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US presidential candidates threaten a just peace in historic Palestine

December 11, 2015 at 1:39 pm

In recent weeks the race for the White House and the top job of president of the United States of America has been dominated by Republican hopeful Donald Trump. His outrageous plan to ban Muslims from the USA has been condemned widely. However, equally outrageous and insensitive was his announcement that he would visit Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem during a proposed visit to Israel. The trip would, he said, include a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud leader has said that he “rejects” Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from the US but did not cancel his meeting. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin implicitly rebuked the leading Republican candidate, saying, “We have no war with Islam.”

Trump has since postponed his visit “until after he is elected president” and claimed that he “didn’t want to put him [Netanyahu] under pressure.” After all, Trump supported Netanyahu’s re-election earlier this year.

The billionaire property magnate “doubts whether Israelis, Palestinians want peace” and has even thought that “Israel may not want to reach a deal, and I understand that, and I’m okay with that”; he is a staunch supporter of the Zionist state. As the Times of Israel put it, “When it comes to Jewish ties, no GOP [Republican Party] candidate trumps Trump.” He led the 40th annual “Salute to Israel Parade” held in Manhattan in 2004 and said, “We love Israel. We will fight for Israel 100 per cent, 1,000 per cent. It will be there forever.

Trump’s Republican rivals are not that far behind in their support for the state. A key rival, Bill Carson, spoke recently to the Jewish Coalition Presidential Forum. The headlines were more about his pronunciation of “Hamas” than his blind support for Israel. Carson read from a script even though, “I am normally a spontaneous speaker.” The script, he explained, was because he wanted “to make sure I get all my points in today.” He was, presumably, concerned about offending his important audience if he was not sufficiently supportive of Israel in his normal spontaneity.

Upon entering the presidential race, another Republican hopeful, Jeb Bush, said, “I will rebuild our vital friendships” which “starts by standing with the brave, democratic State of Israel.” Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition recently, Bush promised to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem “on day one” of his presidency and to “employ the US Justice Department to crack down on the BDS movement against Israel.” The idea of moving the embassy to Jerusalem is one that no US president has implemented, given its occupied status in international law.

Ted Cruz is yet another Republican presidential hopeful. He suggested that the US should “stop lecturing Israel” and laid the blame for the failure to achieve peace squarely on the Palestinians. He even called for the resignation of US Secretary of State Kerry for suggesting that Israel could become an Apartheid state.

Marco Rubio, meanwhile, is also a long-standing supporter of Israel. He promised that his administration’s foreign policy “would be conducted with the understanding that defending Israel, like defending other democratic allies, is a form of American self-defence.” He claimed that this is an idea with which the Obama administration “obviously” disagrees. “When the administration falsely suggested, for example, that Israel was using excessive force in response to a wave of terror attacks, it undermined the legitimacy of America’s fight against terror.”

There is not a single Republican presidential candidate, including those noted above, who has acknowledged the fact that Israel occupies Palestinian territory illegally and that this is the root cause of the ongoing conflict.

The situation in the Democratic Party is only marginally better. Leading candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke recently at the Saban Forum in Washington, hosted by the Brookings Institution. Rather than criticise Israel for any of its illegal policies and its occupation, Clinton called on Arab leaders “to revive the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative to include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state”, a key Israeli demand of the Palestinians. She also said that one of her first acts would be to invite the Israeli prime minister to visit Washington within the first month.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is perhaps the closest to the policy of the Obama administration. He thinks that, “What the United States needs is to have an even-handed policy toward Israel and toward the Palestinians. What we need to guarantee and make certain is that Israel can exist in peace and security and that the Palestinians have their own independent state and an economy to allow their people to have a decent standard of living.”

As he enters his last year as President, Barack Obama has given up on finding a peaceful resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict under his watch, despite the determination to do so upon his election. His Secretary of State John Kerry’s last visit to historic Palestine was designed to find a way of pressuring Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to end the two-month-old Palestinian uprising. He had nothing to offer, even about restarting talks. The recent Climate Change Conference in Paris delivered the first handshake between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas in years, at least in public.

All candidates for the US presidency are likely to stand with Israel both in word and deed if elected. To varying degrees they have swallowed Netanyahu’s propaganda which claims that resolving the Palestinian issue is not the most pressing matter in the Middle East. First, it was the distraction of the Iran nuclear deal and now it is Syria, Iraq and the threat from “radical Islamic terror” which is being used to trump justice and peace.

American democracy allows for a disproportionate degree of influence by organised lobbies and rich individuals. The pro-Israel lobby is one of the strongest on Capitol Hill and the presidential candidates have gone out of their way to declare their unfettered support for the Zionist state. They do not do this, in such numbers and so openly, for any other foreign state or cause.

The chances of an even-handed US approach to the conflict under the next administration are thus sadly negligible, whoever is elected. Considering the recent, serious deterioration in the situation on the ground in historic Palestine, that in my view threatens not only the attainment of a just peace but even the externally perceived periods of relative quiet that follow Israeli attacks on Gaza or a Palestinian uprising. For Palestinians of course, there are no periods of calm — relative or otherwise — under Israel’s brutal military occupation.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.