Apr 26, 2011

Palestinians not invited

When it comes to US-Israel relations, few people are more effected by the dynamics of this relationship than Palestinians. Billions of dollars in military equipment shipped from the United States to Israel most often ends up used against Palestinians. Seemingly endless American diplomatic support for Israel permits them to wantonly ignore international law at the expense of Palestinians and their land in occupied territory and refugee camps. Yet, when it comes to debating the US-Israel relationship and its implications, Palestinians are systematically excluded from the discussion.

This "debate" in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine is a perfect example. FP magazine features a lengthy piece by Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren and, as ambassadors are supposed to do, he attempts to make his country (In case you are confused, Oren's country is Israel even though he was born in the United States. He gave up American citizenship to represent the Netanyahu government in Washington) look as good as possible. So while I disagree with most of what Oren had to say, I don't fault him for doing his job.

But the "rebuttals" that follow underscore irresponsibility on behalf of the editors. After publishing a lengthy piece filled with Israeli government spin, the FP editors invited Robert Satloff, Jeffery Goldberg, Aluf Benn, and Stephen Walt to respond. No Palestinians were invited.

Still, the debate is not only lacking because of the absence of Palestinian voices, it's horribly skewed in a pro-Israel direction. Stephen Walt, an American realist who is critical of the role of the Israel lobby in the United States is the only exception. Satloff, who heads the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs (a "please don't think"-tank created by the Pro-Israel lobby) writes in his "rebuttal" that Oren's essay is "powerful and trenchant" and "comes at precisely the right time." And his criticism of Oren? "If anything, Oren -- currently Israel's ambassador to the United States -- understates the case for Israel's value as a strategic asset to America."

Aluf Benn is an Israeli journalist, and while he argues that Israel's current policies do not match American values, he still agrees with Oren's assessment as a realist argument since "in international relations, however, interests and power calculations usually prevail over values and ideals." So while Benn criticizes Oren for overstating common US-Israeli values, he simultaneously and self-defeatingly argues values aren't really that important.

Jefferey Goldberg is another pro-Israel journalist who left the United States after college to volunteer for the Israeli Army and became a guard at an Israeli prison for Palestinian political prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza. More on that particular prison here. Perhaps it is because Goldberg has so often been criticized for flagrant pro-Israel bias that he tries to be critical of Michael Oren's piece in his rebuttal. He is clearly out of his comfort-zone and ultimately makes little sense.

Golberg writes (emphasis mine):
Israel's reputation is waning dramatically, and the Arab Spring will only accelerate this trend. The Arab revolts have inspired many Americans who will soon look at the West Bank and see unfree Arabs. Then they will look at who is suppressing these Arabs and see Israel; and then they will become confused by this because they have heard many times that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. And then they will ask, why is this so?

He goes on:
This is not an argument for a panicked withdrawal from the West Bank, nor an argument that a final peace is possible at the moment. It will be dangerous for Israel to leave large swaths of the West Bank, but it will be existentially dangerous to maintain control over large populations of Palestinians. One of the most obvious reasons is that Americans will, more and more, come to see the occupation the way Israel's enemies frame it: as an exercise in apartheid.
The lack of candor and insincerity in this piece is almost laughable. Goldberg tells us Americans are going to start noticing that Israel is not democratic because of all the Palestinians it occupies and then be confused because SOMEONE has been telling them that Israel is in fact a democracy. But who could that someone or group of someones be? Goldberg doesn't elaborate. I wonder why?

The first full sentence of Jefferey Goldberg's rebuttal to Michael Oren's piece: It is true that Israel is still the only stable democracy in the Middle East.

Goldberg, in his rebuttal to Oren, gladly repeats one of Oren's talking points which he then warns Americans will eventually realize is nonsense. The Israeli ambassador describes the situation this way in his piece: "While grappling with the challenges posed by its large Arab minority and, since the Six-Day War, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has remained the Middle East's only functional democracy."

Of course the challenges Oren is talking about is the existence of Palestinians who have no representation in the Israeli government in territory controlled by that government. In other words, IT IS NOT DEMOCRATIC AT ALL.

Still, somehow Americans got the impression, as Goldberg rightly points out, that despite the fact that half the people Israel controls have no representation in the Israeli government or are systematically marginalized because of their ethnicity, Israel is still a democracy.

Goldberg discusses this potential American awakening as if this fundamentally undemocratic state structure of Israel and its occupation has only just started recently. In fact, Israel has been controlling large swaths of Palestinian population without giving them representation or equal rights for over four decades.

If Americans begin to accept that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is an "exercise in Apartheid" it will not be because "Israel's enemies" are framing it that way, it will be because that is the way it is in reality and has been for most of Goldberg's, Oren's and most Palestinians' lifetimes.

What is in fact changing is that Americans are realizing the the pro-Israel propaganda spouted by Israeli representatives and then regurgitated by the likes of Jefferey Goldberg or Robert Satloff is in fact intentionally misleading propaganda. That's why folks like Goldberg and Satloff don't like it when anyone draws attention to the pro-Israel lobby. Goldberg alludes to Walt and Mearsheimer as "conspiracy-mongers," but he is the one that refuses to ascribe agency to those that keep telling Americans that Israel is a democracy even though it isn't. And still he dares, in a patronizing tone, to call Americans he continues to intentionally misinform, "confused."

And yet, all of this change in the discourse is happening and Palestinians are not even invited to the discussion. Just imagine if they were.

0 comments: on "Palestinians not invited"