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12 Dec, 2023 18:18

Why can’t the US ever say no to Israel?

The American UN veto on a Gaza ceasefire is a low point of wag-the-dog international politics
Why can’t the US ever say no to Israel?

December 8, 2023, is a day that will live in infamy. The United States made history of the worst kind by using its permanent seat on the UN Security Council to veto a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The resolution was advanced by the United Arab Emirates (a US partner) and supported by more than 90 member states. It also had preponderant backing in the global organization’s privileged “upper chamber,” the Security Council, where 13 of its 15 members were in favor (while the UK abstained, abdicating its sovereignty to the US, again).

The American veto directly defied UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Not a natural-born rebel, the UN chief had deployed a rarely used procedure to promote the ceasefire, putting his authority on the line. Referring to Article 99 of Chapter 15 of the UN Charter, he already implied that “international peace and security” were in danger. His spokesperson was explicit that Guterres was making a “dramatic constitutional move.” While maintaining diplomatic balance by also highlighting the Hamas attack on Israel, Guterres’ letter to the Security Council depicted the catastrophic suffering of the Palestinians under the ongoing Israeli attack and concluded that “nowhere” was safe in Gaza.

All to no avail. The US could not be swayed and maintained its de facto unconditional support for Israel, even while the latter is conducting an intensifying genocidal assault on Gaza and its civilian population. This is no longer up for debate, and is no secret either; Israeli leaders have repeatedly made statements that signal the kind of intent that is a crucial element in the crime of genocide, while their actions and those of their forces on the ground speak even louder than their words.

The world has taken note. It took no special bias for the Palestinian leadership – the one derived from the PLO, as well as Hamas – to identify the veto as “disastrous” and “a disgrace and another blank cheque given to the occupying state to massacre, destroy and displace.” China and Russia have denounced American double standards and the “death sentence” Washington has handed down on future Palestinian victims of the Israeli assault.

Amnesty International says Washington has “brazenly wielded and weaponized its veto to strongarm the UN Security Council… undermining its credibility” and displaying a “callous disregard for civilian suffering in the face of a staggering death toll.” Doctors without Borders did not mince its words either, accusing the US of standing “alone in casting its vote against humanity,” with America “complicit in the carnage in Gaza” and undermining not only its own credibility but also that of international humanitarian law. 

Craig Mokhiber – an authority on international law and former head of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in New York – tweeted that “on the eve of the 75th Anniversary of the Genocide Convention, the US has again vetoed a ceasefire in the UN Security Council… demonstrating its further complicity in the #genocide in #Palestine.”

This list of censure and condemnation could be prolonged almost ad infinitum, especially if we add voices from the Global South. The key point, however, should be clear already: The US stands isolated and disgraced by its very own, easily avoidable – or so it would seem – decision. This was, after all, not a vote asking for justice and restitution for the victims, or – perish that radical thought! – for prosecution of the perpetrators. All this was about was the barest of bare minimums, just a ceasefire, not even a peace deal. Still, that was too much to ask of the US.

Historians do not like to predict, but here’s my historian’s prediction: None of the above will ever fade or take on a softer hue. What the US did on December 8 will never appear “understandable” or so “complex” that decent people won’t condemn it. This, on the contrary, will provide a lasting example of what so many Americans profess to love: moral clarity. And that clarity will find an inexcusable, unmitigated, and, yes, evil act that will remain known to human history as precisely that.

Future historians will ask how this happened. How could the single most powerful nation in the world, which claims to lead not only by force but by “values,” side with the Israeli perpetrators of such an outrageous and open crime, while openly contravening much of the international community? Some will even ask the more cynical question how America, even if its elites are entirely bereft of ethics, could do so much harm to itself.

The simplest, almost technical answer to that question has to do with a historical irony. America owes its veto power – as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council – to what happened in World War II. And while World War II and the German Holocaust against the Jews of (mostly) Europe are not the same, they are part of the same history. Much US pride has been invested in being among the powers that brought down the Holocaust perpetrator state Germany. And yet, here we are: The same US is now using that very veto not only to shield another genocidal state but to help it continue its crime.

There are, of course, broader reasons for this great American failure. Many have been discussed before. Israel serves the function of an enforcer and imperial outpost in the Middle East and sometimes beyond. As current US President Joe Biden – by now often trending on X as #GenocideJoe – stated in 1986, when still an ambitious and pandering senator, if there were no Israel, America would have to invent one. Let’s set aside that even the callous realpolitik behind such thinking is flawed: If it ever was an asset, Israel is turning into a liability. Let’s just note that the American elite claims to believe that Israel is so useful that the commitment to it must be, in Vice President Kamala Harris’ words, “ironclad.”

But so it was for Ukraine only, as it were, yesterday. And yet Kiev is about to be dropped, as so many US clients before. What makes Israel different? Clearly, it is the long-standing top recipient of US financial and military support. Is it sunk cost fallacy then? Is America so over-committed to Israel that it simply won’t walk away?

Yet that hypothesis does not explain the striking one-sidedness of the US-Israel relationship. If there has ever been a case of wag-the-dog, this is it: One thing that the American veto on the Gaza ceasefire resolution shows is that it is Israel that is dominating US foreign policy, not the other way around. Otherwise, Washington would have sought to find a compromise between preserving its own credibility and interests by allowing at least this very modest resolution to pass, while still supporting Israel in multiple other ways.

Clearly, one thing that is determining this American dependence on another, much smaller country is the massive success of lobbying and foreign influence operations on behalf of Israel. Indeed, it is Israel that has run the most invasive and effective such attack on US politics in history. And for the avoidance of any misunderstandings: Noting this obvious fact has nothing to do with “anti-Semitism.” Indeed, trying to smear those who dare bring it up with that accusation is part of how that influence operation works. It’s time to entirely disregard such cheap tricks.

Add one piece of historical evidence: We know from the empirical record of the past that things can be very different, because they have been. Multiple examples could be adduced to show that America, for decades, used to be partial but not submissive to Israel.

The most obvious case is Israel’s occupation of Gaza during the Suez Crisis of 1956. While this aspect of this failed Israeli (and British and French) regime-change war against Egypt is almost forgotten now, Israel also occupied Gaza for several months before being forced to leave (to return, of course, in 1967). Then as well, Israeli forces committed various crimes, including massacres of prisoners and civilians, as Israeli historian Benny Morris (by no means a friend of the Palestinians) has described in detail. But back then, under Republican President Dwight ‘Ike’ Eisenhower, the US had a foreign policy that could confront and contravene Israel.

Moreover, Eisenhower’s harsh and decisive intervention against Israel and its European allies happened to be aligned with the Soviet response at the time. As a minimum, here was a tough, conservative American president (and of course ex-military leader of the highest rank) who was not so phobic about “the Russians” as to exclude any coinciding interests.

If only we could return, at least, to a world where Americans could forget a little about their Russia obsession when thinking about foreign influence on their country and focus that concern where it matters, namely on Israel. If in addition they could think a little more about Russia as a viable partner – at least occasionally – in helping resolve severe international crises, we would all be much better off. We might even be able to stop a genocide here or there.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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