerable examples of US duplicity in this regard; Diem in Vietnam, Marcos in the the Philippines, Duvalier in Haiti, Noriega in Panama, the Apartheid regime in South Africa, Mobutu in the Congo, immediately come to mind, where the US didn’t think twice before dumping them as ‘allies’ when it deemed it expedient to do so. Seen in this context, those who speak of the overwhelming power of the Israeli lobby in Washington DC obviously have no understanding of the world of real politik.
Seen in this context, the current US position on Israel makes total sense if only because it has no other options open to it. A successful conclusion (in US terms) to the Israeli-Palestine conflict will be determined by the outcome of the larger US objective in its goal of achieving regional hegemony. Sacrificing its long term ally, Israel, is a small price to pay if it means achieving this objective. The vital question is whether or not firstly, the Palestinian leadership will ‘play ball’, which currently, looks unlikely to happen, and secondly, because Sharon and co don’t want to play ball either. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict won’t go away. If Sharon gets his way and goes down the path of mass expulsions and continued extermination of Palestinian leaders, it can only lead even more violent confrontations, which is the last thing the US needs right now. And more ‘distractions’ of the ‘regime change’ variety, will only delay the inevitable; the need for a just solution for the Palestinian people. It further reinforces the view that the current clique who dominate current White House thinking, are on a hiding to nothing.”