As President Obama is about to fade from the White House forever to make way for the Twitter King’s juggernaut of furniture wreckers, his abstaining vote on a United Nations Security Counsel resolution to condemn Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies in the West Bank and Jerusalem as “illegal” has rocked the leadership of that tiny nation. Naturally, Netanyahu and others in the Likudist pro-settlement camp went ballistic, since they’ve written Obama off as a loser and know what a coup the condemnation resolution is. To be so condemned as an outlaw faction will encourage further opposition to Likudist Israel in Europe, as it will put an international stain on products made in West Bank settlements. Many of those products are being exported illegally, a situation that will now be in the public eye.
One of the brightest spots in all this is that, in the last three yards of his two-term run, President Obama assumed some backbone vis-à-vis Netanyahu, a leader who dis’ed and humiliated him publicly on several occasions. The same with Secretary of State John Kerry, whose 70 minute speech at the State Department Wednesday showed glimmers of the young Vietnam veteran John Kerry who publicly wondered, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? … [W]e have been used in the worst fashion by the administration of this country.”
To Netanyahu’s remark that “Friends do not take friends to the Security Counsel,” Kerry replied with the equivalent of the well-known public service line: “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” The runaway arrogance of the Israeli right can easily be seen as akin to being drunk at the wheel on one’s own exceptionalism and entitlement.
John Kerry has been a longtime insider in the very same American government that “used him in the worst fashion” as a young man. So for me, his remarks come not from a “friend” of Israel, but from the equivalent of a parent who birthed Israel in 1948 under President Harry Truman. That post-WWII moment in history, of course, was rich with profound Washington decisions that Americans were forced to live with in the years that followed. Some of those decisions went completely off the rails. This has a compelling poignancy for me, since as a “baby boomer” born in 1947, my life spans the same years. Some might say I’ve gone off the rails. I presume Kerry must feel some of this, too; he was born in 1943. In 1947, Truman and Congress established the National Security State; the CIA was officially born out of the OSS that year. President Truman and “the buck stops here” was ground zero. For the Vietnam War, 1945 was the fateful year. It’s when Truman decided to betray our WWII ally, the Viet Minh, and support the French desire to re-colonize Vietnam, a decision that led to 30 years of grotesque, unnecessary war on the people of Vietnam.
So, Mr. Kerry, welcome home, brother. If you follow the lead of your better-late-than-never, straight-talk censure of the Israel Likudists and don’t slip back into shameless, toad-eating political expediency I’m going to consider you in this case again part of the Peace Movement, a movement that has been slandered and marginalized for the entire 20th century and into this century. (Among reluctant Republicans in Washington, we’re told that toad is the gourmet meal-de-jour as the city prepares for the gala arrival of the Twitter King. Neo-con editor of The Atlantic David Frum reported it was “Toad for breakfast, toad for lunch and two toads for dinner.”)
The basic lines of history seem clear. West Bank settlements and the assumption of whole sections of Jerusalem began after the 1967 war in which Israel took the land from Jordan as spoils of war. It must be said, the Arabs are not without sin, here. The world consensus has always been that peace negotiations should have followed the conflict, the goal being a two-state arrangement that would help establish some semblance of peace and justice in the Middle East. That never happened. Instead, with overt and generous US military support, the Israeli occupation of would-be Palestine grew tighter by the year. Ariel Sharon lumbered onto the scene as director of settlement policy and, then, as prime minister. The settlement movement grew steadily; settlers became more and more belligerent vis-a-vis the Palestinian people in the West Bank. Israeli rightists had visions of Israel stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. From the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009 to 2014, the West Bank Israeli settlement population went from 297,000 to 386,000; the East Jerusalem Israeli population grew from 193,000 to 208,000. This amounted to giving the finger to President Obama and others around the world working toward a two-state solution. Israel’s Likud Party stoked fear and hatred and moved farther and farther to the right, until it has become a defacto expansionist party that feels entitled to everything.
