America has not one but two special relationships: one with Britain and one with Israel. When the two clash, the alliance with Israel usually trumps the one with Britain, as Tony Blair discovered to his cost in 2003. For the sake of the special relationship Blair dragged Britain into a disastrous war in Iraq, but in the aftermath of the war his American allies reneged on their promise to push Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians. Blair was no match to the power of the Israel lobby in the US. With American complicity, Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories has now reached its 50th year and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.
Things came to a head following the passage of UN Security Council resolution 2334 on 23 December with 14 votes in support and only the US abstaining. The resolution condemns Israel’s settlements on the West Bank as a flagrant violation of international law; demands that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem”; and reiterates the international consensus in favour of a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Obama administration allowed the resolution to be adopted because by their lights it was not anti-Israeli but, on the contrary, essential for preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic country. For them this was a last-ditch attempt to arrest Israel’s slide towards apartheid and to preserve the possibility of a peaceful solution. In this respect the resolution was entirely consistent with US policy since 1967 in viewing Israeli settlements on occupied land as illegal and as an obstacle to peace.
For Benjamin Netanyahu, however, the UN resolution was like a red rag to a bull. He lashed out in all directions, cancelling an aid program to Senegal; telling the New Zealand foreign minister that this resolution was tantamount to a declaration of war; summoning the ambassadors of the other countries who voted for the resolution for a dressing-down on Christmas Day; vowing to curtail funding for five UN institutions “that are particularly hostile towards Israel”; “punishing” Theresa May, one of the most pro-Israeli leaders in Europe, by cancelling a meeting with her in Davos; and accusing the Obama administration of treachery.
That Obama detests Netanyahu is common knowledge. What is less well known is that Obama’s personal antipathy towards the prime minister co-exists with a genuine commitment to the welfare and security of the Jewish state.
Obama’s actual record over his eight years in office makes him one of the most pro-Israeli American presidents since Harry S Truman. Obama has given Israel considerably more money and arms than any of his predecessors. He has fully lived up to America’s formal commitment to preserve Israel’s “qualitative military edge” by supplying his ally with ever more sophisticated weapons systems. His parting gift to Israel was a staggering military aid package of $38bn for the next 10 years. This represents an increase from the current $3.1 to $3.8bn per annum. It is also the largest military aid package from one country to another in the annals of human history.
Netanyahu invariably repaid Obama’s generosity with ingratitude and abuse. He never missed an opportunity to attack Obama; he intervened crudely in the 2012 presidential elections by backing the Republican candidate; he abused the privilege of an address to a special session of both houses of Congress to insult their president; and he conducted the most vociferous public campaign to sabotage the nuclear agreement with Iran. One is hard put to think of a more blatant example of biting the hand that feeds you. Netanyahu’s conduct marks him out as the special ally from hell.
Israel’s leader epitomizes what Senator J William Fulbright once called “the arrogance of power”. He is also devious and duplicitous. In the Bar-Ilan speech of 2009, he paid lip service to the idea of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel. But, in the run-up to the 2015 election, he abruptly reversed this position and solemnly pledged that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.
Netanyahu has always believed what the Likud’s electoral platform continues to state explicitly: there can be no independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. He is a reactionary politician whose overriding aim is to preserve the status quo with Israel as a regional superpower, ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians in what he and his colleagues insist on calling Judea and Samaria.
Netanyahu presides over the most rightwing, jingoistic, pro-settler, and overtly racist coalition government in Israel’s history. He and his government are addicted to occupation – the root of all evil. In the teeth of almost universal condemnation, they continue to expand the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, thereby deliberately destroying the basis for a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state.
Area C, where most of these settlements are located, comprises 60% of the West Bank. Several ministers, led by the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, advocate outright annexation of this area. A cabinet majority is pushing for a new law that would “legalize” the illegal Jewish outposts on the West Bank – illegal even by Israeli standards because they were built on private Palestinian land. This law, if passed by the Knesset, as seems very likely, will translate the ongoing practice of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine into official state policy.
As is the case with Britain, at the core of the US-Israel special relationship are common values like freedom, democracy, the rule of law, justice, and equality. If anyone has betrayed these values, it is not the Obama administration but Israel’s hawk-infested cabinet.
The Israeli hawks cannot wait for Donald Trump to enter the White House because he is a strong supporter not only of Israel itself but of the illegal settler movement. They believe he would give them a free pass to annex the rural parts of the West Bank and they hope that he will act on his promise to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem ̶ a move that would drive a stake through the two-state solution.
Trump has tweeted his opposition to the Security Council resolution and promised that things will change after 20 January. As president he will be able to align American foreign policy more closely with Israel but he would not be able to reverse the latest Security Council resolution. He can tweet until he is blue in the face; the resolution will still stand.
Resolution 2334 will not resolve the conflict but it has created a new legal framework and a new momentum. By instructing the UN Secretary-General to report every three months, the council put down a marker that from now on it intends to hold Israel to account for its actions. The resolution also opens the door for other bodies, such as the European Union and the International Criminal Court, to intensify their pressure on Israel to desist from its illegal practices on the West Bank and its war crimes in Gaza. Last but not least, the resolution provides a powerful impetus for BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), the global grass-roots campaign against one of the most prolonged and brutal military occupations of modern times.