The US government has decisively and blatantly moved to the wrong side of history. As its officials attended parties, galas and celebrations of their new embassy in occupied Jerusalem, Palestinians dug 60 more graves.
Sixty Palestinians were killed in Gaza on May 14 for the simple act of protesting and demanding their right of return to Palestinian land, as guaranteed by international law. That came after 50 others had been killed since March 30, the start of the “Great March of Return”. More than 10,000 have also been wounded and maimed during this time.
Two important truths have to be restated in order to understand the context of the US government’s decision to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.
First is the precarious relationship between the US government and international law. Historically, the US has used international law to achieve its own political ends, and relegated international and human rights laws when they were seen as obstacles to US political and military ambitions.
For decades, the US has used its ‘veto’ power to block scores of resolutions condemning Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian land or calling for practical mechanisms to bring an end to Palestinian suffering and subjugation.
While the strategy works well at the UN Security Council, it has faced considerable limitations at the General Assembly, which is, by far, a more democratic and internationally representative body than the Security Council. Various US ambassadors — notable among them, Madeline Albright and Nikki Haley — have unleashed wars of verbal abuse, threats and outright bullying against countries that have refused to toe the US line.
Haley, in particular, although the least politically-experienced of all US ambassadors, has been the most outspoken. Her attacks on Palestinians and their supporters — as in the majority of the international community — are a norm in media coverage of UN proceedings.
While it is true that the US move to relocate its embassy is a ‘violation of international law’, it is of little essence to the US foreign policy which is essentially predicated on challenging or violating global principles of peace and conflict resolution.
The second important context is this: according to US law, the US embassy was, legally speaking, already relocated to occupied Jerusalem many years ago. ‘The Jerusalem Embassy Act’ of 1995 was made effective on November 8 of that year, thus becoming public law and bypassing the consent of the President. It passed with a majority vote in the Senate (95-5) and the House (374-37).
“According to US law, the US embassy was, legally speaking, already relocated to occupied Jerusalem many years ago. ‘The Jerusalem Embassy Act’ of 1995 was made effective on November 8 of that year.””
Using a loophole in that same law, past administrations have signed a waiver once every six months to delay the inevitable move, which was intended to take place by May 31, 1999. Although US President Donald Trump had signed the waiver once, in June 2017, a few months later, in December, he decided to take US support of Israel a step further by recognising occupied Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.On May 14, 2018, that became a reality.
While it is important to remember that Trump’s decision, however daring, is consistent with the US anti-UN, anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel attitude, a question must be asked: Why now?
The answer can be approached in three different ways: First, Trump is a particularly opportunistic politician; second, the nature of his political base (right wing conservative Christian-Evangelicals) and, finally, the mounting political pressure which his faltering administration is experiencing on a daily basis.
Regarding Trump himself, in March 2016 he was the Republican presidential candidate and delivered his famous speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In his speech he made many promises to Israel. In response, the large crowd could rarely contain its excitement.
Of the many claims and dangerous promises Trump made, a particular passage stood out, for it offered early clues to what the future administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine would look like. The signs were not very promising:
“When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise and rise exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States,” he declared.
The truth is that Trump’s love affair with Israel is actually relatively recent. He had made several pronouncements in the past that, in fact, irritated Israel and its influential backers in the US. But when his chances of becoming the Republican nominee grew, so did his willingness to say whatever it takes to win Israel’s and its friends’ approval.
Pandering to key constituency
Another notable point is that Trump is desperate to maintain the support of the very constituency that brought him to the White House in the first place. The right wing, white, conservative, Christian-Evangelical constituency remains the foundation of his troubled presidency. This constituency, a major bloc in the US political system, voted for Trump in large numbers. Eighty-one per cent of white Evangelicals reportedly voted for him. Although these voters claim to be ‘value voters’, their take on morality is often inconsistent and at times, quite bizarre. Their ‘love’ for Israel, for example, is quite provisional as they believe in prophecies pertaining to the ‘second coming of Jesus Christ’ as a prelude to the ‘Rapture’: it is then that the faithful will be sent to heaven, and all the rest, including the Jews, will perish in a hellish eternity. However, for the prophecy to be fulfilled, they believe that Jews would have to be in complete control over the land of Palestine.
As moronic and dark as such ideas may seem to the rest of the world, They have created a temporary alliance between Israel’s right wing government, the Evangelicals (of whom Vice-President Mike Pence is an important member) and Donald Trump.
This leads to the final point: The massive political pressure suffered by Trump’s vulnerable administration.
The US is currently experiencing unprecedented political instability and polarisation. Talk of impeaching the president is gaining momentum, while his officials are often paraded before the Department of Justice investigators over various accusations, including collusion with foreign powers. Trump, himself, is being accused of various demeaning charges of indecency and corruption.
