The Israeli-American Hammer-Lock on Palestine
Israel’s occupation is only made possible by unquestioning US support—but a day of reckoning is on the way.
As we mark the 50th anniversary of the longest military occupation in modern history, some are celebrating. It is fully appropriate that these celebrations will include a joint session of the US Congress and the Israeli Knesset, held via video link. For Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights is only made possible by the constant support it has obtained since June 1967 from successive US administrations. This is therefore not solely an Israeli occupation: Since the very beginning, it has in fact been a joint undertaking, an Israeli-American condominium, if you will. If the various forms of violence necessary to maintain alien rule over what are now nearly 5 million people have been administered entirely by Israelis, the financial, arms, and diplomatic weight behind them has been mainly American.
The degree to which American support is the sine qua non of this 50-year occupation can be seen from the difference between how the Johnson administration and its successors treated Israel’s 1967 conquests, and how President Eisenhower reacted to those of the 1956 war. In that earlier case, the US reaction was unequivocal and forceful. Only days after the Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt, Washington pushed through a UN resolution demanding that Israel withdraw unconditionally and immediately from the occupied Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula. Under powerful American pressure, Israel grudgingly did so six months later.
As an 18-year-old on June 9, 1967, I myself was witness to one indication of how much things had changed since 1956. On the fourth day of the war, I was sitting in the visitors’ gallery of the Security Council (my father worked for the UN Secretariat and I was home from college). I watched US Ambassador Arthur Goldberg stall for hours to prevent the council from forcing Israel to stop its seemingly inexorable advance toward Damascus. In spite of successive Security Council cease-fire resolutions, and thanks to such tacit US support, that advance did not stop until the following day.
Worse was yet to come. In contrast to the days that passed before it acted in 1956, the United Nations took over five months to come up with a resolution to deal with the situation created by the 1967 war. When it did so, on November 22, 1967, Security Council Resolution 242 was inspired essentially by the desiderata of Israel, with the indispensable support of the United States. Resolution 242 was far from unconditional: Indeed, it made Israel’s withdrawals from the areas its forces had just conquered conditional on the achievement of “secure” boundaries, which has proven to be an infinitely flexible term in the Israeli lexicon. This flexibility has permitted 50 years of delay where occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories are concerned. Moreover, in its English version, 242 did not call from withdrawal from all the land taken in the June war, but only from “territories occupied” during the conflict. With ample American backing, Israel has driven a coach and horses through that seemingly minor gap.
One additional crucial point about 242 is worth mentioning. The original conflict in Palestine was a colonial one between the indigenous Palestinian majority and the Zionist movement as the latter tried to achieve sovereignty over the country at the expense of, and ultimately in place of, that majority. The nature of this conflict had been recognized in part in the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 181 of 1947, which called for the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The former was to have been larger than the latter, although at that point Jewish land ownership was under 7 percent of the total, and Arabs constituted 65 percent of the country’s population, and in principle had the absolute right of self-determination in the entirety of what they reasonably still considered their country.
Haughtily ignoring the indigenous population and its rights and interests is in fact a typical colonial maneuver, one that has set the stage for an Israeli colonial-settler enterprise that has thrived for 50 years in the occupied territories. It goes without saying that this has taken place with full US support, accompanied by tepid criticism. British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour engaged in the same maneuver a century ago, never mentioning the words Palestinian or Arab in his famous November 2, 1917, declaration promising British support for a Jewish “national home” in a Palestine that then had a 94 percent Arab majority.
By 1967, Israel had already begun to get some US arms deliveries, although it won the war of that year mainly with French and British weaponry, as it had in 1956. In the wake of its crushing 1967 victory, Israel became a major Cold War ally, commencing a much closer relationship with the United States against Arab states that were aligned with the Soviet Union. In time, this alliance has become more intimate than that with any other country, with military aid soaring to over $1 billion per year after 1973, and at over $4 billion annually today (this aid is going to a relatively rich country, one with a GDP per capita of nearly $35,000). Since 1967, Israel has been cosseted by the United States, whether its actions served or harmed US interests. This intimacy has reached the point that politicians of both parties compete with one another in proclaiming that they will allow “no daylight” between the positions of the two countries.
Notwithstanding the celebrations of this unity of views between the American and Israeli establishments about support for the continued occupation and colonization process in Palestine, a day of reckoning is on the way. There are harbingers everywhere. Already the Democratic Party is torn between its blindly pro-Israel old-guard leadership and a younger and more open-minded base that can see what is actually happening in Palestine. The resolution passed on May 21 by the California Democratic Party is a sign of the times. It condemns the failure of successive administrations, in spite of mild criticisms of the occupation, to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It goes on to criticize Israel’s “illegal settlements in the occupied territories,” and calls for a “just peace based on full equality and security for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike,” as well as “self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”
Fifty years on from the euphoria in Israel and Washington that accompanied the beginning of the occupation, the rise of a different spirit can be discerned on college campuses, among younger people—including among many young Jewish Americans—minorities, some churches, synagogues, academic associations and labor unions, and among the grassroots of the Democratic Party. There is naturally a potent and well-financed counter-offensive against this awakening, which has traction with the Trump administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party and is echoed in much of the mainstream media. It can be seen at its most frantic in the attempts to shut down debate via unconstitutional anti-BDS bills in statehouses all over the country (19 of them already enacted into law), as well as in Israel’s banning of the entry of supporters of BDS and its laws targeting Israelis supporting BDS.