Israel's Power in the US Senate

You are visiting the old website of The Institute for Palestine Studies

Please visit our new websiteClick Here

 

VOL. 10

1980/81

No. 1
P. 58
Articles
Israel's Power in the US Senate
FULL TEXT

 

On March 20, 1980 Secretary of State Cyrus Vance appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to explain to its members how a mistake in communications had led to the US affirmative vote on the UN Security Council resolution [1] which condemned Israel's settlements policy and called for the dismantling of existing settlements, including those in Jerusalem. The vote at the UN had taken place on March 1, and had been followed by a statement issued by the President from the White House disavowing it and saying that the call for dismantling the settlements was "neither proper nor practical." Secretary Vance, through State Department spokesman Hodding Carter, accepted the responsibility for the "foul-up" in communications.

The President's disavowal, as became clear later, was not due to any miscommunication, but was simply a political move intended to help Carter win the New York state primary election - a move which ultimately failed since Edward Kennedy won it. The Jewish vote in New York went 3 to 1 against Carter, the reason, it is believed, being the UN vote and the basic mistrust New York Jews felt for Carter's stand on Israel. The White House disavowal was based on the fact that Jerusalem was repeatedly mentioned in the resolution in references in addition to the clause on Jerusalem settlements mentioned above. "The failure to communicate" the President's instructions on Jerusalem, the statement read, "resulted in a vote in favour of the resolution rather than abstention."

It was later explained that the President asked to delete paragraph seven of the resolution, which would have been "unjust" to Israel since it referred to the rights of all faiths to visit their holy shrines in Jerusalem. Had this paragraph been left in the resolution, US officials explained, it would have implied that Israel does not in fact allow all faithful to visit their holy sites, and would have misrepresented "free" and "democratic" Israel. The President's disavowal of the Security Council resolution has no precedent in US or UN history.

The President's retreat and subsequent assurance that he would "make sure to be careful in the future," was not enough to satisfy the members of Congress. They insisted on having Secretary Vance testify before them and assure them that the vote in favour of the resolution did not represent a shift in US policy against Israel, nor did the US intend to hand Israel over to the Arabs, as some members of the Committee implied.

Prior to an examination of the Committee's questions to Secretary Vance, a short history of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on the settlements issue is in order. On March 22, 1979, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 446 establishing a commission to look into Israeli settlements in the territories occupied since 1967. The US abstained on this resolution, explaining that it had "grave doubts about the utility of the creation of a settlements commission." The members of the Commission were from Zambia, Bolivia and Portugal. The Commission reported to the Security Council on July 12, 1979, after which the Security Council adopted resolution 452 on July 20, 1979, accepting the recommendations made by the Commission. The Commission was also asked to report back to the Security Council before November 1, 1979. The US again abstained on this resolution [452], arguing that the references to Jerusalem were the basis of its objections.

The settlements commission reported to the Security Council on December 4, 1979, having asked for an extension of the November 1 deadline specified in resolution 452. Events on the West Bank and Israel's Cabinet decision to allow Jewish settlers to live in Hebron, an all-Palestinian town, forced a new confrontation between Israel and members of the United Nations, two of which, Jordan and Morocco, requested a meeting of the Security Council on February 15, 1980. On February 22, the Council began debating the issue of Israeli settlements and on February 23, a draft resolution [S/13827] was circulated to the members of the Council. On March 1, 1980, the Council voted unanimously to adopt resolution 465; legally speaking, this vote is still binding, even for the US, despite the later disavowal of the resolution.

WILL THE US FORSAKE ISRAEL FOR ARAB OIL?

On Capitol Hill, Secretary Vance was intensely questioned by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, most of whom are known to be staunch supporters of Israel. Analysing the questions directed at Vance makes two things very clear. The first is that support for Israel on Capitol Hill is unquestioned and unqualified. Israel, to most members of the US Congress, can do no wrong. The second is that, unlike the case with most political systems in the Middle East, which are autocratic, the President in the United States is almost powerless without the support of the Congress; since the Congress is so staunchly pro-Israeli, and is likely to continue to be so, any hope that there will be a shift in US policy in the Middle East is only wishful thinking. This, of course, includes a second-term Carter administration which many Arab governments seem to be counting on to play a more positive role in the future.

A shift in US relations with Israel, which would at least satisfy some Arab and Palestinian demands, will not be approved by the US Congress. Though it is true that a US president in his second term can act more freely on certain issues without the concern for re-election, this does not free him to act as he himself might wish on issues with emotional impact like that of Israel. Such a change in the way the US views the Middle East would jeopardize the standing of the party of the administration, not only in the next presidential elections but also in both houses of the Congress. With these prospects clear to any American president, and to all party officials as well, the chances of such policy shifts become almost non-existent.

It should be borne in mind, of course, that there are additional reasons for the US commitment to Israel than just the American Jewish vote and American Jewish money. Former Senator James Aburezk of South Dakota once said rightly that historically, the majority of Jewish voters in the US have supported the Democratic Party. But he emphasized that Republicans as well as Democrats support Israel, and the Republican Party's stand on the Middle East is no less pro-Israel than the Democratic Party's position. If it were simply the Jewish vote and Jewish money which decided US policy in the Middle East, the Republicans could have initiated a change, but they have not.

