x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US politicians are incapable of even admitting the truth after UN vote

After the UN vote on Palestine, the near-hysteria in some quarters in the US reflects the growing isolation of America and Israel on the issue.

In Washington, the negative reactions to the United Nations' vote to admit Palestine as a non-member state have ranged from silly and infuriating to downright dangerous. The hysteria might seem strange to outsiders, but in Washington it was expected.

The vote overwhelmingly in favour of Palestinians on Thursday has seen a spike in harsh rhetoric and proposals that are extreme and, if passed, could be dangerous. But why the panic? Instead of simply shrugging off these overreactions as business as usual, it is useful to examine the unspoken assumptions.

Here's one example: the news ticker running on one of the networks during the UN debate read "US aid threatened by UN vote", as if the statement were logical and complete in itself, requiring no further explanation. The connection between aid and the vote was a foregone conclusion - one that reflects the hold that pro-Israeli hardliners have over appropriations in the US Congress.

As if to make this point in the days leading up to the vote, several US senators leapt into the fray. First on board were a group of Republicans who offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would cut US aid to the Palestinian Authority by 50 per cent; the amendment would also cut assistance to any nation that voted for the Palestinian resolution.

This measure could threaten US relations with important allies around the world. It is also silly, since it was not the PA that proposed the UN vote, but the Palestine Liberation Organisation. And the PLO is not a recipient of US aid. Another Republican amendment proposes to cut all US support to the UN.

Finally, there is a bipartisan amendment that would ban US aid to the Palestinians should they become involved in any action before the International Criminal Court. This is an obvious attempt to shield Israel.

A second provision in the same amendment would order the closure of the PLO mission in Washington unless Congress was assured that Palestinians are engaged in "meaningful negotiations", without ever defining "meaningful".

"Expert" commentators have also reacted to the UN vote, usually parroting the "conventional wisdom". On the one hand, commentators point out the obvious - the vote will change nothing on the ground, and peace will only come through negotiations. They have also issued warnings against the Palestinians taking "unilateral actions".

What about Israel's unilateral actions? And what peace process? These warnings take for granted the unstated assumption that any Israeli reaction must be seen as a logical consequence of any Palestinian assertion of their rights.

The most infuriating comment came from the Israeli government when France and other European nations said they would vote for Palestine. This, Israeli spokespeople said, would deny Israel the support of "the moral majority" - by which they meant "white" and "western" nations. The racism is so obvious, and yet was reported without comment in The New York Times.

Twenty-four years ago, while working on the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson, I led the first debate on Palestinian rights at a US political convention. The Democratic Party leadership did everything to block our efforts. I was warned that we would destroy the party, and I would never have a place inside it again. One prominent pro-Israel Democrat actually said: "I'm scared. Nothing like this has ever happened before."

The hysteria and fear were real. But what troubled me was that my opponents would never admit the source of their panic. Some were motivated by crass political calculations; for others, it was an issue of control. How dare Arabs assert themselves and demand equal treatment?

This same logic played out at the UN last week, to the same effect. The world spoke, but the US proved itself incapable not only of acting with the world, but even of admitting the reasons why it could not. All of this, sadly, makes it clear that the US remains a critical player, but Washington appears incapable of fulfilling that role.

And so the US and Israel isolated themselves after this vote. Palestinians won, but nothing changes - because the US has not been able to break the till-unacknowledged bonds.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa