Hillary Clinton’s long 57-minute speech after she won the Democratic Party’s nomination last Thursday for the presidency was indeed impressive. Although foreign policy is rarely an issue in an American national election, she nevertheless told a very large audience that had repeatedly cheered her remarks: “I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear programme without firing a single shot — now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security.”
But what about the security of the other countries in the Middle East — Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and particularly the Palestinians who have virtually lost their homeland, of which a large number of them remain in the West Bank, which is only 18 per cent of their original Palestine?
It is amazing that the US State Department, which Clinton once ran, should come out coincidentally with a statement “sharply” criticising Israel for building hundreds of illegal colonies in the West Bank and a spate of home demolitions in Palestinian areas.
“The rebuke from the Obama administration,” the New York Times reported, “returned the [colony] issue to the spotlight four weeks after the United States and other nations criticised Israel for continuing to build in occupied territory”.
Israel is believed to have demolished more than 650 Palestinian structures in those areas this year. US State Department spokesman John Kirby underlined in a statement that Israel “is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution”. He added that “we strongly oppose [colony] activity which is corrosive to the cause of peace”.
What has been disappointing is that the State Department is not adopting any crippling actions against Israel. Shockingly, these new Israeli actions have come at a time when Israel’s aggressive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to improve his relationship with the Obama administration. His past preference was to await the upcoming leadership in the White House, which he assumed would be controlled by Hillary Clinton.
The main feature of the projected 2018-2028 military agreement is the expected $3.7 billion (Dh13.59 billion) a year, but unlike the previous agreement it must be spent in the US. The outgoing accord allowed Israel the freedom to spend the money on purchases from Israeli defence firms.
The recent expectations in Washington were that Israel can do whatever it wants since Clinton is considered to be a firm supporter of Israel. Moreover, Clinton’s running mate, vice-presidential nominee Timothy M, Kaine, is equally sympathetic to Israel as his record reveals, but less than Republican vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence.
Kaine, a 58-year-old former governor of the state of Virginia and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), who opposed Netanyahu’s inelegant address to Congress, is described as having a “nuanced position on Israel that defies any easy characterisation”. For the record, he refused to be present when Netanyahu addressed Congress. The New Yorker magazine reported that Kaine, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, Central Asia and Terrorism had “used his position to stress advocacy for Israel”. It also revealed that as a co-sponsor of the US Strategic Partnership Act on the Middle East, American Jewish advocacy group J Street endorsed him for his commitment “to making Israel a lasting home for the Jewish people that is safe, secure and at peace with the Palestinian people”. Moreover, The New Yorker revealed that Kaine was criticised by a Congressional colleague when he expressed concern that Israel’s leadership was leading the region away from a two-state solution.
On the other hand, Pence describes himself as having a close relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a hardline supporter of Israel. Some expect Pence to give Trump a pro-Israel boost. But the days ahead may still spring up new surprises.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He is a former editor in chief of The Daily Star.