Other factors explaining the US reluctance to take a pro-Palestinian position are apparent from statements by President Carter himself. While in Florida in mid-1979, Carter was asked about the US position against the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and he replied that no Arab president or head of state has, in private, requested him to support the idea of such a state. In talking to the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Conference on February 25, 1980, Carter said, "in my own judgment and in the judgment of many leaders in the Middle East, including many Arab leaders, [a Palestinian state] would be a destabilizing factor in the Middle East."

In his statement before the Senate Committee, Vance emphasized the following few points:

1. "Our unwavering support for Israel's security and well-being," the right of Israel "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries" and the US "commitment to the independence and territorial integrity of all states of the Middle East."

2. "Our support for Security Council Resolution 242 in all its parts as the foundation of a comprehensive peace settlement."

3. The shared conviction by Egypt, Israel and the United States that a ''comprehensive peace must include a resolution of the Palestinian problem in all of its aspects." According to a State Department official, "all of its aspects" means "a comprehensive peace excluding the establishment of a Palestinian independent state...."

4. A restatement of the Kissinger position of 1975 towards the PLO to the effect that the US "will not recognize or negotiate with the PLO so long as the PLO does not recognize Israel's right to exist and does not accept Security Council resolutions 242 and 338."

5. The US view is that while the autonomy talks proceed, the parties "should conduct themselves in accordance with international law and common sense...."

Vance went on to stress what the "self-rule" talks are and what they are not. "They are not," Vance said, "designed to define the final status of the West Bank and Gaza." This is to be left for a later stage when the Palestinians can participate in the determination of their future. "Our concern," Vance went on to say, "is that unilateral acts tend to prejudice the outcome of those negotiations....." The negotiations between Israel and Egypt, with the full partnership of the US, about self-rule for the Palestinians, are, Vance said, "an effort to establish a self-governing authority" in the occupied territories "for a transitional period while fully protecting Israel's security."

Vance went further in defining the purpose of the current negotiations, saying that they aim to delimit the powers and responsibilities of the self-governing authority to be exercised in the West Bank and Gaza. The modalities of the projected elections in the West Bank and Gaza will also have to be discussed and resolved in these negotiations. Another commitment integral to the Camp David agreement is that "all necessary measures will be taken and promises made to assure the security of Israel and its neighbours...." He then went on to tell the members of the Committee that the US had tried unsuccessfully in February to remove the reference regarding the dismantling of settlements from the UN resolution.

According to Vance, the President wanted all references to Jerusalem removed from the resolution, but because of a misunderstanding, the US voted affirmatively on the resolution still containing such references. Vance said, "I was mistaken and have accepted full responsibility for this misunderstanding." With regard to the reference in the resolution to "Palestinian and other Arab lands," Vance said that the US does not construe this in any way which may prejudice the outcome of the negotiations.

The position of the US concerning settlements and Jerusalem, Vance said, was unequivocally stated by the President on March 3 and did not represent a change in policy. The official US policy is that the settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza are "contrary to international law and an impediment to peace," and that the US has "consistently urged Israel to halt action" on new settlements and seizures of land. Vance admitted that the Camp David framework does not refer specifically to the settlements on the West Bank and Gaza, nor does it, in fact, commit Israel in writing or in understanding to cease its settlement activity. The final resolution of the status of the occupied territories will also determine the solution to the settlements issue.

Regarding Jerusalem, Vance said that the official US policy has not changed and had been stated by President Carter to President Sadat in the Camp David accords. In that letter, addressed to Anwar Sadat, dated September 22, 1978, and signed by Jimmy Carter, it was said that "the position of the US on Jerusalem remains as stated by [US] Ambassador [to the UN] Goldberg in the UN General Assembly on July 14, 1967, and subsequently by [US] Ambassador [to the UN] Yost in the United Nations Security Council on July 1, 1969."

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times on March 12, 1980, former Ambassador Goldberg wrote, "The facts are that I never described Jerusalem as occupied territory. The concept of Jerusalem as occupied territory" was not "inaugurated by me," Goldberg went on to say. And in a categorical denial of having made such a statement, Goldberg said, "at no time in these many speeches [at the UN] did I refer to Jerusalem as occupied territory." Goldberg closed his letter to the New York Times by stating that he refused to have his name associated with a policy which he does not support.

The text of Arthur Goldberg's speech of July 14, 1967 itself proves the correctness of his assertions. A careful review of the text does, however, show that the speech clearly implies that Jerusalem and the rest of the territories which came under Israeli control in June 1967 were considered by the US to be occupied territories. In that speech Goldberg said, for example, that "one immediate, obvious, and imperative step is the disengagement of all forces and the withdrawal of Israeli forces to their own territory." Ambassador Goldberg did not say that Jerusalem should be an exception from the call for an Israeli withdrawal "to their own territory." Clearly, the withdrawal of Israeli forces called for is from territories which, at the time, Goldberg and the United States government believed did not belong to Israel, and this included Jerusalem.

Goldberg also said in his speech that "the United States stands ready to give its full support to practical measures to help bring about these steps - withdrawal of forces" and the termination of the state of belligerency between the states of the area. The US, it is implied in Goldberg's speech, considered these territories to be under Israeli occupation, and thus it called for Israel's withdrawal as a first step towards normalizing the situation in the area. The same concept and interpretation, that is, Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, also constitute the basic element in UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967. Goldberg's letter to the New York Times of March 12, 1980, then, is an apparent attempt to embarrass the Carter administration and to keep it in line with the American Jewish community's unqualified support for Israel.

Ambassador Yost's statement on Jerusalem stands in sharp contrast to Goldberg's. It is both precise and clear in its characterization of Jerusalem as part of the occupied territory. Yost said, on July 1, 1969, "The United States considers that the part of Jerusalem that came under the control of Israel in the June War, like other areas occupied by Israel, is occupied territory and hence subject to the provisions of international law concerning the rights and obligations of an occupying power." Jerusalem is, then, considered to be occupied territory by US policymakers. Israel, as the occupying power, is seen as subject to international law that restricts changes in laws or in administration in occupied areas, except for temporary measures taken for explicit security needs. In addition, Israel is legally charged to "not confiscate or destroy private property" in any of the areas which it occupies, even though it has in fact applied these illegal practices in the years since 1967.

The US government is well aware of these realities, and yet when the Security Council voted unanimously in support of resolution 465 condemn- ing Israel's violations of these international laws and calling upon it to dismantle existing settlements, the President of the United States regretted his government's initial approval of the resolution, calling it "neither proper nor practical." Jerusalem's final status, according to the US, "must be settled in the context of negotiations for final peace." "We believe," Vance told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 20, "that whatever solution is eventually agreed upon should preserve Jerusalem as an undivided city." In contrast with this ambiguous position of the US, Israel's position on Jerusalem is that it is not only part of Israel, rather than part of the West Bank, but "it is the eternal capital of Israel" which "will never again be divided." The US, while theoretically not agreeing with Israel on this matter, is unwilling to do, or is incapable of doing, anything to alter the status quo imposed by Israel's annexation of the holy city following the June 1967 war.

The change in the status of Jerusalem by Israel, the confiscation of much of the land owned by the city's Palestinian residents (some of whom are even US citizens), the construction of high-rise Israeli buildings which have drastically altered the city's unique appearance, and the demolition of the homes of suspected Palestinian political activists are all in violation of international law, a fact which the US acknowledges. Yet neither President Carter nor Anwar Sadat was able to alter the position taken by Menahem Begin regarding Jerusalem during their three-week summit at Camp David. Begin was recently quoted as saying that he would not have signed the Camp David accords had they touched on Jerusalem. Carter and Sadat needed a reason for their later euphoria of "success" so they did not press the issue with Begin.

CONGRESSIONAL MEMBERS REAFFIRM THEIR LOYALTY TO ISRAEL

Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, like other members of Congress, endeavour to compete with each other to be the most pro-Israeli. Viewing them in action for the first time is a wholly unique experience in American politics. The following is a representation of the discussion which took place between the Secretary of State and the members of the Committee on March 20, 1980.

Upon the completion of Senator Frank Church's formal welcoming speech to the Secretary, Senator Jacob Javits began the session by calling the Security Council vote "an unmitigated disaster for American foreign policy," the effects of which "will not be ameliorated by the inquiry as to who is at fault." Javits was, in effect, pointedly telling Vance that his taking the responsibility for the "foul-up" would not suffice. He went on to say that "the Islamic world is now telling the United States, and telling Europe and the whole West, that the real hostage that's got to be surrendered with no mercy is Israel, and then everything will be alright." Such an implication, Javits continued, defies the realities of the divisive, fractioned, and war-torn region of the Middle East.

Javit's conclusion is that the US should not be "taken in by that." The US should remain loyal to "one of the only, perhaps the only, true bastion of alliance and security for the free world in the Middle East.... Are we going to preserve [Israel] or throw it to the wolves? " Javits asked in his opening statement.

In the question-and-answer period following his opening statement, Javits asked Vance whether or not it was "a fact that the resolution, as passed, actually called for dismantling [Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands]..." and in what way the President justified the vote, since his position on dismantling the settlements was already stated to be against such an action. Vance replied, "There are always words or phrases in a resolution which one may disagree with, but still vote for the resolution as long as the position of policy is made clear with respect to that disagreement." Regarding this resolution, Vance said, this was very clearly done.

Javits: "Isn't the US position, as it has always been, that Jerusalem should be an undivided city? How is it then that we voted for a resolution, referring to Jerusalem as occupied territory, as if it is a divided city?"

Vance: "If you will go back to statements made in 1970, it was said that there was occupied territory in Jerusalem, namely East Jerusalem. Yet at the same time the US government believed that it should be a united city. What that meant was that it should be physically undivided, without barbed wire. It never did say what the final status of Jerusalem should be."

Javits: "How do you account for paragraph five of the resolution? "

Vance: "That means that unilateral action should not be taken which would change the characteristics to which we refer - that everything that would change these characteristics had to be brought about by negotiations."

Javits: "The Camp David agreements studiously avoided using any other description than 'Arab inhabitants' of the territories, yet this resolution talks about the 'local Arab and Palestinian population.' What does this mean? "

Vance: "It is merely a demographic description. Some are Palestinians, some are other types of Arabs. It has no new meaning and again, it is a phrase that has been used in other resolutions passed at the United Nations for which we voted and about which no question has ever been asked. It is not purporting to make any determination with respect to sovereignty, it is merely a demographic description of the facts."

Javits: "Israel is right then to say that when we disavowed the resolution we disavowed the whole resolution? "

Vance: "The President's statement clearly speaks for itself and indicates those aspects of the resolution with which we disagree and those that are clearly acceptable."

Javits: "Do we agree with others that he didn't specifically exclude?

