It often gets tedious having to contemplate the workings of a ruling elite that remains stuck in the past, repeating themselves from one regime to the next, refusing to acknowledge the fact that the world is changing around them, that reality and context have moved on. So it is with the apartheid state of Israel, as it is with those who champion its cause in the United States.
And those who champion Israel’s cause in the US, as Ralph Kranden would’ve put it, are a riot.
Take the three-day annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown Washington on March 4, attended by roughly 1,800 people, including more than half the Senate and a third of the House. And consider some of the speakers there.
US Vice-President Mike Pence, taking chimerical argument to a nutty extreme, explained to the crowd why the US decided to recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, thus breaking with international consensus. “President Trump made his decision in the best interests of the United States, and this decision is also in the best interests of peace,” he said. “If both sides agree, the United States of America will support a two-state solution.” Really? And a two-state solution only “if both sides” agree, mind you.
Nikki Haley, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, had a bone to pick with Saeb Erekat, which she picked, and then said: “Some of you might have seen that the top Palestinian negotiator recently had some advice for me. He told me to shut up. Mr Erekat, I will always be respectful, but I will not shut up.” Then Haley told the audience presumably why she threatened to “take names” at the General Assembly, marking those nations out who had voted against the occupied Jerusalem resolution: “My father wore a turban and my mother wore a sari. I stood up to bullying then, and I will not stand up to bullying Israel at the UN.” Oh save us from those who get so saccharine.
Then came the pugnacious Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s long-serving Prime Minister, who is adept at taking a basic fact — such as, in this case, the $350 million (Dh1.28 billion) in welfare cheques paid annually to the families of fallen Palestinian patriots — and transforming it into a villainous plot by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to fund terrorism. “I believe that President Abbas should find better use for this money, to build roads, schools, hospitals, factories,” Netanyahu thundered. “Build life, don’t pay death. Invest in life, invest in peace”.
Build roads, schools, hospitals, factories? Since when have the Palestinians, an occupied people, been allowed by their occupiers over the last half a century to build meaningful infrastructure and live a normal life?
Netanyahu was followed by several other yahoos, including the lightweights and the token guest speakers. So dust off your Atlas and locate Guatemala on the map. The country’s President, James (‘jimmy’) Morales, an Evangelical Christian, who last December ordered his ambassador to the UN to vote in favour of moving the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem, offered his two-cents worth of piffle. “Under my instructions, days after the US moves its embassy, Guatemala will permanently move its embassy to [occupied] Jerusalem,” he said in heavily-accented English.
And while you’re at it, look up Albania on the Atlas too. The impoverished country’s Prime Minister, Edi Rama, speaking haltingly, wanted everyone to know that Albania “is also [like Israel] committed to fighting terrorism and violent extremism, and this makes us allies”.
And so it went, with other speakers and other inanities. Last week was the week of mindless chatter. An it was amusing, utterly amusing, for a Palestinian columnist to attend Aipac’s annual event in Washington and to scribble copiously in his steno notebook, including references to how one has to hand it to this influential lobbying group for bringing 1,800 people together, virtually all one of a mind about Israel, in a moment of seeming group ecstasy, as if at a rock concert.
But it didn’t end there. A day after all the political balderdash by the speakers, Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s long-time business lawyer and currently the White House’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, including “peace negotiations” in the Middle East, contributed an opinion piece to Washington Post on March 8, where he resurrected all the half-baked, leftover rhetoric of yesteryears in order to lambast “the terrorist group” Hamas. “Hamas must not be permitted to participate in any future government until it adheres to the conditions of the Quartet ... by explicitly committing to nonviolence, recognising Israel and accepting previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” he said. Look, we’ve seen that movie before. He wants all that from the Palestinians, but nothing from the Israelis — say an end to the occupation of one people by another, an end to the colonisation of Palestinian land, an end to the imprisonment of Palestinian children, who are tried in military courts where the conviction rate is an obscene 99 per cent.
But, hey, good news! The Palestinian leadership, when it is time to do so, will strike back with its own characteristically thoughtful and imaginative way — if there were one such leadership around.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.