US on Israeli Settlements: A Policy Without A Policy

This article originally appeared at LobeLog. There is an indispensable wealth of material there on recent events in Israel/Palestine, Iran, Egypt and others. I urge you to check it out.

Some days, it must be really difficult to be the State Department’s spokesperson. It doesn’t seem like a bad job to have at all, but on certain questions it’s impossible to not look like an idiot. A lot of those questions are connected to de facto policies which differ from de jure ones.

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

Look up the hill from the West Bank town of Tuwani and you see the Israeli settlement, Maon

And there is no better example of that than US policy on Israeli settlements.

Back in the early years after the 1967 war, the United States made it clear that the settlements were illegal according to international law. As recently as 1978, the State Department legal adviser confirmed that all Israeli settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal, and through the Carter administration, this was explicit US policy. That policy has never been explicitly revoked, but beginning with the Reagan administration, de facto policy has been ambiguous. Reagan began the trend when he stated that while the settlements were ill-advised, provocative and that further settlement was not necessary for Israel’s security “I disagreed when, the previous Administration refereed to them as illegal, they’re not illegal.  Not under the U.N. resolution that leaves the West Bank open to all people—Arab and Israeli alike, Christian alike.”

The problematic nature of Reagan’s statement — implying that “Arab” equals “Muslim” and “Israeli” equals “Jew”, and more importantly, citing the “U.N. Resolution”, which is not the basis for the illegality of the settlements (the Fourth Geneva Convention is) — notwithstanding, this was the beginning of the US’ refusal to label settlements illegal, terming them instead, at most, “illegitimate.” Continue reading

Thoughts for the Day III: In Other News, A surprising US Statement and a Troubling Verdict in Israel

In Israel, Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who was very active in working for equal rights for Arabs in the state, was sentenced to nine years in prison under a plea bargain reached with the prosecution, averting a trial on charges he spied for Hezbollah. Blogger Richard Silverstein writes “My readers who support the Israeli government’s draconian treatment of its Palestinian citizens will point to Makhoul’s “admission” of guilt as proof that Shabak proved its case.  Not at all.  As the victim’s attorney noted, he knew of not a single case in which a Palestinian security defendant went to trial and was acquited.  Never.  Not once.  Shabak gets its man, every time.  So Makhoul was faced with a choice of ten years or a possible life sentence if (or I should say “when”) found guilty. “ Well, we’ll never know, but Silverstein is certainly correct that the plea bargain does not necessarily mean Makhoul is guilty, only that he was convinced he would be convicted at trial. And the lack of a trial really is a shame because we will never know what kind of evidence was amassed, if any, against Makhoul and it will forever be a case where people are going to believe what they want to believe. And while I don’t share Silverstein’s apparent certainty of Makhoul’s innocence, I certainly do agree that this case has smelled fishy from day one. But under the circumstances, I certainly cannot blame Makhoul for his decision if he was indeed innocent…. Continue reading

Americans Support Anti-Settlement UN Resolution, Part I

Many of my readers are probably aware that the Palestinians have been working to bring a resolution to the UN Security Council that would reaffirm the obvious fact that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. The Obama Administration is hemming and hawing about the resolution, obviously uncomfortable with it but unable to explain why it would consider vetoing a resolution so obviously consistent with stated US policy on the matter.

It’s more difficult for Obama than for previous presidents because he has been so vocal about settlements, but has consistently avoided taking any concrete action about them. Israel knows very well the boundaries: they will not respond to mere US statements, but if there is the threat that the US will take action, they will be much more responsive. That doesn’t happen often.

Expansion of the Givat Ze'ev settlement block near Jerusalem. The picture was taken on 10 August 2005 from the Palestinian village Beit Duku. Photo credit: Kareem Jubran, B'Tselem

In Part II of this post, you will find a letter from an impressive array of former leading diplomats and intellectuals on the Middle East urging Obama to have his ambassador support the anti-settlement resolution at the UN.

Here, though, look at this exchange between a reporter and the State Department’s spokesman, PJ Crowley. The double-talk overflows, and one finally feels a bit sorry for Crowley being in the position of having to defend the Obama Administrations actions which clearly contradict US policy.

QUESTION: Let’s see, where to begin? There are so many places. I’ll – can I start with the Middle East and the Palestinians talking about this resolution that they want to put into the Security Council this week which would condemn Israeli settlement activity. At the same time, they’re continuing their push to get countries to recognize their independence, even without a negotiated settlement. They raised the flag at their mission downtown here today, this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: Which, on that particular point, we had agreed months ago, but it doesn’t change their status in any way.

QUESTION: Well, no, but their status changed in August.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but the granting permission to raise the flag –

QUESTION: Well, that’s actually part of my question. Continue reading