Even before the voting began, Israeli politicians and pundits were asking: Will an Obama Administration be good for Israel? “Be good for Israel” is our code for “Will the US allow us to keep our settlements and continue to support our efforts to prevent negotiations with the Palestinians from ever bearing fruit?” For Americans the question should be: Will the Obama Administration understand that without addressing Palestinian needs it will not be able to disentangle itself from its broader Middle Eastern imbroglios, rejoin the community of nations and rescue its economy?
The Israel-Palestine conflict should be of central concern to Americans, near the top of the new Administration’s agenda. It may not be the bloodiest conflict in the world _ its minor when compared to Iraq _ but it is emblematic to Muslims and to peoples the world over of American hostility and belligerence. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not merely a localized one between two squabbling tribes. It lies at the epicenter of global instability. Go where you may in the world and you will encounter the same phenomenon: a sense that the suffering of the Palestinians represents all that is wrong in an American-dominated world.
As Obama comes into office, he will encounter a global reality very different from that of eight years before: a multilateral one in which a weakened and isolated US must find its place. He will discover that much of America’s isolation comes from the view that the Occupation of the Palestinian territories is, in fact, an American-Israeli Occupation. If restoring a weakened American economy depends on repairing relations with the rest of the world, he will learn that without resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict he will not create those conditions in which the US will be accepted once more into the wider global community.
To be more specific, the Israel-Palestine conflict directly affects Americans in at least five ways:
O It isolates the US from major global markets, forcing it to embark on aggressive measures to secure markets rather than peaceful accommodation;
O It thereby diverts the American economy into non-productive production (tanks not roads), making it dependent upon deficit spending which only increases dependency upon foreign financing while diverting resources into the military rather than into education, health and investment;
O Support for the Israeli military costs US taxpayers more than $3 billion annually at a time of deepening recession and crumbling national infrastructure;
O It leads to an American involvement in the world that is mainly military, thus begetting hostility and resistance which produce the threats to security Americans so greatly fear; and
O It ends up threatening American civil liberties by encouraging such legislation as the Patriot Act and by introducing Israeli “counterinsurgency” tactics and weaponry developed in the West Bank and Gaza into American police forces.
For many peoples of the world, the Palestinians represent the plight of the majority. They are the tiny grains of sand resisting what most Americans and privileged people of the West do not see. They are a people who are denied the most fundamental right: to a state of their own, even on the 22% of historic Palestine that Israel has occupied since 1967. For the majority of humanity that lives in economic and political conditions unimaginable in the West, the suffering caused by Israel’s occupation _ impoverishment and a total denial of freedom that can only be sustained by total American support _ is emblematic of their own continued suffering. Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians with the active backing of the US shows demonstrably the existence of a global system of Western domination that prevents others from achieving their own dreams of political and economic well-being.
Like a bone in the throat, the issue of Israel’s occupation can be neither ignored nor by-passed. To make things even more difficult, it is doubtful if a two-state solution is still possible, since Israeli settlement activity has largely eliminated that option. Whatever the eventual solution, if this most destabilizing of conflicts is not addressed, the US _ even under Obama _ will remain mired in conflicts with Muslim peoples and reviled by peoples seeking genuine freedom. Neither the US nor Israel will find the security they claim they seek. We live in a global reality, not a Pax Americana. The logic of the Bush Administration has run its course. No longer can the US throw its weight around in a War Against Terror. No longer can its involvement be purely military. The new logic that will accompany Obama into office can be summarized in one word: accommodation. And the US will not get to first base until it achieves accommodation with the Muslim world, which means ending the Israeli Occupation. What happens to the Palestinians takes on a global significance. Clearing the bone in the throat _ that is, ending the Israeli Occupation and allowing the Palestinians a state and a future of their own _ should be a top priority of the next American administration. Indeed, America’s attempt to restore its standing in the world depends on it. In the global reality in which we live, the fate of Americans and Palestinians, it turns out, are closely intertwined.
(Jeff Halper is the Director of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.)