The rule of thumb in the United States and other western countries is that national elections should focus on national policy. This may sound logical. But considering how closely connected the world has become, it is time that foreign policy plays an equally prominent role. Judging recent events in the US where a new Congress will be elected in November, US foreign policy has surprisingly crept into nationwide debate.
This development was apparent in the prominent magazine, Foreign Policy, which recently featured a lengthy article by Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who was involved in the suspended US-sponsored Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. His article, published in late 2014, was headlined ‘Would Hillary be Good for the Holy Land?’
But his opening line in the lead paragraph asked: “Would Hillary Clinton be good for the Jews?” In other words, “What would Hillary do with the US–Israeli relationship, and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in particular, if she were to become president in 2016?”
He, however, writes that “both Bill [Clinton] and Hillary are so enamoured with the idea of Israel and its unique history that they are prone to make certain allowances for the reality of Israel’s behaviour, such as the continuing construction of [colonies]”.
In her writing, Miller adds Hillary was “uneasy” with her husband’s call for a comprehensive illegal Israeli [colony] freeze because “it would escalate a fight with Netanyahu that the United States probably couldn’t win”. But Miller concluded that whether she can produce Israeli-Palestinian peace “is another matter”.
Philip Weiss, editor of Mondoweiss, revealed last week that US President Barack Obama had hired Hillary as secretary of state “by way of the Israeli lobby, and because of her street cred [credibility] with the Israeli lobby”. Jason Horowitz of the New York Times reported in 2014 that, once elected, Obama “seemed to understand that he needed someone to lend him credibility with the Israeli government and its American defenders”. Horowitz revealed that Obama got in touch with Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organisations, and asked him to see if she would “agreeable” to being named secretary of state.
Furthermore, Mondoweiss reported public disclosures by Hillary, which revealed that she and her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Chelsea, had earned roughly $4 million (Dh14.71 million) in speaking fees from pro-Israel organisations “allied with the Right-wing government of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”.
In the meantime, a new controversial federal bill has emerged in the US Congress seeking to quell criticism of unpopular Israeli policy. Jewish Voice for Peace, (JVP) declared in a circulated statement that it “strongly opposes the latest legislative effort to discourage the growing movement for justice and equality for Palestinians”. The bill, titled Combatting BDS (Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions) Act of 2016, introduced on February 10, aims “to discourage and authorise state legislation to divest state funds from companies that boycott Israel”.
JVP’s Rabbi Joseph Berman declared that “this legislation, as well as the bills introduced at the state level, are an attempt to stifle public opinion, which increasingly sees economic pressure as a legitimate and even essential way to end Israel’s oppressive policies toward the Palestinians”.
A Brookings Institute poll released in December 2015 found that 49 per cent of Democrats and over one third of all Americans support imposing economic sanctions or more serious action against Israel over illegal colony construction.
The JVP statement reported that “the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement originated in 2005 with a call for solidarity from Palestinian civil society organisations asking the international community to use the tools of economic pressure to hold Israel accountable for its obligations under international law, namely, an end to the nearly 50-year military occupation, full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the right of return for [Palestinian] refugees. Modelled on the global solidarity movement to end apartheid in South Africa, BDS’s intent is to leverage grass-roots power to put pressure on governments and corporations that uphold an unjust political system”.
A statement issued by the Washington office of the BDS movement, which has become mainstream in the US, described the action by four Congressmen as “outrageous” and “heavy-handed” reminiscent of “McCarthy-style blacklisting”.
The statement concluded: “Even if they succeed in getting anti-BDS legislation passed, we want to remind everyone loudly and clearly: No legislature can take away our First Amendment-protected right to engage in BDS campaign.” In other words, additional BDS campaigns can be launched.
These ignoble actions coincided with a bid by the French government to allow Israel to convene an international peace summit in an attempt to restart a Palestinian-Israeli peace process. The Palestinians have already responded positively, according to French officials, while Israel reportedly has reservations about the French initiative because of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’ threat to recognise Palestine as a state if the initiative fails.
George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org