HIJAB: An irrelevant House? December 25, 2010

by Nadia Hijab  -  The Hill -  23 December 2010

Some members of the United States House of Representatives may not know too much about international affairs, but they certainly know what they don’t like: a Palestinian state that is not fully supported and endorsed by Israel in direct negotiations.

Representative Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, rushed through a resolution to this effect last week that was unanimously passed by voice vote. The resolution seemed on the surface to be yet another victory for the pro-Israel lobby on the Hill.
Digging a little deeper, however, it is possible to see signs of panic among the right-wing supporters of Israel in America. Their determination to secure a House resolution calling on the Obama Administration to firmly veto any Palestinian attempt to seek international recognition of a state shows that they are deeply worried about the repercussions of such recognition.

Indeed, the initiative made the House look more like a child trying to plug the proverbial hole in the dam. Simultaneously with the House vote, and hard on the heels of Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay going on record with their decision to recognize a Palestinian state in 2011, Norway also expressed its wish to see such a state next year. The House call “upon foreign governments not to extend such recognition” seems likely to fall on the deaf ears of a world tired of Israeli intransigence and decades of Palestinian subjugation.

It is not even possible to know how many House Representatives actually support this resolution. Only 53 signed on as co-sponsors, which is very low compared to past resolutions supporting Israel. As it was passed in a voice vote, there was no recorded roll call of the members’ vote. Indeed, this path may have been chosen because there was reportedly significant Congressional opposition to the resolution and a voice vote spared Berman a potentially embarrassing vote total.

Berman’s resolution reveals the glaring disconnect between what knee-jerk pro-Israel Representatives think is good for America and Israel, on the one hand, and reality on the other. They share this mental state with the State Department, whose meaningless mantra that only “direct negotiations can lead to comprehensive peace” is copiously quoted in the resolution.

The reality is that a people living under military occupation simply cannot negotiate their freedom and equality with their occupier — particularly one that, like Israel, relentlessly swallows up their land and water resources, boasts one of the strongest armies in the world, and sits on a stockpile of between 200 and 400 nuclear weapons.  Outside help is required to at least level the playing field.

Then there is the moral aspect of the House resolution, which clearly does not weigh as heavily on the honorable members as one would wish. But surely it is unconscionable for the people of a nation that came into being by fighting for its freedom and unilaterally declaring its independence in 1776 to dictate to another oppressed people the conditions and timing of their liberty?

Since Israel occupied the Palestinian territories in 1967, we have seen the peoples of Vietnam and South Africa win freedom and equality, no thanks to a change of heart by the powers that occupied them or sought to impose apartheid.

By contrast, the Palestine Liberation Organization has been in direct negotiations with Israel for most of the past 19 years since the Madrid conference was convened in 1991.  Anyone hear the sound of a Liberty Bell ringing? Not likely, until Israel is made to give up the occupied territories.

If the U.S. Congress really wants to help bring about two states “living side-by-side in peace, security, and mutual recognition” as its resolution claims, it could suspend its annual $3 billion-plus aid to Israel until it ends its illegal occupation.

Failing that, and the world is not holding its breath, Palestinians will continue to resist. Their particularly effective nonviolent popular struggle against Israel’s encroachment on their land is gaining support.  And boycott campaigns against Israeli goods and institutions that support the occupation as well as divestment from Israeli and foreign companies trading in the military domination of the Palestinian people are growing fast. More and more peoples and countries will step forward to support Palestinian human rights and Congress could — once again — find itself on the losing side of history.

Nadia Hijab is co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

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