American shield

Print edition : December 14, 2012

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuwith Hillary Clinton in Jerusalem on November 20.-BAZ RATNER/AP

With President Barack Obama justifying Israels offensive, hopes for U.S. pressure on the Israelis to work out a settlement with the Palestinians seem to have fizzled out.

BEGINNINGS are hard to establish for Israels various onslaughts on the Palestinian people. Did this current wave, which the Israeli government calls Operation Pillar of Cloud (Defence), begin with the assassination of Hamas military chief, Ahmad Jabari, or was there some other provocation? The Israelis point their finger at Hamas and accuse it of firing a rocket into southern Israel. The Palestinians demur: they are, after all, a people under occupation since 1967, whose resistance has been labelled terrorism and whose right to exist seems to have been invalidated.

Gaza, a strip that measures 45 square kilometres, houses 1.7 million peoplethe largest refugee camp (or slum) in the world, by some assessments. To pummel Gaza, regardless of the reason, results not only in civilian casualties (hundreds as of writing this report), but also a total devastation of its infrastructure. The United Nations agency in Gaza (U.N. Relief and Work Agency) reported on November 18: The ongoing air strikes have again targeted leaders of militant groups, infrastructure, the security apparatus, but increasingly residential buildings as well. One hit destroyed a four-storey building belonging to Al Dalou family in a highly populated area in Gaza City. The families present in the house were buried under the rubble. At least 11 people died in the strike and over 20 were injuredall of them civilians, including women, an infant and children. This is an extremely worrying development.

Such reports had begun to emerge after the first few hours of the Israeli bombardment on November 14. Egypt and Morocco asked for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. There was unanimous agreement among the 15 members of the Security Council that the situation was intolerable and that Israel should immediately desist from its attack on Gaza. The Security Council President, Indias Hardeep Singh Puri, said: All the statements that I heard resonated with one message, that the violence has to stop. There has to be de-escalation.

Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., after a video briefing on Gaza.-STAN HONDA/AFP

At this point, the United States intervened. In 2002, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Negroponte, had made it clear that the U.S. would do anything and everything in its power to block U.N. censure of Israel. This became known as the Negroponte Doctrine. When Israel attacked Lebanon in 2006, conducted Operation Cast Lead against Gaza in 2009, expanded its settlements into the West Bank and continued its illegal occupation of Palestine, any attempt to raise these issues in the Security Council attracted the U.S. veto. Protected by the U.S. veto, Israel was able to act with impunity. On November 14, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice blocked the discussion with her insistence that the beginning of this conflict had to be placed at Hamas headquarters. There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organisations are employing against the people of Israel, she said. Israel, like any nation, has the right to defend itself against such vicious attacks.

This sentiment was echoed by her President, Barack Obama, who said in Bangkok on November 18: There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So, we are fully supportive of Israels right to defend itself from missiles landing on peoples homes. That the U.S. has taken to pummelling several countries with missiles from drones did not seem to enter this calculation, nor indeed did the idea occur to the President that the Palestinians might not find the Israeli missiles tolerable, and, therefore, might seek to defend themselves with their home-made rockets (fired by urea and trinitrotoluene, or TNT). Obama, like Susan Rice, said that the conflict began with the Palestinians, with little care for the dossiers that make out the alternative case. The Negroponte Doctrine had to be honoured.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte in the Security Council in December 2001.-AP

Obamas own Democratic party, the putative home for American liberalism, is as committed to Israel as the party of the Right, the Republican Party. One of his liberal allies, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, released during the bombardment a statement that shed no tears for the Palestinians. It might as well have been written by the Israeli Prime Ministers office: I condemn the rocket attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and fully support Israels right to self-defence, which is why I have supported the Iron Dome [Israels rocket shield]. The path to peace in West Asia is difficult enough without the unprovoked and unjustified offensive action by Hamas. If the stalwarts of American liberalism take such a position, no room exists in the U.S. mainstream for a healthy discussion of the Israeli occupation in general and this current assault in particular.

American liberals were provided an easy opening to put some daylight between their otherwise craven support for Israel and the more hard-line Israelis. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharons son Gilad wrote an opinion piece in Jerusalem Post, which pointed out glibly: Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didnt stop with Hiroshimathe Japanese werent surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. Such a call for genocide, using the U.S. actions in Japan as an example, should have provoked a rebuke from the White House. This was met with silence. So, too, were the repeated attacks on the media building, al-Sharouk, in Gaza City. After the first attack, the Israeli Prime Ministers office noted: No Western journalists were hurt during the IAF [Israeli Air Force] operation aimed to destroy Hamas military communication situated on the roof of a media building. The White House could have taken issue with the idea that it was acceptable to hurt non-Western journalists.

On November 17, the Security Council called another emergency meeting. The Arab states expected Gaza to be on the agenda. Instead, the agenda held another important matter: the march of the M23 rebel group with the Rwandan army backing towards the town of Goma in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The move had the tacit green light from Washington, which was eager not to make too much of it. Gaza was not part of the agenda, and Palestines Permanent Observer Riyad Mansour made it clear that this was disappointing. The Security Council is not naive. The U.S. veto hangs heavily over the Horseshoe Table (in the U.N.).

ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER EHUD BARAK (left) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro in front of the "Iron Dome" near Tel Aviv on November 18.-RONI SCHUTZER/AFP

Hopes for U.S. pressure on Israel to make an agreement with the Palestinians and curtail moves to wage a war against Iran now seem to have fizzled out. There is little daylight between the White House and the Israeli Prime Ministers office in Hakirya. On November 16, Israels Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, said on Capitol Hill: The United States has given us the full backing to take whatever measures are necessary to defend our citizens from Hamas terror. Israel has received unequivocal and outstanding support from the United States.

As the U.S. and Israel merge their political views, and as Israel drifts out of the range of negotiation with its neighbours, the Obama administration is going to find it hard to move any agenda in the region. The harmony between Israel and the U.S. has irritated even the Gulf Arab states that are otherwise reliable allies of the U.S. People close to the Qatari Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, say that he is furious with the U.S. for blocking a U.N. resolution. But with the Negroponte Doctrine alive and well, this should not have been a surprise.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor