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29 June 2017

When US congressmen are less anti- Palestinian than the administration

By: Daoud Kuttab
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For years, the US Congress was known to be a bastion of pro-Israel sentiment.
Voted in with huge funding from pro-Israel sources, Congress has often marched to the orders of AIPC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.
The US administration, on the other hand, has often taken a more nuanced position, trying to appear more balanced and taking into consideration larger US interests in dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict.
Until now, that is.
Today’s US administration is much more pro-Israel than even Congress, and some brave US representatives dare question some of the Trump administration’s policies.
Exhibit one: the current team that is working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is fine that they are all American Jews (Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman), but they are also Zionists, in fact right-wing pro-settlement Zionists.
Last week, a delegation headed by Trump’s son in law Kushner visited the area and spent a lot of time in Israel meeting separately the Israeli prime minister, the minister of defence, several Israeli families who lost loved ones in the conflict and even some Israeli writers.
As has become his habit, Greenblatt also visited the Western Wall and prayed, we hope for peace, there.
He also visited the Maqassed Hospital in East Jerusalem, and the Trump team also visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a visit that appears to have been a disaster by all press accounts.
Greenblatt made 10 tweets about his meetings with Israelis and three on his meetings with Palestinians. (They included his sharing an iftar with  Palestinian children, the mention of the hospital staff providing him kosher food his meeting in Ramallah.)
What about statements?
Greenblatt criticised the stabbing of a female Israeli soldier in occupied East Jerusalem, calling the attack a “savage terrorist attack”.
This statement contradicts standing US policy that only considers terrorism acts of violence against non-combatants; the Israeli woman was a combatant, dressed as a combatant and armed as a combatant.
The most important “statement” after the meetings in Ramallah was the failure to talk about the two-state solution and to condemn the settlement activities that the US team was greeted with when it arrived.
The meeting in Ramallah went wrong because the US team forgot its goal and adopted the Israeli talking points.
A small bit of research would have shown Kushner and Greenblatt that the incitement talking points have been exhausted in research and a tripartite committee, of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, was established, but that the Israelis refuse to attend.
On the support to prisoner families, a little research would have revealed that the issue was cleared by donors, including the US, and that Israel itself gives social benefits to families of Palestinian and Jewish prisoners who are accused of politically motivated killings (including the family of Yigal Alon).
This was stated in an article by Palestinian Finance Minister Shukry Bishara in  the Hill in 2016, and has not been disputed by Israel.
Wasting the precious time on issues that were already dealt with shows that either the US negotiators are not taking their mission seriously by doing basic research or they know the facts and still chose to be Israel’s advocates.
Back in Congress, another bizarre event unfolds when the Trump administration’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, gave a testimony in Congress.
The discussion was about the UN ambassador vetoing the appointment of well respected former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad who many in Congress (from both parties) highly admire.
In a heated exchange with a Democrat and a Republican, Haley refused to budge from a strange position that she seems to have adopted, namely that no Palestinian can be appointed to a high UN position until Palestine is recognised as a state.
Haley, whose major donor when she ran for office as governor of South Carolina was none other than the casino owner Sheldon Adelson, adopted a position that many in Israel would be ashamed to espouse.
The term honest broker has long been forgotten by Palestinians and supporters.
What some are hoping for is for US mediators to do their homework, present reasonable bridging proposals and try to be fair.
Unfair proposals and interventions might be pleasing to America’s Israeli friends, but will not bring about peace, nor will they be conducive to any serious talk about an ultimate solution.
If the Trump administration is serious about its role in bringing about peace, it needs to lower expectations and then work diligently and fairly to hear from all sides, and refrain as much as possible for adopting one side’s point of view even if it appears, initially, to be logical.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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