Zunes on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East
Source Dave Anderson
Date 11/01/01/20:56
Could US Foreign Policy in the Middle East Be Worse? Yes
by: Stephen Zunes

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other hawkish Democratic
leaders have left their mark on the Middle East during their four
years of leadership in Congress, namely support for militarism and
repression, and punishment for moderation.

Most notably, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders refused calls from a
variety of peace and human rights organizations for conditioning US
military aid to Israel, Egypt, and other countries in the region on
their adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards.
In addition, in reaction to the United Nations Human Rights Council
raising concerns about human rights abuses by Israel and other US
allies in the region, Pelosi's continuing resolution on the Foreign
Operations Appropriations bill bars the use of any US funds to be
appropriated as part of the annual contribution of UN member states to
support the council's work.

Also problematic is that - while Congressional Democrats formally
dropped their longstanding opposition to Palestinian statehood in the
1990s - the Democratic-sponsored Foreign Operations Appropriations Act
contains a series of measures which appear to be designed to prevent
the emergence of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fueling the Arms Race

Challenging the widespread consensus by arms control specialists and
other observers that the Middle East already has too many armaments,
Pelosi and the Democrats have clearly determined that, in their view,
the region doesn't have enough armaments and that the United States
must continue its role as supplier of most of the region's weaponry.
As teachers, librarians, social workers, health care professionals,
and other Americans are losing their jobs due to a lack of public
funding, the Democrats' appropriation bill pours billions of dollars'
worth of taxpayer funding into sophisticated weapons for both Israel
and neighboring Arab states.

Pelosi and the Democrats made clear their outright rejection of recent
calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to
suspend US military aid to Israel in response to the use of US weapons
in war crimes during the assault on the Gaza Strip last year. Despite
the Democrats' budget freezing or cutting back virtually all domestic
programs, House Democrats have voted to increase military aid to
Israel, now totaling $3.4 billion. According to Aviation Week, part of
the increase is the result of the purported need to include unusually
advanced and expensive electronic warfare systems in the new F-35 jet
fighters being provided to Israel to compensate for new F-15 jet
fighters the United States is selling to Saudi Arabia. In addition,
though Foreign Military Financing funds are normally allocated as they
are used, this appropriation bill allocates the funding to Israel
within 30 days of passage, thereby enabling the right-wing Israeli
government to collect interest on the money rather than the US

It should be stressed, however, that well over three-quarters of this
"aid to Israel" actually ends up with US arms manufacturers - as does
virtually all of the military aid to Egypt and the money for arms
sales to oil-rich Arab states, which Congressional Democrats then
claim makes US military aid to Israel necessary to defend them from
these same Arab countries.

An additional $1.3 billion in foreign military financing is earmarked
for the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, $235 million for the
autocratic monarchy in Jordan and $12 million for the repressive
regime in Tunisia. (The only other country specifically targeted for
military aid in this legislation is Colombia, which has the worst
human rights record in Latin America and which will receive $53
million). Congress eliminated the small amount of military aid that
was in last year's budget earmarked for Lebanon in retaliation for a
border clash in which one Israeli soldier and three Lebanese,
including a journalist, were killed. By contrast, in response to the
2006 war in which Israelis killed more than 800 civilians, Congress
increased military aid to Israel, indicative of their belief that,
while the deaths of hundreds of Arab civilians from US delivery
systems and ordinance is tolerable, the death of one Israeli soldier
is not.

Sabotaging a Palestinian Unity Government

As European governments and others recognize that some kind of
government of national unity between Fatah and the more moderate
elements of Hamas is necessary for the peace process to move forward,
Pelosi and her colleagues are attempting to sabotage such efforts.
This year's appropriations bill prohibits any supporOutgoing House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other hawkish Democratic leaders have left
their mark on the Middle East during their four years of leadership in
Congress, namely support for militarism and repression, and punishment
for moderation.

By contrast, there are no such provisions restricting the billions of
dollars of aid to the coalition government in Israel, which includes
far-right parties that have likewise refused to recognize Palestine,
renounce violence, support the disarming of allied settler militias or
accept prior agreements, including the Roadmap. Indeed, the Roadmap
explicitly calls for a freeze on all additional Israeli settlement
construction, which the Israeli government has explicitly rejected.
According to Pelosi and the Democratic leadership, however, only the
Palestinian side has to abide by prior agreements as a condition for
US support.

