One looks at the recent past and wonders if there is an acceleration, like the universe’s expanding rush to extinction, of occasions when the United States places itself abjectly on the wrong side of history. The invasion of Iraq, the concentration camp for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, torture during the Bush years and assassinations by drone during the Obama years, are examples (just overseas).
On Thursday, the United States added another when it voted against Palestinian statehood. Not counting four stamp-size Pacific islands that always follow American orders, just four other nations opposed statehood: Israel of course, Canada, Panama and the Czech Republic. One hundred and thirty eight nations approved. In essence, the United States is more alone on this one than when it illegally invaded Iraq.
It’s been embarrassing to hear innumerable American politicians with anything like a Jewish or evangelical constituency echo Hillary Clinton’s verbal contortions: that Palestinian statehood doesn’t advance and may even retard the cause of peace, as if the right to nationhood and self-determination have suddenly become vile concepts to Thomas Jefferson’s descendants. Then again, even Mount Rushmore wasn’t big enough for Jefferson’s hypocrisy, and Hillary Clinton’s nullity as a secretary of state has nowhere so tediously complemented the landscape’s aridity than in the Middle East.
But American isolation on Israel is nothing new. It’s one of the reasons a breakthrough to a Palestinian state has been impossible. America submits to no one’s will anywhere on the planet. Except Israel’s. As Aaron David Miller, a veteran of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, reminds us in The Much-Too Promised Land, his book on his years at the State Department, it’s been American policy since Henry Kissinger and the Nixon years never to put forth any initiative regarding Palestinians without getting Israel’s approval first. Palestinian approval, or trust, has been an afterthought. That’s why Qatar, Turkey and Egypt have had more clout mediating the Palestinian-Israeli march of folly lately than has the United States.
Israel approved the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1993. That was supposed to be the first step toward a Palestinian state. There here hasn’t been another step since, except backward.
There was the second Palestinian Uprising of 2000. There’s been two crushing assaults on Gaza (2008, 2012), supposedly because Israel would not tolerate attacks from Hamas, though that’s part of the crock of Israeli propaganda. Just 47 Israelis have been killed by fire from Gaza in the last six years, and only one had been killed this year until November. Not negligible, but not worth a war. In comparison, almost 3,000 Palestinians have been killed in the same period, just in Gaza, which has been under siege all those years.
Palestinians aren’t blameless. But they’re not the only terrorists in the equation, and Palestinian suffering overwhelms its equivalent across the border. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Gaza. It’s an area one quarter the size of Flagler County (one of Florida’s smallest coastal counties). It’s jammed with 1.7 million people. Those people aren’t allowed to fish. They’re not allowed to trade with the outside world. They’re not allowed to work across the border, and of course they’re not allowed to have a state of their own, even though they elected their government democratically. It’s a wonder there hasn’t been an uprising every year. There may yet be.
Especially with Israel’s latest jackboot to Palestinians’ solar plexus: immediately after the UN vote, Israel revealed plans to build colonies (still euphemistically known as “settlements”) in a section of Arab Jerusalem that will ensure that a contiguous Palestinian state between Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank is never possible. It was another disproportionate, cynical Israeli punishment for a Palestinian act in no way different from Israel’s own unilateral declaration of statehood in 1948. But Israel has never learned how to exist without denying that right to Palestine, thrive though it does on the sadism of denying it.
Israel likes to claim that Palestinians deny Israel’s right to exist. And Palestinians, especially of the Hamas variety, do so in word and bluster. But the reality is the opposite. Israel not only exists. It’s impregnable. Nothing, not even the 1967 Arab-Israel War, has threatened its existence since 1947.
But Israel has spent the last six decades denying Palestinians the right to exist in fact—denying them a state, denying them land as it devours it settlement by settlement, denying them their dignity under illegal occupation, denying them their history, and denying them their identity. One of Israel’s most demeaning but powerful propaganda tool is to claim that the Palestinian people really don’t exist. They’re just Arabs who might as well lose themselves in Jordan. American-Indians know the trick. It goes beyond denying a nation its existence. It’s a form of retroactive ethnic cleansing.
In 1948, Harry Truman recognized Israel exactly 11 minutes after Israel declared its independence. Palestinians have been waiting 64 years for a similar recognition. They’ve waited long enough. Thursday’s U.N. vote made Palestinians more relevant. It made the United States less so.