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Could US Foreign Policy in the Middle East Be Worse? Yes

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other hawkish Democratic leaders have left their mark on the Middle East during their four years of leadership in Congress, namely support for militarism and repression, and punishment for moderation.

Could US Foreign Policy in the Middle East Be Worse? Yes

Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other hawkish Democratic leaders have left their mark on the Middle East during their four years of leadership in Congress, namely support for militarism and repression, and punishment for moderation.

Most notably, Pelosi and other Democratic leaders refused calls from a variety of peace and human rights organizations for conditioning US military aid to Israel, Egypt, and other countries in the region on their adherence to internationally recognized human rights standards. In addition, in reaction to the United Nations Human Rights Council raising concerns about human rights abuses by Israel and other US allies in the region, Pelosi’s continuing resolution on the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill bars the use of any US funds to be appropriated as part of the annual contribution of UN member states to support the council’s work.

Also problematic is that – while Congressional Democrats formally dropped their longstanding opposition to Palestinian statehood in the 1990s – the Democratic-sponsored Foreign Operations Appropriations Act contains a series of measures which appear to be designed to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Fueling the Arms Race

Challenging the widespread consensus by arms control specialists and other observers that the Middle East already has too many armaments, Pelosi and the Democrats have clearly determined that, in their view, the region doesn’t have enough armaments and that the United States must continue its role as supplier of most of the region’s weaponry. As teachers, librarians, social workers, health care professionals, and other Americans are losing their jobs due to a lack of public funding, the Democrats’ appropriation bill pours billions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer funding into sophisticated weapons for both Israel and neighboring Arab states.

Pelosi and the Democrats made clear their outright rejection of recent calls by Amnesty International and other human rights groups to suspend US military aid to Israel in response to the use of US weapons in war crimes during the assault on the Gaza Strip last year. Despite the Democrats’ budget freezing or cutting back virtually all domestic programs, House Democrats have voted to increase military aid to Israel, now totaling $3.4 billion. According to Aviation Week, part of the increase is the result of the purported need to include unusually advanced and expensive electronic warfare systems in the new F-35 jet fighters being provided to Israel to compensate for new F-15 jet fighters the United States is selling to Saudi Arabia. In addition, though Foreign Military Financing funds are normally allocated as they are used, this appropriation bill allocates the funding to Israel within 30 days of passage, thereby enabling the right-wing Israeli government to collect interest on the money rather than the US treasury.

It should be stressed, however, that well over three-quarters of this “aid to Israel” actually ends up with US arms manufacturers – as does virtually all of the military aid to Egypt and the money for arms sales to oil-rich Arab states, which Congressional Democrats then claim makes US military aid to Israel necessary to defend them from these same Arab countries.

An additional $1.3 billion in foreign military financing is earmarked for the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, $235 million for the autocratic monarchy in Jordan and $12 million for the repressive regime in Tunisia. (The only other country specifically targeted for military aid in this legislation is Colombia, which has the worst human rights record in Latin America and which will receive $53 million). Congress eliminated the small amount of military aid that was in last year’s budget earmarked for Lebanon in retaliation for a border clash in which one Israeli soldier and three Lebanese, including a journalist, were killed. By contrast, in response to the 2006 war in which Israelis killed more than 800 civilians, Congress increased military aid to Israel, indicative of their belief that, while the deaths of hundreds of Arab civilians from US delivery systems and ordinance is tolerable, the death of one Israeli soldier is not.

Sabotaging a Palestinian Unity Government

As European governments and others recognize that some kind of government of national unity between Fatah and the more moderate elements of Hamas is necessary for the peace process to move forward, Pelosi and her colleagues are attempting to sabotage such efforts. This year’s appropriations bill prohibits any supporOutgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other hawkish Democratic leaders have left their mark on the Middle East during their four years of leadership in Congress, namely support for militarism and repression, and punishment for moderation.

By contrast, there are no such provisions restricting the billions of dollars of aid to the coalition government in Israel, which includes far-right parties that have likewise refused to recognize Palestine, renounce violence, support the disarming of allied settler militias or accept prior agreements, including the Roadmap. Indeed, the Roadmap explicitly calls for a freeze on all additional Israeli settlement construction, which the Israeli government has explicitly rejected. According to Pelosi and the Democratic leadership, however, only the Palestinian side has to abide by prior agreements as a condition for US support.

In short, to Pelosi and other Democratic Congressional leaders, Palestinians simply do not have equal rights to Israelis in terms of statehood, security or international obligations. The Democrats are willing to sabotage any Palestinian government that dares include – even as a minority in a broad coalition – any hard-line, anti-Israeli party, yet they have no problems whatsoever in pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into supporting an Israeli government dominated by hard-line, anti-Palestinian parties.

There’s a word for such double standards: racism.

Other Anti-Palestinian Provisions

Migration and refugee assistance are other areas where the anti-Palestinian bias of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders becomes apparent. There are a number of refugee populations in which the United Nations, assisted in part through US aid, is involved in relief operations, including Rwandans, Kurds, Congolese, Afghans, Iraqis, Somalis, and others from which terrorist groups operate or have operated in the recent past. However, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership, as part of the appropriation bill, have determined that it is in regard to Palestinian refugees alone that the State Department is required to work with the UN and host governments “to develop a strategy for identifying individuals known to have engaged in terrorist activities.”

In contrast to this indirect and conditional aid to the more than three million Palestinian refugees, Pelosi’s bill stipulates that not less than $30 million in funds for migration and refugee assistance should be made available for refugee resettlement in Israel, despite the fact that there has been no major flow of refugees into Israel since the mid-1990s. None of the other 194 recognized states in the world are specifically earmarked in this year’s appropriations bill to receive this kind of funding, which is normally made available on assessment of humanitarian need. In recent years, successive Israeli governments have encouraged immigrants to live in subsidized Jewish-only settlements, illegally constructed on confiscated land in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights, in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions and a landmark advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice. The inclusion of this resettlement funding in this year’s appropriations bill effectively encourages further Israeli colonization in occupied Palestinian and Syrian territory, thereby decreasing the likelihood of a peace settlement. Meanwhile, Israel still forbids Palestinian refugees, who were forcibly expelled from their homes in what is now Israel, to exercise their right of return, in violation of international human rights statutes.

Only $75 million in aid is allocated to the West Bank and none of it is allocated to the Palestine Authority (PA) itself, under the leadership of the moderate president Mahmoud Abbas. By contrast, US economic assistance to Israel has traditionally gone directly to the Israeli government and has historically averaged more than 15 times that amount, even though the per-capita income of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is less than one-twentieth that of Israeli Jews. Indeed, the US-subsidized Israeli government provides its citizens with free universal health care, heavily-subsidized college tuition, and other government programs the Democratic Congress and administration has failed to provide Americans.

Pelosi’s bill contains lengthy and detailed conditions and restrictions on programs in the West Bank, with extensive vetting, reporting and auditing rules required for no other place in the world. This year’s bill includes unprecedented requirements that all funds be subjected to regular notification procedures. There are also a number of other stipulations not found for any other nation, such as the provision banning any assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. Despite real progress made by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in cleaning up the PA’s endemic corruption, Pelosi and the Democrats have placed more draconian auditing requirements on Palestinian aid now than there ever was under the notoriously corrupt rule of former Palestinian President Yasir Arafat.

Despite all the additional administrative costs such restrictions require, the bill caps administrative expenses at $2 million; there are no such limitations in the appropriations bill regarding aid to any other nation.

The Democrats’ goal appears to be to make it all the more difficult for Palestinians – already suffering under US-backed Israeli sieges – to meet even their most basic needs for health care, education, housing, and economic development.