I vividly remember the first time the idea of Israeli settlements in the West Bank entered my consciousness. Again, think baby boomer generation. I’m in a firebase along the Cambodian border in the mountainous Central Highlands of Vietnam; from the helicopter arriving at the firebase, it looks like a cigar burn in a shag carpet. Several of us were smoking and joking between the outgoing 105s and the incoming mortars from the North Vietnamese regular unit in the woods outside the perimeter. I was a 19-year-old military occupier without a clue why I was one of 500,000 similarly clueless US soldiers occupying that peasant nation. It was 1967, and Israel had taken the West Bank from Jordan some weeks before. A Jewish fellow in my unit was giddy with delight. I confess I didn’t then know much more about Israel/Palestine or the West Bank than I did about Vietnam. Kerry’s idea about being “used in the worst fashion” comes to mind. Being a miniscule part of that huge historic mobilization was later a strong goad for my self-education on Vietnam and post-WWII US military policy. I began reading up on it when I got home, and I have not stopped.
This Jewish fellow went on and on how great the moment was. I recall wondering what it meant for the future. I thought aloud: Wouldn’t holding that land lead to more violence and war in the future? Might it be better to sort it out and make peace? I see this as a seed-moment for the later growth of my instincts toward the peace movement. But my fellow soldier was incredibly confident; I was not a Jew and, therefore, couldn’t understand.
There’s no question that Israel is a fact of life. National sovereignty is a matter of might-makes-right and the recognition of other nations in the world that you’re qualified to be accepted into the club of nations. The United States became a fact of life in the same way — after slaughtering Native Americans and corralling the survivors shamelessly into reservations. My ancestor was part of one of the original massacres, the attack on the Pequots in Connecticut. British settlers were very fearful of the powerful Pequots, so one morning at dawn my people attacked and slaughtered the 700 souls in the Pequot village; then they burned the village to the ground. The male braves were off on hunting expeditions, so those killed were mostly women, children and old men. With the help of pacified tribes, my people then hunted down the males and the Pequots weren’t heard of again until they built a huge casino called Foxwood in the middle of Connecticut.
As Manifest Destiny moved west, we broke virtually every treaty we made with the Indians we had not killed. How did “Americans” get away with doing this? There was, of course, no United Nations then. It was the wild west, a lawless time and place. Protecting domestic settlements and the expanding railroad were the top priorities as the nation moved inexorably toward the Pacific Ocean. Domination was our destiny. The only way to peace for Native Americans was to accept they were losers and accept the terms of the winners — accept being emasculated and herded into reservations or be hunted down and killed.
Obviously, in the mid-1940s following a great world conflagration, the conditions for the founding of Israel were different. The United Nations had just been formed to basically put the world in order following that destructive conflagration that included the genocide of millions of Jews by fellow Europeans. As we know, the devil is in the details. In what seems now a root problem, the US and European-dominated UN that followed on the ill-fated League Of Nations magnanimously handed over the League’s Palestine Mandate to Zionist Jews fleeing Europe. Truman was the man in the White House where the buck stopped. In retrospect, the compassionate establishment of an ideally ecumenical Israel shifted over time into a wholly Jewish state with Palestinians seen as interlopers in their own land. Resentment and violence naturally became part of the equation. Live and let live was not a founding mantra. Emotions were raised, hatred and demonization prevailed, wagons were circled and before you know it you had an expansionist ideology like that of the Likudists.
All because of a thoroughly inadequate decision over the fate of two peoples who claimed the same land. Much of it because of the guy with the sign on his desk: The Buck Stops Here. Which raises the unholy idea that maybe Harry Truman wasn’t such a great president. And maybe some of his decisions should be re-considered in today’s world. At least that’s how a good radical would see it: Locate the roots of it all.
