Many dramatic, significant, even historic, events have occurred in the world in the last few days, including barbaric wars, broken cease-fires, terrorism in several American and Middle Eastern cities, global summits on refugees and migrants, and other such scourges. So why should we focus on the contradiction between U.S. President Barack Obama saying in his United Nations General Assembly speech Tuesday that Israel cannot forever expect to control and colonize the occupied Palestinian territories, just days after he concluded a $38 billion aid package to Israel for the next ten years?
It is because this moment captures the decades-old confluence among American, Israeli, Arab, and international behavior that has seen the Palestinian-Israeli and the wider Arab-Israeli conflicts persist unabated. These in turn continue to spawn destructive and corrosive trends that have contributed in different ways to the current violence and turmoil that seem only to be spreading across the Middle East—and from there to the world, in the form of terrorism, refugees, migrants, criminal networks, and other kinds of deviant and criminal behavior.
The Palestine-Israel conflict is not the root of all problems in our region, solving it would not instantly bring the Middle East peace and harmony, and Washington’s structural bias towards Israel is not the single biggest contributor to our regional tensions and wars. Yet it is critically important to grasp, and one day redress, the contradictions for half a century now within the reality we witnessed again this week: on the one hand, an American government that has given Israel virtually everything it has ever requested in the military, technological, financial, and diplomatic fields, and, on the other hand, the same American government tells Israel it must end its occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands and tries unsuccessfully to mediate diplomatic negotiations to achieve that goal. The contradictions between America’s balanced rhetoric and chronically pro-Israeli actions mean that Israel can do virtually anything it wishes on the ground in Palestine, and the whole world can go to hell if it does not like it, because the United States keeps rewarding Israel in every area of statehood.
The outgoing director of the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, Zeina Azzam, has just published a deep and succinct analysis of the implications of the massive, unprecedented, ten-year, $37 billion US aid package, entitled “Seven messages the US-Israeli aid deal sends to the world.” These include “might makes right; a shot in the arm for the Middle East arms race; Israel=impunity; Palestinian lives don’t matter; and some others that are worth a read in the original column.
The bottom line is that Obama’s behavior, and that of every other president before him since Nixon, tells us that when impressive American values encounter Palestinians and Israelis, they become a selective and occasional luxury, or a routine insincerity. This is a moral and political problem for Americans, should they wish to address it (and the groundswell of strong support for Bernie Sanders suggests that many do).
It is also a problem for the rest of the world, though. For when the world’s strongest power, and the self-appointed leader of the “free world” and guardian of the international order, negates its positive rhetoric and values with its actual policies that routinely buttress and fund Israel’s colonization and other criminal policies, it sends a corrosive and destructive message that slowly eats away at any foundations of a sane global order: It tells us that neither law nor morality need to guide the actions of any country, however small or big.
We will all pay a heavy price for the sequence of diplomatic impotence that Obama showed when he tried several times to prod a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, which he followed up with his contradictions between his clear objections to Israeli occupation policy and his massive, unprecedented financial and military support for those same Israeli policies. This matters, because if the powerful of our world throw law and morality to the junkyard of statecraft, the rest of the world will follow suit.
Most Arab and other developing states already have thin layers of rule of law and political coherence. The Obama legacy will further corrode these by shattering the sense by ordinary citizens across the world that they should play by the rules and obey the law. Rather, we learn this week, we should ignore the rhetoric of the powerful and rich, for it may be more profitable to occupy, colonize, assassinate, incarcerate, and lay siege to people you do not like, and if you do this long enough you will hit the $37 billion jackpot that only comes along once every 50 years or so.
Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow and journalism professor at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. On Twitter @ramikhouri
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global