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U.S. on a disastrous course

By Marda Dunsky, Chicago Tribune

Thursday 7 June 2007

For Palestinians, the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War
represents 40 years of freedom denied. For Israelis, it is a reminder that
security and regional acceptance remain elusive after nearly six decades of statehood.

Israelis and Palestinians have not had exclusive agency in the making of
their conflict, however. U.S. Mideast policy has played a significant role.

The overriding American interest has been to preserve and enhance U.S.
influence in the strategically vital, oil-rich Middle East. During the Cold War, countering Soviet encroachment in the region was paramount. Israel, with its developed economy and democratic processes, has been the United States’ natural ally and proxy in achieving these objectives.

The United States has supported Israel since the Jewish state was
established in 1948. However, the bulk of U.S. material support has
coincided with Israel’s 40-year occupation of the Palestinians. Ninety-nine percent of the estimated $107 billion in U.S. economic and military aid to Israel has been granted since 1967. (Since 1993, U.S. aid to Palestinians has totaled about $1.8 billion.)

Moreover, since 1970, the United States has cast half of its UN Security
Council vetoes — 41 out of a total 82 — to shield Israel from international censure of its policies of occupation, annexation and military action.

Yet while American aid and diplomatic cover have enabled Israel to become the region’s strongest military and economic power, and consolidate its territorial control, the policy has backfired on the United States itself.

The continuing injustice and suffering that the Israeli occupation has brought on the Palestinians has served as a focal point for resentment toward the United States in the Muslim world. Jihadists who seek to harm Americans and U.S. interests have made the conflict a rallying cry.

The effect of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic also has
dampened prospects for a just and sustainable peace. This despite the
United States’ self-described role of “honest broker” in the conflict and its repeated, though mostly failed, attempts at diplomacy.

Of the several “final-status” issues to be resolved, one of the most difficult is the presence of about 460,000 Israeli settlers on lands in the West Bank and in and around Jerusalem that have been occupied — or, in the case of Jerusalem, illegally annexed — by Israel since 1967.

The UN Security Council has passed numerous resolutions affirming that
the Fourth Geneva Convention — which prohibits an occupying power from transferring its own civilian population to the territory it occupies — is applicable “to the Arab territories occupied by Israel in 1967, including
Jerusalem.” These resolutions also have declared that Israeli settlements in occupied territory have “no legal validity.”

Despite international law and consensus on these issues, and even as the numbers of settlers and colonies continued to increase, U.S. aid to Israel during its 40-year occupation has continued unabated.

In 2003 the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that since 1967, Israeli
governments had spent an estimated $10.1 billion on settlements in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip, a figure that equaled approximately 11 percent of U.S. aid to Israel for the same period.

U.S. law prohibits Israel from spending American aid in the occupied
territories. However, money is fungible, and the math is clear: This aid has effectively underwritten the costs of Israel’s building, enlarging and
defending the settlements — and thus has sustained the occupation.

In addition to decades of aid and diplomatic support for Israel, U.S. policy on the conflict has followed a disastrous course since the turn of the 21st Century.

The failed 2000 Camp David summit, under the aegis of the Clinton
administration, presented the Palestinians with a new, U.S.-brokered
approach to peace that reframed the rules of the process, according to
former CIA analyst Kathleen Christison.

“Contrary to previous expectations [based on UN Security Council
Resolutions 242 and 338],” Christison wrote, “Palestinians must come to the peace process expecting to bargain over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, not to obtain their return.”

During the second Palestinian uprising that followed the summit, the Bush administration backed Israel’s military and diplomatic isolation of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat based on unproved allegations that he was tied directly to Palestinian violence against Israelis. This served to humiliate Palestinians and weaken their confidence in Arafat’s Fatah party.

When Palestinian voters handed a stunning victory to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary elections, the Bush administration — despite its pretensions of promoting democracy in the Arab world — backed Israel in its boycott of the democratically elected Palestinian government and cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. In recent weeks the United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, has reportedly funded the training and arming of Fatah fighters to battle Hamas forces in Gaza with the aim of bringing down the Hamas-led government, The Washington Post reported last month.

The aggregate impacts of this American policy are stark: The Israeli
government continues to build and enlarge West Bank settlements.
Palestinian factions are engaged in fratricidal violence in Gaza. And the
prospects for constructive diplomacy, much less peace negotiations, appear nowhere on the horizon.

At the 40th anniversary of the occupation, Americans should not be content to think of themselves as mere sideline observers to this folly. We have a stake, and should have a voice, in changing the course of a policy that has diminished hopes for Mideast peace while compromising our own interests.

Marda Dunsky teaches “Reporting the Arab and Muslim Worlds” at DePaul
University in Chicago. Her book, “Pens and Swords: How the American
mainstream media report the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” is scheduled to be
published by Columbia University Press in January.

Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune