Pro: U.S. ties with Israel blind us to opportunities for a just peace

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John B. Quigley
Thursday, November 14, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: The writer is addressing the question, “Is America’s relationship with Israel hurting the Mideast peace process?”

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Unexpectedly, Secretary of State John Kerry is making a major push for Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. “Unexpectedly,” because in the first Obama term those efforts failed, and as Obama’s second term began, it appeared unlikely that anything could be achieved.

President Obama and his national security adviser Susan Rice are pushing the effort as part of a re-think of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Obama gave prominence to Israel-Palestine peace in his recent speech at the United Nations.

As desirable as it would be for peace to break out in that longstanding conflict, Kerry’s effort seems doomed to falter for the same reason that prior efforts have come up short. No matter how vigorously we arm-twist the two sides into an embrace, we sit so strongly in Israel’s corner that we promote peace on terms that simply won’t fly.

Israel’s settlements in the West Bank area of Palestine are a huge issue to be resolved. While Secretary Kerry calls for restraint by Israel, we continue to bankroll the settlements. We give Israel unrestricted military and economic aid that lets it put mega-funds into the settlements and the infrastructure that support them. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flaunts his new construction projects, thumbing his nose at Kerry. So we are helping Israel do Palestine in.

Kerry, during a recent shuttle stop, called the settlements “illegitimate.” He cannot bring himself to call them “illegal,” as the State Department did back in the Carter administration. If “illegal,” as the settlements are considered by the World Court, they would have to be dismantled.

Israel has ticked up its construction in the settlements in 2013. Netanyahu has announced plans for 3,500 new dwellings in settlements. Palestinian negotiators are understandably reluctant to negotiate while Israel uses the negotiating process as a cover to take over the land about which they are supposed to be negotiating. Israel has tripled the number of its settlers in the West Bank since the negotiating process began in 1993.

More fundamentally, we cover for Israel in its very occupation of Palestine’s West Bank, an occupation that began in 1967.

Israel claimed back then that it was responding to Arab aggression. We knew that was not so.

President Lyndon Johnson had been trying for weeks to talk Israel out of invading Egypt, which in turn led to Israel’s invasion of the West Bank. We knew Israel was not about to be attacked, and Johnson told it so. Yet when Israel did invade Egypt, and then the West Bank, we sat silent in the U.N. Security Council as Israel falsely claimed to have acted defensively.

So Israel had no business being in the West Bank in the first place. To this day, we pretend to believe Israel that it had to act to defend itself in 1967. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is the core of the current negotiations, yet Kerry will not own up to the truth about how Israel took it.

It is hard to imagine negotiating with a thief to return stolen goods while refusing to acknowledge the fact of the theft. Yet that is what Kerry is doing.

Kerry is thought to be planning to come up with “bridging” proposals in January, to bring the two sides together, if they make no progress by then. The prospect is that these proposals will favor Israel, not only on settlements, but on the other explosive issue, the fate of the Palestinians displaced from Israel in 1948.

In truth, we should be dealing with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank not by bilateral negotiations but in the U.N. Security Council. If the negotiations are to have any chance of success, we must at least acknowledge the illegality of Israel’s settlements and of its occupation.

John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University. Readers may write to him at Moritz College Law, 55 West 12th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43210.

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