In short, to Pelosi and other Democratic Congressional leaders,
Palestinians simply do not have equal rights to Israelis in terms of
statehood, security or international obligations. The Democrats are
willing to sabotage any Palestinian government that dares include -
even as a minority in a broad coalition - any hard-line, anti-Israeli
party, yet they have no problems whatsoever in pouring billions of
taxpayer dollars into supporting an Israeli government dominated by
hard-line, anti-Palestinian parties.

There's a word for such double standards: racism.

Other Anti-Palestinian Provisions

Migration and refugee assistance are other areas where the
anti-Palestinian bias of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders becomes
apparent. There are a number of refugee populations in which the
United Nations, assisted in part through US aid, is involved in relief
operations, including Rwandans, Kurds, Congolese, Afghans, Iraqis,
Somalis, and others from which terrorist groups operate or have
operated in the recent past. However, Pelosi and the Democratic
leadership, as part of the appropriation bill, have determined that it
is in regard to Palestinian refugees alone that the State Department
is required to work with the UN and host governments "to develop a
strategy for identifying individuals known to have engaged in
terrorist activities."

In contrast to this indirect and conditional aid to the more than
three million Palestinian refugees, Pelosi's bill stipulates that not
less than $30 million in funds for migration and refugee assistance
should be made available for refugee resettlement in Israel, despite
the fact that there has been no major flow of refugees into Israel
since the mid-1990s. None of the other 194 recognized states in the
world are specifically earmarked in this year's appropriations bill to
receive this kind of funding, which is normally made available on
assessment of humanitarian need. In recent years, successive Israeli
governments have encouraged immigrants to live in subsidized
Jewish-only settlements, illegally constructed on confiscated land in
the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, in violation of a series of
UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark advisory opinion of the
International Court of Justice. The inclusion of this resettlement
funding in this year's appropriations bill effectively encourages
further Israeli colonization in occupied Palestinian and Syrian
territory, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a peace settlement.
Meanwhile, Israel still forbids Palestinian refugees, who were
forcibly expelled from their homes in what is now Israel, to exercise
their right of return, in violation of international human rights

Only $75 million in aid is allocated to the West Bank and none of it
is allocated to the Palestine Authority (PA) itself, under the
leadership of the moderate president Mahmoud Abbas. By contrast, US
economic assistance to Israel has traditionally gone directly to the
Israeli government and has historically averaged more than 15 times
that amount, even though the per-capita income of Palestinians in the
West Bank and Gaza Strip is less than one-twentieth that of Israeli
Jews. Indeed, the US-subsidized Israeli government provides its
citizens with free universal health care, heavily-subsidized college
tuition, and other government programs the Democratic Congress and
administration has failed to provide Americans.

Pelosi's bill contains lengthy and detailed conditions and
restrictions on programs in the West Bank, with extensive vetting,
reporting and auditing rules required for no other place in the world.
This year's bill includes unprecedented requirements that all funds be
subjected to regular notification procedures. There are also a number
of other stipulations not found for any other nation, such as the
provision banning any assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting
Corporation. Despite real progress made by Palestinian Prime Minister
Salam Fayyad in cleaning up the PA's endemic corruption, Pelosi and
the Democrats have placed more draconian auditing requirements on
Palestinian aid now than there ever was under the notoriously corrupt
rule of former Palestinian President Yasir Arafat.

Despite all the additional administrative costs such restrictions
require, the bill caps administrative expenses at $2 million; there
are no such limitations in the appropriations bill regarding aid to
any other nation.

The Democrats' goal appears to be to make it all the more difficult
for Palestinians - already suffering under US-backed Israeli sieges -
to meet even their most basic needs for health care, education,
housing, and economic development.