Vance: "In so far as that is concerned, I believe that what this clearly says is that, provided the changes referred to which were reservations, removal of references to Jerusalem, the stating of our reservations on dismantling, and the fact that it is recommendatory and not binding, then we would have voted for the resolution."

Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana was the second speaker at the committee meeting. He was elected to the Senate in 1976. Senator Lugar praised the important, though limited, progress towards peace in the Middle East through the Camp David process, but said he was "less certain that negotiations following the accords produced much of importance." He said that he was "altogether doubtful that there is anything whatever to be hoped from the United Nations in this regard. The enormous block of visible, anti-Israeli sentiment in the United Nations renders any constructive settlement in that body highly improbable."

The Senator expressed his serious concern about the fiasco surrounding the reversal of the vote and the explanation accompanying it. That, he felt, left many things unsaid and raised doubts about the administration's present policy towards Israel. He asked Secretary Vance to address himself to a series of questions although he did not expect the Secretary to answer those questions, but merely wanted to relay his worries to Vance by posing them. Senator Lugar asked the following:

Did the administration believe that the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem were legally Palestinian or Arab territories according to any standards of legality that were available? If the answer was yes, did this not prejudge the outcome of the further negotiations between Egypt and Israel? Did the administration believe that no change in the 1967 borders was acceptable? Did the administration believe that all Israeli settlements, including Jerusalem, ought to be dismantled? Did the administration believe that there ought to be no changes in the physical or demographic or institutional character of the West Bank, Gaza or Jerusalem initiated by Israel? Did the administration, now or in the future, propose a reduction in aid to Israel because of its settlements policy?

Lugar concluded by saying that it appeared to him that the administration was claiming that nothing had changed from the policy of every previous administration since 1948, while in reality it was establishing a radically new policy towards Israel.

Senator Church of Idaho, Chairman of the Committee, reminded Secretary Vance that the Committee had asked Ambassador Donald McHenry, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Harold Saunders, the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, to be present but neither were. He also told the Secretary that the Committee reserved the option to call on those two witnesses if it became necessary. In reply, Vance said that he was the head of the State Department and thus responsible for everything that it did, including actions taken at the United Nations. Church then went on to question Cyrus Vance as follows:

Church: "Principally, would you agree that in the past thirty years Israel has been a close and reliable friend of the United States?

Vance: "There is no doubt about that."

Church: "Would you agree that whatever the argument of the moment would be, Israel is likely to continue to be a reliable ally of the US?

Vance: "I have no doubt about it."

Church: "We can also agree that all of the Israeli governments have been peaceful; the same statement cannot be made for any other government in that part of the world. Israel has been an island of political stability. In the light of this, do you regard Israel as a country of strategic value in the region? "

Vance: "I do indeed. Israel is a country with great strategic importance. It is extremely strong, it is stable, it is constant in its support for values and principles which we share; it has been and will always remain a close friend and ally of the US. It is a force for stability in the region."

Church: "Does the President share your view?

Vance: "Yes."

Church: "And if there are individuals in the State Department who don't share the view of the strategic importance of Israel to the US, their position would not reflect the policy of this administration, is that correct? "

Vance: "The policy of this administration is reflected in what I have just said."

Church: "And are you confident that this policy is clearly understood and supported by subordinates in the State Department?

Vance: "I am."

Church: "Would you agree that conflicts within the Islamic world are likely to dominate the course of events in that part of the world for the remainder of the century?

Vance: "There are conflicting currents within the Islamic world."

Church: "It is not your position, is it, that the deep divisions in the Islamic world would disappear with a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict? "

Vance: "Some of those obviously will not disappear; however, I think the achievement of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East would be a very important factor in leading to a greater stability in the Middle Eastern states, whether they be Islamic or non-Islamic."

Church: "Is it your view that the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would not be in the best interest of the US and Israel?

Vance: "We oppose an independent Palestinian state."

Church: "Would it not have been more consistent to our role as a mediator to stand aside and abstain on any resolution which pertains to the subject of these negotiations? "

Vance: "The US has been a full partner to the negotiations in the past and now. We want to create an atmosphere in which the parties can have the best chance of success. We abstained in March of last year on a resolution because we felt at that time we would help, by abstaining, to move the negotiations forward that were taking place. We also hoped by abstaining that it would lead to restraint on the part of Israel with respect to the establishment of new settlements. The same thing is true of a vote in July. Unfortunately, our hopes with respect to restraint in the area of the establishment of new settlements did not take place. Therefore, when this resolution came forward at this time, particularly in the light of what has not been happening in terms of restraint, and the dangers which we saw at the failure to exercise restraint for the continuation of the autonomy talks, we felt it was important to vote affirmatively in this case on the settlements question."

Church: "I disagree with your conclusion."

The next in line to question Secretary Vance was Senator Richard Stone of Florida. Stone, himself a Jew, is a Democrat who was born in New York City and who, in addition to his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, serves as chairman of that Committee's Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Senator Stone is known as a staunch supporter of Israel. He began his questioning of Vance by attempting to extract a commitment from Vance, on behalf of the administration, that a US veto would be used when the UN Commission reported back to the Security Council on September 1, 1980.

Stone: "In the light of the fact that the Security Council resolution calls for a full implementation, after a report on September 1, 1980, by the same Commission, will the US veto any such vote on implementation since we have disavowed our support of the resolution? "

Vance: "The resolution is only recommendatory, not binding. I don't want to speculate about anything so far away as September."

Stone: "Are we clarifying our position today in the UN itself by notifying the Security Council members through the Secretariat that we deem our vote a mistake, and that the reference to dismantling settlements is improper as well as impractical, or are all our statements just for domestic considerations?

Vance: "The President has already stated our position."

Stone: "Can we file that with the Security Council? "

Vance: "That can be done, but why is it necessary to do it?"

Stone: "To make it official instead of domestic."

Vance: "It is not domestic. When the President of the United States speaks, the speech is to the whole world, including the Security Council."

Senator Stone's reference to "domestic considerations" is in line with the general perception in the US that the President's disavowal of the vote was a retreat in the face of American Jewish and Israeli pressure. It was also believed that Carter was trying his best to deal with a political situation in the New York primary, and other primaries around the country, in which he was to suffer the wrath of Jewish voters, a substantial number of whom vote in the Democratic primaries. Senator Stone and other senators believed that Carter's policy was shifting away from Israel, and that the vote at the Security Council was the best indication of this shift. The disavowal, these senators and others believed, was not based on genuine recognition of a wrongdoing to Israel, but an attempt to win the Jewish vote while not recommitting the administration to a pro-Israeli position.

Stone: "What will the US position be at the time of the negotiations' deadline in May?

Vance: "We have indicated that [resolutions] 242 and 338 are the basis for all of our actions in seeking a comprehensive peace in the area. We will continue our efforts despite any date deadlines."

Senator Charles Percy, a Republican from Illinois and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed his concern for the dis- avowal of the UN vote, but said that he felt it was more important to determine where the US would go from here. The Senator welcomed the administration's decision to invite both Sadat and Begin to Washington to continue the process of Camp David, which he considered of the highest priority. He told the Secretary that he would like to have a response from him about the speculations that the disavowal of the UN vote was the result of political pressure.

Vance: "That is not true in my judgment."

Percy: "Could you tell us how the upcoming talks here with Begin and Sadat came about and if there is a chance to have a three-way summit in April? "

Vance: "We are continuing to talk to the principals involved and there is no contemplation at this time of three-way talks in April."

Percy: "Can you tell us whether this issue of the reversal on the UN vote has resulted in any changes on the. part of Egypt or Israel? "

Vance: "I do not know at this point of anything that indicates this incident at the UN has derailed the talks."

Percy: "What are the real sticking points at this point in the autonomy talks that we are dealing with in our role as mediators?

Vance: "They've gotten to the stage of three baskets:

"(1) Powers and responsibilities which both parties agree on for the self-governing authority.

"(2) Powers and responsibilities over which there are differences, but with some suggestions that those powers might be shared between the self-governing authority and the countries involved.

"(3) Items which Israel believes should be reserved for its responsibility. The discussions now are centering on baskets two and three. Some of these issues are water, land, the settlements question, when to elect the self- governing authority, and the question of the voting rights of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem."

Senator McGovern, a Democrat from South Dakota and a well-known liberal who was once his party's nominee for the presidency of the US, was the next speaker. McGovern praised the Camp David agreements as a remarkable achievement. The biggest single regret about the UN vote foul-up, he said, was that it endangered the ongoing efforts between Israel and Egypt. The US should not censure either side, McGovern continued.

McGovern: "Was not this resolution put forward by opponents of Camp David? "

Vance: "Some members of the Security Council opposed Camp David, some didn't."

McGovern: "I'm concerned that this resolution is tied into the Carter Doctrine on the Persian Gulf. [2] Can you give us some assurance that that doctrine will not be implemented at the expense of our traditional commitment to Israel's security?" 

Vance: "Our commitment to Israel's security remains unshaken. It will not be affected."

Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina is a Republican Conservative on domestic issues. He did, however, acquire a reputation as a sympathizer with the Arab point of view. Senator Helms was one of a very few lawmakers who was not overcome with euphoria at the time of the signing of the Egyptian-Israeli "peace treaty." In a speech on the Senate floor on March 27, 1979, Senator Helms opened a long and articulate defense of his views on the treaty, saying that "the Egyptian-Israeli agreement really was not a peace treaty at all," and that "instead it had all the earmarks of an invitation to further bloodshed and violence."

Senator Helms' criticism of the Egyptian-Israeli agreement as an "invitation to further bloodshed and violence" did not gain him friends in the US, as he later remarked on May 14, 1979. The North Carolina Senator had submitted a series of nineteen questions to Secretary Vance regarding the "peace treaty" on April 11, 1979. The State Department, according to the Senator's office staff, did reply to Helms' questions after a long delay, but the reply was not for public use. Helms questioned Secretary Vance at the committee hearing as follows:

Helms: "Can you tell me precisely what commitments were made by Prime Minister Begin concerning the settlements and settlement activity? "

Vance: "There are no commitments in the Camp David accords as such. The question of settlements was discussed obviously on several occasions at Camp David, but there are no written commitments with respect to settlements."

Helms: "Were there any oral commitments?

Vance: "There were exchanges of views with respect to settlements... we stated our position and the Prime Minister stated his position."

Helms: "You are saying then that the Prime Minister made no commitment, oral or otherwise, regarding settlements?

Vance: "He believes that he did not."

Helms: "Didn't Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's Foreign Minister appointed recently by Begin, vote against Camp David?

Vance: "I believe he abstained."

Helms: "Do you think there is any significance to the appointment of Shamir? "

Vance: "I really don't want to comment on Israeli politics."

Helms: "You don't think Begin is trying to signal us? "

Vance: "I'd rather not say."