In 20 days, the Twitter King will be seated in Harry Truman’s chair. The buck will stop with him. Mr. Trump regularly Tweets the traditional code phrases that could be said to characterize the pacification of Native American people. America First and Peace Through Strength. (He doesn’t mention the phrase collateral damage.) These phrases amount to the marching orders in Likudist Israel. The only way Netanyahu’s right wing Israeli government will allow Palestinians even a remote semblance of self-rule and dignity is if they concede they have lost everything and, thus, have nothing left to lose by caving in to the Israeli juggernaut.
Mr. Trump has used similar rhetoric to try to convince poor, inner city African Americans to vote for him. Your inner cities are a disaster, he’d say. There’s violence everywhere. You walk down the street and get shot. “What do you have to lose!?” What do you have to lose by throwing in the towel and kissing my pinkie ring? I’m only being partially satiric when I imagine his plan is to re-establish the Plantation System, using his charm to convince everyone it’ll work this time. It’ll be different. You’ll see! Trust me.
The bottom line issue is dignity. Do you escalate and continue to break a people’s back to bring them to heel, or do you recognize the injustices that have occurred — that you may have committed — and create a structure that facilitates real justice and peaceful co-existence? Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu give no evidence that they see the latter as important for people they deem inconvenient and superfluous to their dreams of greatness.
If I heard him correctly, Mr. Netanyahu blamed the League of Nations for getting it all wrong from the beginning with its post-WWI Palestine Mandate. For Mr. Netanyahu, it’s always someone else’s fault. In this case, he’s saying it was the fault of British Colonialism and the world. It’s funny that, not unlike my line here, he’s suggesting everything went awry with decisions made in the first half of the 20th century. Instead of historic decisions wronging the Palestinians, he suggests history wronged the Jews and Israel. One thing we’ve learned is that there were a lot of moral crimes committed under the relentless drive of European Colonialism and it’s offspring, post-WWII American Imperialism. One reaction to these historic lessons is the disdain leaders like Benjamin Netanyahu show for overarching, international bodies like the League Of Nations and the United Nations. If they have the power and the will, their national Manifest Destiny will not be thwarted.
Referring to the Security Counsel resolution to condemn Likudist Israel, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer told The New York Times, “[The Palestinian’s] strategy is not to negotiate with Israel because a deal is give and take. They want take and take.” (Italics mine.) The spinning audacity of such a statement is emblematic and worth examining. What it does is blame the victim for the crimes of the oppressor. It has traction because Palestinians are human and do bad things, too. As the Likudist settler movement expropriates land, it has been consistent Israeli policy to refuse any kind of negotiation until Palestinians accepted all the terms on the table to be negotiated. Demand that the people you’ve beaten down and run into refugee camps accept their occupation as legitimate before you will agree to sit down and negotiate lifting the obnoxious conditions. Those on the wrong end of Israeli oppression have always known it was two-faced nonsense — as those on the oppressor side of the equation knew the same. Wink. Wink. It was always Kafkaesque. Catch 22. All those damn Palestinians want is to “take and take” from the people chosen by God. The United States has been an accessory to this con game from the beginning.
If the two-state solution is finally dead, as was declared by ex-UN Ambassador John Bolten on Fox News recently, where does the Netanyahu line go in the future under Donald Trump? If Palestinian anger and indignation from the past 50 years is not respected, if dignity is not allowed, where can it go but more of the same getting worse and worse each year? As we know, under a one-state Israel it’s either a Jewish dictatorial state or democracy. Can’t have both.
I have great empathy for the Israeli people under the yoke of fear fueled by the rightwing Likud government. But it’s time for some straight talk to open up the conversation. So we should be grateful to President Obama for having the last-minute courage to allow the Security Counsel condemnation to go on the record. He’s getting flak from both parties. Donald Trump and company will be scrambling to undo it, as they scramble to maneuver through the Russian thicket of intrigue. According to reports, it’s not going to be easy to overturn the Security Counsel resolution. It could take years, if it’s possible at all. Meanwhile, the condemnation is an international fait-accompli on the books, and Benjamin Netanyahu and the Twitter King will just have to deal with it.
It could even put a little juice back into the UN at a time that that’s greatly needed.