by Ashahed M. Muhammad
Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a defiant speech during his appearance on March 22 at the 2010 Annual Policy Conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C.
“The connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today,” said Netanyahu. “Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.”
His comments were in response to criticism of Israel after officials announced on March 9, the construction of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, the same location Palestinians have claimed as their capital. To make matters worse, the announcement occurred during U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden's visit to the region. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli government officials dismissed it as an unintentional administrative error. A top aide to Pres. Obama, David Axelrod called it an “insult” and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke harsh words saying that it undermined U.S. efforts to bring peace to the region. Tensions have remained high, despite public denials of a rift by both governments.
She reiterated her concerns at her speech before AIPAC delegates also on Mar. 22, preceding Mr. Netanyahu's speech.
“New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say (they) want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America's unique ability to play a role--an essential role--in the peace process. Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don't agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally,” said Secretary Clinton.
During his speech, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel is not above criticism, but should be judged by the same standard as other democracies.
“Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself,” said Netanyahu vowing to never compromise on Israel's security. He then raised the Iranian specter. “A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists--it might even be tempted to use them. Our world would never be the same.”
Ironically, Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East and the only country in the Middle East that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, thus rejecting the right of international inspectors to review their nuclear facilities. According to analysts, Iran has not developed a nuclear weapon, and has insisted on their right as a sovereign nation to experiment with nuclear power options.
Author and frequent commentator on the Palestine-Israeli conflict, Ali Abunimah says there is a “palpable shift” in the way Israel is being viewed by the community of nations, and said there are a number of reasons for what seems to be an increase in critical voices speaking out against them.
“First, Israel's actions have in many ways reached unprecedented levels of violence, open declared criminality, racism and apartheid. More people are opening their eyes to this,” said Mr. Abunimah. “Second, the Internet and the thriving of independent media means it is no longer possible for Israel and its supporters to so easily control the narrative. There's too much information available to too many people now for Israel to be able to wear a mask as a liberal, peace-loving and enlightened state. Finally, I think that Israel is stuck in a dead-end discourse. Have you noticed that much pro-Israel discourse in the United States comes from the most extreme right-wing and racist elements? It is deeply Islamophobic and racist. Israel's base in this country is increasingly the Christian Zionist far right, which is often xenophobic and racist. The U.S. mainstream is increasingly less willing to defend Israel publicly. That trend is likely to continue. Israel will always have supporters in the U.S., but it will move increasingly to the fringe.”
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called U.S. mediation plans a “feeble effort” towards lasting peace in the region, and said the Obama administration should take a more balanced position in the matter.
A letter to Pres. Obama, led by Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), was also critical, but for different reasons. Their letter urged Obama to “publicly express the United States' unwavering support for Israel.” The letter also said Israeli Ambassador Michal Oren said U.S.- Israeli relations “are now at a 35-year low.”
Mr. Abunimah, author of "One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” said while he is unable to say whether Israel is being deliberately provocative with their harsh rhetoric and actions and then claim that they have no partners for peace, the result is often the same.
“It is hard to say if that is the intended result, but it is sufficient to say that Israel knows that its provocations have produced such violence in the past, and it seems that Israel either does not care about the fires it starts or is indeed an arsonist,” said Mr. Abunimah.