BY, Sam Sedaei
Civil Resistance Educator, Executive Producer, International Affairs Contributor
Congressional Democrats and President Obama ran on the platform of significantly changing the direction of this country, from domestic policy to national security. But lately, Democrats have been taking a number of actions on national security that are alarming at best and hypocritical at worst. This post is part of Sam Sedaei's new blog series "Democrites," coming from the perspective of a member of loyal opposition, to call Democrats out on their questionable actions when they occur.
Last December, Israel engaged in one of the most horrific military acts in recent history against Gaza. It did so in the name of national security, claiming that this action was a response to HAMAS rockets, refusing to acknowledge that the rockets were a response to Israel's two-year-long water-land-air blockade on Gaza that, BBC once reported, was "sucking the life" out of its citizens. Israel caused an outcry by the entire world (with the exception of the United States) for its indiscriminate and disproportionate use of violence against the people of Gaza, strike on a U.N. school that killed forty people, and for its use of white phosphorus--a weapon that militaries use widely to obscure the battlefield but that is also limited under an international convention that bans targeting civilians with it -- against Gazans.
During a five hour interview on May 5, HAMAS leader Khaled Meshaal (knowing full well the U.S.'s unequivocal recognition of Israel as a state) told The New York Times, "I promise the American administration and the international community that we will be part of the solution, period," and according to The Times, "he urged outsiders to ignore the Hamas charter, which calls for the obliteration of Israel through jihad," saying it was 20 years old and adding, "We are shaped by our experiences."
If Israel's claims of self defense are accurate, then one would expect Israel to have a kinder attitude toward the peaceful Palestinians in the West Bank, which aren't sending any rockets into Israel. So what has Israel done for the West Bank lately? After the implicit willingness by Hamas to recognize Israel, should we not at the very least expect Israel to abide by its own previous commitment to a two-state solution? Apparently, not.
When Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the U.S. late last month, each side had a goal: Israel wanted the U.S. to have a timetable for dealing with Iran, and in return, President Obama expected Israel to work with the Palestinians on a peace plan and freeze the building of settlements in the West Bank (which are completely illegal anyway according to international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention). President Obama did his part, saying, "we are not going to have talks [with Iran] forever." But Prime Minster Netanyahu refused to promise a freeze on illegal settlements in the West Bank, and shockingly, he even refused to restate Israel's previous commitment to abide by the two-state roadmap, which the vast majority of the countries involved in the process and regional experts believe is the only way to have peace in the Middle East.
So there is a new dynamics in the Middle East where Hamas is stopping the launching of rockets and opening the door to recognizing Israel, and Jewish hospitals in Iran get boost in their funding under Ahmadinejad while Israel uses white phosphorous on Gaza, expands illegal settlements deeper into the West Bank and refuses to accept a two-state solution.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton and others in the administration have wisely changed the U.S.'s tone, taking an appropriately tougher stance on Israel. During a recent interview on Al Jazeera, Hillary Clinton unequivocally expressed the position of the administration against any expansion of settlements in the West Bank, whether within or outside of the borders of current settlements.
However, while President Obama understands the importance of taking a tougher stance on Israel to fit the new circumstances, some Democrats in Congress do not. When it comes to the split between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, these Democrats are siding with Israel against President Obama. In response to the administration's position, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) said, "My concern is that we are applying the pressure to the wrong party ... I think it would serve America's interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements." This may come as a surprise to Rep. Berkley, but Israel is not the only democracy in the Middle East. The other one is Turkey, which is coincidentally predominantly Muslim. And according to Rep. Berkley, when threats come from places like Iran, we must preemptively stop them, but if they are from Israel in the form of illegal settlements on occupied land, it's "natural growth."
Meanwhile, Rep Anthony Weiner (D-NY) also attacked President Obama's position, saying, "There's a line between articulating U.S. policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line." Memo to Rep. Weiner: Settlements are not a legal part of Israel, and therefore, Israel's settlement policy is not Israel's "domestic" policy. And Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) made a similar comment, saying "I don't think anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests." So if one of our allies pursues a policy that is completely contradictory to what we stand for as a country, we have to accept its behavior over our own principles and interests? If we are to accept any behavior by our ally, then why are we being so selective in picking allies to begin with? Why not just call Iran our ally too and overlook everything they do because they will be our ally? What is the point of having allies if having them will require us sacrificing our nation's own self-interest?
There are occasional debates within political circles on what is the real third rail in American politics. Is it social security? Military spending? If there is such a list, policy toward Israel certainly belongs to it. But despite that context, here we have a courageous administration and president who is willing to put America's interest first and pursue a Middle East policy that seems more fair-minded than that of any other administration in recent history. This policy is America's best shot at forging peace in the Middle East; Congressional Democrats need to get on board.