Under these circumstances, there is no decision or issue that Trump can approach without finding himself in a political storm except that of accommodating Israel to the fullest extent. Indeed, being pro-Israel has historically united the two main parties of the US, the Congress, the media and many Americans, leading among them, Trump’s political base.
However, Trump’s decision will neither cancel nor reverse international law. It simply means that the US has decided to drop the act, and walk wholly into the Israeli camp, further isolating itself from the rest of the world and once more openly defying international law.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Centre for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is http://www.ramzybaroud.net.
Palestinians – 70 Years of Suffering
To date, 62 Palestinians have been shot dead in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli army and over 5,500 wounded by gunfire. Their crime: protesting the loss of their ancestral homes in the West Bank.
Here was an example of Gandhi-style passive resistance that failed. Israeli sniper teams just fired at will at the protesters, some of who were throwing rocks or firing sling shots. High concentration tear gas was dumped by drones on the demonstrators. Israel claimed it was killing ‘terrorists.’
The United States, Israel’s patron and financier, reveled in the move of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move seen by Bible Belt religious fundamentalists as a key step to the return of the Christian Messiah and Armageddon. The rest of us, Jews included, are fated to be burned alive. The American Republicans, who have become a far-right theocratic party, cheered this good news. The Trump administration, by now an extension of Israel’s hard right Likud Party, was cock-a-hoop.
There was no joy in Gaza. This miserable, squalid human garbage dump is a giant open-air prison packed with 2 million Palestinian refugees driven from the newly created state of Israel in 1948. Israel and its close ally Egypt keep Gaza bottled up on its land and sea borders. Palestinians are only allowed to fish along the shore. Coastal gas and oil reserves have been expropriated by Israel and Egypt.
Gaza’s two million people subsist on the edge of starvation. Israel openly boasts that it allows just enough food into the enclave to prevent outright starvation. Chemicals to treat water are banned. Electricity runs only a few hours daily because the power plant was bombed by Israel’s US-supplied air force. Hospitals have almost no medicines. In short, wartime conditions in the open-air prison. Even the wretched animals in Gaza zoo are starving.
The intensive punishment of Gaza, a crime under international law, began after its people voted in a free election for the Hamas movement over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which is more or less run by Israel and the United States. Israel helped found Hamas in 1987, but then sought, with the US, to destroy the organization, branding it ‘terrorist.’
Israel has extensively used US-supplied arms and money to fight Hamas in Gaza, a clear violation of the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 that bars the use of American weapons against civilian populations.
The question remains, where did all the Palestinians come from? Israel long claimed there were no such people, or a made-up nationality. This was a pretty rich claim coming from Israelis, many of whom hailed from Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe and who had assumed biblical identities and asserted a direct link to the Hebrews who had lived two thousand years earlier in the Levant.
When Israel was created by the US and UN (with Soviet support) in 1948, from 750,000 to one million native Palestinians were driven from their ancestral home at gunpoint or panicked to flight by massacres and ethnic cleansing. Their villages were bulldozed.
When Israel conquered and annexed the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, another 500,000 Palestinians were made refugees. Some 50,000-250,000 Syrians were driven by Israel from the strategic Golan Heights. Bedouins were driven from Israel’s Negev Desert.
By our era, the number of homeless Palestinians has grown to 5 million refugees helped by the UN and at least another million scattered about the Mideast. The actual number could reach as high as 8-9 million thanks to the Palestinian’s high birth rate and strong family values.
Half of Jordan’s people are Palestinian refugees. Kuwait had 400,000 Palestinians until they were expelled in 1990-1991 after their leader, Yasser Arafat, foolishly backed claims by Saddam Hussein that he was occupying Kuwait in order to trade it for a Palestinian state. This was the biggest Palestinian expulsion since 1948. Egypt’s brutal dictator, Gen. al-Sisi, is now the biggest persecutor of Palestinians after Israel, keeping them locked away in the Gaza prison.
The Arab states have done very little for the Palestinians save slogans and hot air. The Saudis are now in cahoots with Israel to repress the Palestinians lest they spread modern secular ideas in the medieval Mideast. Interestingly, some of the most extreme Palestinians, like George Habash, were Arab Christians. Palestinians remain some of the best educated and most commercial of the Mideast’s peoples. For a long while they ran most of the Gulf Emirates until replaced by Indians.
‘Sand in the eye of the Mideast’ is what I called this oppressed people without a home. Their plight could be greatly eased by the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank. But this would interfere with plans for Israel’s right-wing government for planned expansion. So, the future for Palestinians is bleak.