The next senator to question Secretary Vance was Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware. Senator Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 and is the chairman of the European Subcommittee. The Delaware Senator voiced his opposition to the settlements policy of Israel, thus taking a line in agreement with the position of the Carter administration. He said, "I think that Begin seriously underestimates the depth of the resentment of the American people with the establishment of new settlements." He continued, "I think that the Begin government is absolutely dead wrong in establishing  new settlements." However, Senator Biden went on to say that he could 'think of no reason why we would vote for this resolution or any part of it."

Although the American government and many senators and others agree that the settlements are "against international law and an obstacle to peace," they are not willing to back up their belief through international organizations such as the United Nations. Senator Biden shifted his emphasis and tried to extract statements from the Secretary of State to the effect that Israel is a very important ally and that it could and would play a significant role in the defense of US and European interests. The Secretary naturally didn't disagree with that assessment at all. Biden then criticized the European moves as "counter-productive" and said that these moves could have a harmful effect on the NATO alliance. (The European moves referred to by Biden deal with Palestinian self-determination and recognition of the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.) [3] 

To the United States, the European moves, if so defined, would in fact pronounce the death of the Camp David process, its actual death having taken place long before. It is natural then that US officials and lawmakers condemn as "counter-productive" any programme which would grant the Palestinians what Camp David never intended to grant them but which also resulted in its failure, that is, the right to self-determination and recognition of the PLO. Senator Biden argued the view that a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would have a stabilizing effect in the region, but he also declared, "I would rather take instability and the might of Israel secure than I would stability in the Arab nation and Israel not secure."

The principal, and indeed, the only interest the US has in the Middle East, the Senator seemed to believe, was the security of Israel. Arab world stability, or lack of it, oil supplies secure or not, and Arab markets for US food exports assured or not, the only issue of importance was Israel's security, according to the Senator. Despite the fact that the Palestinians and many Arab leaders have repeatedly declared that their goal is Palestinian self-determination and statehood, Biden and others have persevered in presenting to the US the choice as being only between the State of Israel and a Palestinian state, but not both. Biden proceeded to ask the Secretary if the President had himself read the resolution which he later disavowed.

Vance: "I cannot answer for the President."

Biden: "Did you read the resolution?"

Vance: "Yes, I did."

In the second round of questioning by other senators on the Committee, Senator Stone of Florida asked Secretary Vance the following:

Stone: "Is the fact that the resolution is recommendatory what saves it from being offensive to our policy? "

Vance: "No, but it is another factor."

Stone: "If that is our position, will you take the position clearly today that if it is sought to be made binding after September 1, we will veto that? "

Vance: "It depends what comes up."

Stone: "Is it now your position that some [sections] of it could be made binding, but not others? "

Vance: "It depends on what is put before the UN at that time. I am not going to speculate."

Stone: "In other words, there are some sections of this resolution that could be made binding? "

Vance: "I can envisage a report or a resolution with some items in it dealing with the question of settlements that we would vote in favour of, yes, because our position is clear on settlements."

Stone: "Then you would pursue Security Council action about which we complain. How does that reconcile with full support of the implementation of the Camp David negotiations? "

Vance: "Senator Stone, you are talking about something which may or may not happen in the future."

Stone: "It will happen."

Vance: "We will have to see what is put forward at that time."

Here the question-and-answer period, as well as the testimony of Vance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ended. What Senator Stone was obviously trying to do was to have Secretary Vance commit the US - in March 1980 - to veto a resolution which would be presented in September of the same year. Vance did not, however, bend under Stone's and his colleagues' pressure. He stood firm on his position that the disavowal was not a result of political considerations in the US. Vance also repeated his statement accepting full responsibility for the "foul-up" and blamed the confusion on "miscommunications" with Donald McHenry, the US Ambassador to the United Nations. Vance also implied that "East Jerusalem" is considered by the US to be occupied territory, like the rest of the West Bank and Gaza.

THE SENATE REJECTION OF PRESSURE ON ISRAEL

Although, as has been mentioned earlier, the US considers the territories which came under Israeli control in June 1967 to be occupied, and although the declared US policy regarding Israeli settlements in these territories, collective punishment, deportations of persons and families and other such acts is that they are in violation of international law and an obstacle to peace, the US government has never tried to use American pressure to make Israel adhere to these standards. On June 17 of this year, Senator Adlai Stevenson, a Democrat from Illinois, proposed an amendment to the US Senate-approved security and development assistance bill for fiscal year 1981, a bill providing a sum of $4,813,921,000 worldwide. [4] The Stevenson amendment, no. 1895, read as follows: "Of the amount made available for Israel under paragraph (1), $150,000,000 shall be withheld from obligation and expenditures until the President finds that Israel has ceased the expansion of its settlements in the West Bank and other occupied territories and has ceased planning for additional settlements in the West Bank and such territories."

Senator Stevenson's amendment was intended as a signal to Israel that the US was serious about its opposition to Israel's settlements policy and that it really perceived such a policy to be against international law and an obstacle to peace. The amount proposed by the Senator to be withheld was a fraction of the total aid provided under that bill to Israel, which amounted to $2.185 billion. Egypt's share of aid was $1,300,996,000. Israel and Egypt will together be receiving over 70 percent of all such US assistance. The Illinois Senator, who has decided not to be his party's nominee for the next Senate election, also told the Senate that "Israel, with a high standard of living, is to receive almost as much military and economic assistance from the US government as all the other 99.9 percent of the world's people combined." He also said that Israel's share of the total bill before the Senate amounted to 43 percent. Political commentators believe that the Senator’s courage in challenging the Israeli lobby in the US was influenced by the fact that he would not be running again for his seat in the Senate. Two other senators who voted for the Stevenson amendment, Senator Henry Bellman of Oklahoma and Senator Milton Young of North Dakota, also will not be up for re-election.

