The recent visit of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Israel, which he had hoped to serve as a much-needed shot in the arm to upgrade his faint popularity has, by all measures, backfired. This was in part attributed to his widely condemned comments about the Palestinian culture which he saw as inferior to Israel’s because the latter’s economy has been more successful.
Much to Romney’s chagrin, President Barack Obama remains ahead especially in key swing states — Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The former Massachusetts governor seemed ignorant, if not oblivious, of what Israel has done in the West Bank which is supposed to be under the virtual jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority. But nowadays more than 40 per cent of the territory, land and highways, is restricted to the Israeli military and illegal colonists.
Following the 1967 war which led to the Israeli occupation of all of Palestine, about half a million Israelis have illegally moved into the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem where the Palestinians still hope to establish their future capital. The size of West Jerusalem in the early days of he occupation, where a large Palestinian Arab community lived, was about 38 square kilometres while occupied East Jerusalem was limited to only six square kilometres.
But, according to B’tselem, the Israeli human rights non-government organisation (NGO), the Israeli government has since 1967 annexed some 70 square kilometres to the municipal boundaries of West Jerusalem, “and imposed Israeli law there”. Furthermore, “an additional 64 square kilometres, most of which had belonged to 28 Palestinian villages in the West Bank, and part of which belonged to the municipalities of Bethlehem and Beit Jala, two neighbouring Arab towns, were likewise illegally incorporated within the jurisdiction of occupied East Jerusalem.
What is more significant is that Israel still controls all the borders of the Palestinian territories except for the Gaza Strip which is run by Hamas.
The outcry against Romney in the US and elsewhere was topped last Monday by a petition from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a US-based national grassroots peace organisation, that was signed by some 17,000 Americans calling on the US presidential aspirant “to apologise for the ignorant and offensive remarks he made while in [occupied] Jerusalem”. JVP’s Pam Rogers added that he also should “apologise to the Palestinian people for his uninformed and derogatory comments”.
More oil to the fire has been added worldwide. A hard-hitting commentary was provided by the influential New York Times commentator, Thomas L. Friedman on August 1. His sharp rebuke targeted the American pandering to Israel, leaving no stone upturned: “So how about all you US politicians — Republicans and Democrats — stop feeding off this conflict for political gain. Stop using this [Arab-Israeli] conflict as a backdrop for campaign photo-ops and fundraisers. Stop making things even worse by telling the most hard-line Israelis everything that they want to hear, just to grovel for Jewish votes and money, while blatantly ignoring the other side. There are real lives at stake out there. If you’re not going to do something constructive, stay away. They can make enough trouble for themselves on their own.”
Similarly, the British ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, a Jew, was quoted telling an Israeli television channel that “Israelis might wake up in 10 years’ time and find out that the level of understanding in the international community has suddenly changed, and that patience for continuing the status quo has reduced”.
In an “unusually forthright interview,” as described by The Guardian of London, the ambassador added that he had detected a shift among the middle ground of British members of parliament towards a more critical view of Israel.
Hopefully, Romney and his staunch supporter, Las Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, have heard Friedman’s suggestion and drop the latter’s pleas to Romney. The Daily Beast has reported that Adelson is urging the governor to come out for the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard; to state publicly that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are a waste of time; and a commitment that he would move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem in what would be a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem.
Topping all these criticisms has been Israel’s refusal this week to allow four senior diplomatic delegations from entering the West Bank for a meeting with the Palestinian leadership aimed at gathering support for a second bid by the Palestinians to seek observer-status membership in the United Nations when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the world body in late September.
All this has prompted one agonising Israeli commentator, Akiva Eldar, to write: “A country that has promised to provide Jews who have gathered there from all corners of the globe with peace, security and welfare, is offering them more blood, more sweat and more tears.”
Wake up Benjamin Netanyahu!