Roadblocks for Palestinian Statehood

Though the United States remains the world's number one military,
economic, and diplomatic supporter of repressive Middle Eastern
governments - including absolute monarchies, military juntas, and
occupation armies - the appropriations bill includes language
insisting that the "governing entity" of Palestine "should enact a
constitution assuring the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and
respect for human rights for its citizens, and should enact other laws
and regulations assuring transparent and accountable governance." No
such language in the Democrats' appropriations bill exists in regard
to any other nation.

There are also provisions blocking US support for a Palestinian state
unless it meets a long list of criteria regarding perceived Israeli
security needs. Again, no such conditions in the appropriations bill
attach for any other nation.

One target of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders is the Palestinians'
desire to regain the Arab-populated sections of East Jerusalem, which
have been under Israeli military occupation since Israel seized the
city from Arab control in 1967. In addition to its religious
significance for both Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims,
Jerusalem has long been the most important cultural, commercial,
political and educational center for Palestinians and has the largest
Palestinian population of any city in the world. Given the city's
significance to both populations, any sustainable peace agreement
would need to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city for both Israel
and Palestine.

In an apparent effort to delegitimize any Palestinian claims to their
occupied capital, however, Pelosi's bill prohibits any "meetings
between officers and employees of the United States and officials of
the Palestinian Authority, or any successor Palestinian governing
entity" in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem "for the purpose of
conducting official United States Government business with such
authority." Even if the Israelis do agree to end their occupation of
Arab East Jerusalem, Pelosi and the Democrats have inserted language
that no funds could be used to create any new US government offices in
Jerusalem that would interact with the Palestinian Authority or any
successor Palestinian government entity.

Under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
(D-Maryland), and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard
Berman (D-California), the Democrats have used their four years as the
majority party to strengthen Israel's right-wing governments, their
occupation policies and their ability to colonize Palestinian land and
attack civilian populations, while weakening the moderate leadership
of the PA. Can the Republicans really be much worse?

Unfortunately, yes. The incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) insists that Pelosi and the
Democrats have not been anti-Palestinian enough. In an interview with
the Jerusalem Post last week, she accused President Obama and the
Democratic Congress of giving the PA a "blank check" and insisting
that there must be still more conditions attached to Palestinian aid.
Accusing the Democrats of "forcing the Israelis to make concessions"
while "giving the Palestinians anything they want," Ros-Lehtinen says,
"We should finally hold PA leaders accountable, which is why I will
soon introduce legislation to clarify and tighten existing US laws
that deny funding to the PA until they meet their commitments."

She didn't say which commitments the PA hasn't met. And, unlike the
Israelis, the PA has long met its Stage I commitments in the
US-sponsored Roadmap. The PA leadership is asking for only the 22
percent of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 war, not an inch of
Israeli territory on the remaining 78 percent, while the Netanyahu
government insists on Israel taking over even more Palestinian land.
Yet, Ros-Lehtinen insists it is the PA, not the Israeli government,
which "is not a partner for peace." Even though the Palestinians
unilaterally recognized Israel back in 1988, codified it in the 1993
Oslo Accords and amended the Palestine Liberation Organization charter
to remove any reference that implied nonrecognition soon thereafter,
Ros-Lehtinen insists the Palestinians "continue to refuse to recognize
Israel's right to exist" and that they "deny the right of the Jewish
people to a state in their own homeland."

Similarly, the incoming House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor
(R-Virginia), told Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last
month, "the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the
Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule
in Washington." Unlike the Democrats, who, he argued, had not been
supportive enough of the rightist Israeli government, "the Republican
majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the
United States."

The Democrats could have taken advantage of their control of both
Congress and the White House to support moderate Palestinians and
moderate Israelis in their quest for peace. Instead, Pelosi and other
Congressional leaders, without any apparent opposition from the Obama
White House, have been committed to rewarding right-wing militarists
like Netanyahu, while punishing moderates Abbas and Fayyad. Now, the
Republicans are ready to push this disastrous policy even further.

And then they wonder why the Palestinian militarists of Hamas, who
highlight such policies as examples of why moderation and compromise
with the Israelis won't work, continue to have such wide support.t for
"any power-sharing government" in Palestine "of which Hamas is a
member," unless Hamas unilaterally agrees to "recognize Israel,
renounce violence, disarm, and accept prior agreements, including the

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