Senator Stevenson went on to argue that aid to Israel was unjustified because it did not "enhance Israel's security" but rather "reflects continued US acquiescence in an Israeli policy which threatens more Middle East instability, more Israeli insecurity and a continued decline of US authority in the world."

The Senator implied in his defense of the amendment that although many members of Congress disapproved of Israeli settlements, their disapproval was 'muted" and "followed by nervous murmurs about being in the midst of a highly delicate peace process." That highly delicate peace process, Stevenson continued, was a "US election campaign" during which any criticism of Israel was forbidden. The Senator also accused American governments since 1967 of not having the courage to investigate seriously the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in June 1967, in which 34 Americans were killed. "Israel," Stevenson said, "may have done so deliberately." A book just published in the US by an officer on board the Liberty who survived the Israeli attack accuses the US government of covering up the facts about that aggression. "The US," Stevenson said, "has not recovered compensation for the damage to this ship. I cannot even get a satisfactory report on the incident from the State Department," he asserted.

Senator Stevenson went on to argue that while the US placed an arms embargo on Turkey for its use of US arms to "invade" Cyprus in 1974, it did not equally punish Israel for its invasion of Lebanon using American weapons in violation of the terms of treaty signed between Israel and the US. He also accused Israel of collective punishment, the "closing of Arab newspapers and destruction of Arab crops, imposition of curfews and Israeli terrorism."

It should not require much speculation to predict the outcome of the vote on the amendment, considering the overwhelming support Israel has in the Senate. Senator Frank Church of Idaho proposed a move to table the amendment and asked for a vote on his move. The result of the vote was 85 in favour of tabling the Stevenson amendment and 7 against. Voting for the amendment along with Stevenson were Bellman of Oklahoma, Byrd of West Virginia, who is the majority leader, Hatfield of Oregon, Helms of North Carolina, McClure of Idaho and Young of North Dakota. There were eight senators absent.

FOREIGN POLICY IS DOMESTIC POLICY

On April 21, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance handed in his letter of resignation, handwritten, to Jimmy Carter, which Carter accepted on April 28 in a handwritten response. The reason behind Vance's resignation, as he stated it, was his inability to support Carter in his decision to use military force to rescue the American hostages in Tehran, Iran. "I wish," Vance wrote to Carter, "I could support you in it [the decision]. But for the reasons we have discussed I cannot.”

It is generally agreed in Washington, however, that Vance had come close to resigning once or twice before the hostage rescue attempt of April. Political circles speculate that the resolution passed in the UN Security Council on Israeli settlements, which Carter later disavowed under Israeli and American Jewish pressure, was the product of Vance and his associates at the Department of State. Having told Ambassador McHenry to vote for the resolution condemning Israeli settlements, including those in and around Jerusalem, and calling for the dismantlement of these settlements, these reports continue, Vance then himself accepted responsibility for the vote in favour when the later disavowal was announced from the White House. Carter could not withstand the pressure initiated by the Jewish community in the United States and by Israel itself, and had to retreat from his administration's position of support for the resolution.

The act of disavowing the resolution did not, however, save Carter from the political backlash which followed in the New York state primary: 75 percent of Jewish Democrats in New York voted for Kennedy, leaving only 25 percent for Carter. Vance took the blame for the loss of the second most important primary in the US elections and, it is rumoured, was angered by the act of disavowal. He threatened resignation at that time, it is thought, because Carter had retracted a decision which was supported by him and by his department.

It is not the intention here to make Cyrus Vance appear as if he is a supporter of the Arab point of view regarding the Middle East conflict. It is true, however, that had things been left to the State Department, Israel would have been required to do more than it has thus far been willing to do within the Camp David framework. State Department officials are supposed to be entrusted with navigating the foreign policy of the United States. Under the existing circumstances of US isolation in international and regional organizations (UN, NATO and OAS), largely because of Israel's intransigence, the State Department would, if allowed, pressure Israel to comply with declared US policy. US ambassadors from all over the world report back to the State Department their impressions of their host countries views about the Middle East, views which are today largely in disagreement with Israel's policy regarding the occupation and settlements, and extremism in general.

Unlike the President, who is a party person and an elected official always at the mercy of the electorate, State Department officials are appointed to their posts and are answerable only to the individual or body which appointed them. Elected officials in the United States must, at all times, cater to the interests of the groups electing them.

On March 5, I asked Hodding Carter, the State Department spokesman, how the US could base its policy in so "vital" an area as the Middle East on the "electability" or "non-electability" of one person, be that person the President or not, when as a superpower the US has so many differing interests. Hodding Carter's reply was that "it is necessary to caucus for support in every country. This one," he said, referring to the US policy in the Middle East, "has a full constituency by vote. Foreign policy won't be separated from consent of the governed. Politicking and policy are a reality." While the State Department spokesman's basic assumptions are correct, it is interesting to note that a poll of American opinion taken by Newsweek magazine and published on April 21 showed unexpected results. In answer to the question, "Should the US put pressure on Israel to stop developing Jewish settlements on the mostly Palestinian West Bank? ", 44 percent answered yes, 32 percent no, and 24 percent did not know.