Roadblocks for Palestinian Statehood

Though the United States remains the world’s number one military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of repressive Middle Eastern governments – including absolute monarchies, military juntas, and occupation armies – the appropriations bill includes language insisting that the “governing entity” of Palestine “should enact a constitution assuring the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and respect for human rights for its citizens, and should enact other laws and regulations assuring transparent and accountable governance.” No such language in the Democrats’ appropriations bill exists in regard to any other nation.

There are also provisions blocking US support for a Palestinian state unless it meets a long list of criteria regarding perceived Israeli security needs. Again, no such conditions in the appropriations bill attach for any other nation.

One target of Pelosi and other Democratic leaders is the Palestinians’ desire to regain the Arab-populated sections of East Jerusalem, which have been under Israeli military occupation since Israel seized the city from Arab control in 1967. In addition to its religious significance for both Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims, Jerusalem has long been the most important cultural, commercial, political and educational center for Palestinians and has the largest Palestinian population of any city in the world. Given the city’s significance to both populations, any sustainable peace agreement would need to recognize Jerusalem as the capital city for both Israel and Palestine.

In an apparent effort to delegitimize any Palestinian claims to their occupied capital, however, Pelosi’s bill prohibits any “meetings between officers and employees of the United States and officials of the Palestinian Authority, or any successor Palestinian governing entity” in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem “for the purpose of conducting official United States Government business with such authority.” Even if the Israelis do agree to end their occupation of Arab East Jerusalem, Pelosi and the Democrats have inserted language that no funds could be used to create any new US government offices in Jerusalem that would interact with the Palestinian Authority or any successor Palestinian government entity.

Under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-California), the Democrats have used their four years as the majority party to strengthen Israel’s right-wing governments, their occupation policies and their ability to colonize Palestinian land and attack civilian populations, while weakening the moderate leadership of the PA. Can the Republicans really be much worse?

Unfortunately, yes. The incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) insists that Pelosi and the Democrats have not been anti-Palestinian enough. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post last week, she accused President Obama and the Democratic Congress of giving the PA a “blank check” and insisting that there must be still more conditions attached to Palestinian aid. Accusing the Democrats of “forcing the Israelis to make concessions” while “giving the Palestinians anything they want,” Ros-Lehtinen says, “We should finally hold PA leaders accountable, which is why I will soon introduce legislation to clarify and tighten existing US laws that deny funding to the PA until they meet their commitments.”

She didn’t say which commitments the PA hasn’t met. And, unlike the Israelis, the PA has long met its Stage I commitments in the US-sponsored Roadmap. The PA leadership is asking for only the 22 percent of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 war, not an inch of Israeli territory on the remaining 78 percent, while the Netanyahu government insists on Israel taking over even more Palestinian land. Yet, Ros-Lehtinen insists it is the PA, not the Israeli government, which “is not a partner for peace.” Even though the Palestinians unilaterally recognized Israel back in 1988, codified it in the 1993 Oslo Accords and amended the Palestine Liberation Organization charter to remove any reference that implied nonrecognition soon thereafter, Ros-Lehtinen insists the Palestinians “continue to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist” and that they “deny the right of the Jewish people to a state in their own homeland.”

Similarly, the incoming House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), told Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu last month, “the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington.” Unlike the Democrats, who, he argued, had not been supportive enough of the rightist Israeli government, “the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States.”

The Democrats could have taken advantage of their control of both Congress and the White House to support moderate Palestinians and moderate Israelis in their quest for peace. Instead, Pelosi and other Congressional leaders, without any apparent opposition from the Obama White House, have been committed to rewarding right-wing militarists like Netanyahu, while punishing moderates Abbas and Fayyad. Now, the Republicans are ready to push this disastrous policy even further.

And then they wonder why the Palestinian militarists of Hamas, who highlight such policies as examples of why moderation and compromise with the Israelis won’t work, continue to have such wide support.