Cyrus Vance, it was also speculated, came close to resigning once before - during the Andy Young affair of last August [1979], which ended in Young's own resignation. Young was forced to resign his post as the US Ambassador to the United Nations after it became known that he had met privately with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO Observer to the United Nations. It was thought then that Young was the "fall-guy" for a policy supported by Vance. Vance and the Carter administration could not stand the pressure to which they were subjected by pro-Israeli forces which objected to the Young meeting with Terzi, but Vance was reported to be very unhappy about Young's resignation and threatened to resign as well.

The disavowal of the UN resolution by Jimmy Carter after his initial support for it is another clear indication that the Middle East conflict is, and will continue to be, subject to US domestic politics. As such, whatever the US can contribute to a solution of the conflict cannot be delivered. This has been the case since the late forties. Britain's Foreign Secretary Aneurin Bevin was quoted as saying in late 1946 that "in international affairs, I cannot settle things if my problem is made the subject of US local elections." In observing today how US officials are dealing with the Middle East conflict in this 1980 election year, one would have to conclude that not much has changed since the late forties.

APPENDIX

DRAFT TEXT OF RESOLUTION 465 ON ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS THAT WAS UNANIMOUSLY ADOPTED BY THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON MARCH 1, 1980.

The Security Council,

Taking note of the reports of the Commission of the Security Council established under resolution 446 (1979) to examine the situation relating to settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem contained in documents S/13450 and Corr. 1 and S/13679,

Taking note also of letters from the Permanent Representative of Jordan (S/13801) and the Permanent Representative of Morocco, Chairman of the Islamic Group (S/13802),

Strongly deploring the refusal by Israel to co-operate with the Commission and regretting its formal rejection of resolutions 446 (1979) and 452 (1979),

Affirming once more that the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 is applicable to the Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem,

Deploring the decision of the Government of Israel to officially support Israeli settlement in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967,

Deeply concerned over the practices of the Israeli authorities in implementing that settlement policy in the occupied Arab territories, including Jerusalem, and its consequences for the local Arab and Palestinian population,

Taking into account the need to consider measures for the impartial protection of private and public land and property, and water resources,

Bearing in mind the specific status of Jerusalem and, in particular, the need for protection and preservation of the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the Holy Places in the city,

Drawing attention to the grave consequences which the settlement policy is bound to have on any attempt to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,

Recalling pertinent Security Council resolutions, specifically resolutions 237 (1967) of 14 June 1967, 252 (1968) of 21 May 1968, 267 (1969) of 3 July 1969, 271 (1969) of 15 September 1969 and 298 (1971) of 25 September 1971, as well as the consensus statement made by the President of the Security Council on 11 November 1976,

Having invited Mr. Fahd Qawasmeh, Mayor of Al-Khalil (Hebron), in the occupied territory, to supply it with information pursuant to rule 39 of the provisional rules of procedure,

1. Commends the work done by the Commission in preparing the report contained in document S/1 3 679;

2. Accepts the conclusions and recommendations contained in the above-mentioned report of the Commission;

3. Calls upon all parties, particularly the Government of Israel, to co-operate with the Commission;

4. Strongly deplores the decision of Israel to prohibit the free travel of Mayor Fahd Qawasmeh in order to appear before the Security Council, and requests Israel to permit his free travel to the United Nations Headquarters for that purpose;

5. Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;

6. Strongly deplores the continuation and persistence of Israel in pursuing those policies and practices and calls upon the Government and people of Israel to rescind those measures, to dismantle the existing settlements and in particular to cease, on an urgent basis, the establishment, construction and planning of settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem;

7. Calls upon all States not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories;

8. Requests the Commission to continue to examine the situation relating to settlements in the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, to investigate the reported serious depletion of natural resources, particularly the water resources, with a view to ensuring the protection of those important natural resources of the territories under occupation, and to keep under close scrutiny the implementation of the present resolution;

9. Requests the Commission to report to the Security Council before 1 September 1980, and decides to convene at the earliest possible date thereafter in order to consider the report and the full implementation of the present resolution.

 

Research and scholarship requires investment. Generous contributions from people like you allow us to provide invaluable resources as a public good. Make a tax-deductible donation today!

DonateNow

 

Ghassan Bishara is Washington correspondent of al-Fajr (Jerusalem). 

1 For draft text of Security Council Resolution 465, see Appendix-Ed. 

2 'The use of the term "Carter Doctrine" is a reference to the statement made by Jimmy Carter in his State of the Union Address to the Second Session of the 96th Congress on January 23, 1980, defining the area of the Persian Gulf as vital to the interests of the United States. "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region," Carter declared, "will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States. It will be repelled by use of any means necessary, including military force." 

3 The European initiative, as it developed later, had as its major components the recognition of the Palestinians as a people with the right to exercise self-determination, and a call for the PLO to be "associated" with the peace process. The European initiative, which resulted from a meeting of European heads of state in Venice, Italy, also included a decision to send a fact-finding mission to the Middle East composed of members of the European community in order to "ascertain the position of the various parties," including the PLO. The nine members of the European community also confirmed "the right to existence and to security of all states... including Israel!." (New York Times, June 14, 1980). 

4 For the full text of Senator Stevenson's speech, see "Views from Abroad" section on pp. 179-83 of this issue - Ed.