Criticisms of the US

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  • by Anup Shah
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"While it is easy to criticize Israeli violations of international law and of United Nations Security Council resolutions, it is important to recognize that Israel commits these ongoing transgressions only because the government realizes that the United States will protect them from the consequences. Virtually any government assured of unconditional large-scale economic and military support from the world's sole remaining superpower, as well as a diplomatic cover protecting them from sanctions or other enforcement mechanisms by the United Nations, would likely behave in the same way."

Stephen Zunes, U.S. Policy Toward Jerusalem: Clinton's Shift To The Right1, Foreign Policy In Focus, July 2000

As with many prior UN resolutions, at the beginnig of October 2000, the US opposed UN Security Council action2 in the Middle East. This could have been an important step towards possibly preventing the terrible bloodshed and all the other ramifications since.

A draft resolution on October 7, 2000, which called for an inquiry by an international commission to look into the violence, was watered down to avoid a US veto. The US ended up abstaining -- the only member to do so. And US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke described the resolution as "biased, one-sided and unhelpful". Of course, if the resolution had been biased, one-sided and unhelpful to the Palestinians, he likely would not have objected. He said that "the Security Council effectively ended its usefulness in the Middle East crisis" with that resolution. While the majority of the international community have been critical of Israel, his statement suggests that the views of the international community and even the (limited) multilateralness of the Security Council is less favorable to a unilateral3, "good intentions" of US "moderators" and Israeli negotiators.

As mentioned above in the media section, Madeline Albright and others within the US foreign policy and media circles see the US as an "even-handed peace broker" and she has even gone as far as to say that "Those Palestinian rock throwers have placed Israel under siege" adding that the Israeli army is defending itself. (Meet the Press, NBC, October 8). This negates in one fell swoop the Israeli occupation of parts of pre-1967 Palestine, which UN Resolutions demand the return of and ignores the current Israeli military crackdown.

A subsequent emergency meeting in Egypt between Clinton, Barak, Arafat, Mubarak and Annan to try and resolve this latest crisis, led to a lot of rhetoric4, but no substance.

"It is also ironic that the U.S. is trying to portray the Palestinians as the intransigent party. Arafat already conceded 78 percent of the original Palestine to Israel--well beyond the 51% promised to the Jewish state in the 1947 UN partition plan--in the 1993 Oslo Accords. The Clinton administration is effectively saying that even the 22% of Palestine remaining outside Israel's internationally recognized borders is too much for the Palestinians to have."

Stephen Zunes, Clinton Peace Proposal a Non-Starter5, The Progressive Response, Volume 4, Number 47, December 19, 2000

At the end of March 2001, the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the deployment of unarmed monitors to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Bush administration said that monitors should not be deployed without Israel's consent6. However, the same happened with the U.S. in East Timor, saying that they would prefer to leave it to Indonesia to deal with the situation. With Kosovo, they didn't exactly leave it to Milosevic and the Serbs!

There have been a number of attempts at negotiating "peace" but it is always spun by the media as if it is down to Arafat to accept or not, without really explaining why he either cannot, or why it may seem like peace to one side, but may not be acceptible to the other. As Edward Said pointed out7, Clinton's final attempts at peace before he left office had more to do with making "Yasser Arafat terminate his own people's sovereign existence".

For sure, the attacks by extremist Palestinians on Israeli civilians is not something one can deny or support, if peace for all is the ultimate objective. However, if the context in which it is occurring is ignored by "even-handed peace brokers" then "peace" will again be one-sided and Palestinian Arabs will continue to be demonized. Worse, flames of terrorism risk being fanned. Those with the slightest reasons to have indiscriminate anti-American and anti-Jewish feelings will be more able to recruit people to their causes.

The US has constantly supplied weapons and military aid to Israel8. In fact, Israel is one of the top recipients receiving billions of dollars worth of aid, training and weapons. In this light then, it is hard to see the United States as an "even-handed peace broker".

For a while, the U.S, in order to build a coalition to support bombing Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and in order to get crucial Middle East support, the U.S. increased pressure on Israel to be restrained in their violence and attacks. But, as the French paper, Le Monde Diplomatique describes (December 2001), since the successful bombings, there has been in essence, a reversal9 by the U.S. of this policy.

And talking more generally, as John Pilger puts it quite frankly; "The west has its reasons for validating Israel's violence; human rights are not an issue10"

Another U.N. Security Council resolution on 15 December 2001, condemning all acts of extrajudiciary executions, excessive use of force and wide destruction of property while calling for the establishment of a monitoring mechanism to help the parties, was vetoed11 by the U.S. As with a previous one mentioned above, U.S. and Israel said the draft text was biased.

Western Europe has also become critical of U.S. policies. The British paper, the Guardian reports (February 7, 2002), at a scathing critique from France:

In the hardest-hitting European assault yet on Washington's world view, Hubert Vedrine said US support for the hardline Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was "mistaken" and "dangerously simplistic".

Mr Vedrine said Europeans were "unanimous in not supporting the Middle East policy of the White House" and thought it was a "mistake to blindly accept the policy of pure repression" conducted by Mr Sharon.

Jon Henley and Matthew Engel, French anger at US policy on Israel12, The Guardian, February 7, 2002

March and April 2002 saw increasing diplomatic activity by the U.S. Many are urging the U.S. to address the heavy-handed Israeli tactics. President Bush at the beginning of April, 2002, when meeting with Tony Blair has publicly made a number of demands13: including to Israel and Ariel Sharon to end the West Bank occupation; to Arafat to stop all terrorist activities, to some Arab nations to stop financing Palestinian terrorism and to support the Saudi peace plan, etc. He has used some forceful words as well, though Sharon appears to have resisted Bush's calls, and instead has said that the offensive would be speeded up, as reported14 by the BBC (April 7, 2002).

At the same time, U.S. envoy, General Anthony Zinni, has been in the region to try and broker some sort of peace plan. However, "Israel would be allowed to continue attacks on Palestinian presidential buildings, security headquarters and prisons as part of a Middle East 'ceasefire' plan proposed by US envoy General Anthony Zinni, it emerged yesterday" as the Guardian revealed15, April 4, 2002.

Around April, the U.S. increased a hard line on the Israeli position. But this was also seen to have some political twists16 to it, given the increasing tensions that Bush is adding with Iraq and the need for Middle East support if another attack is to be made on Iraq. Saudi Arabia for example has said that this time its bases cannot be used to launch attacks, while other Middle Eastern nations have also been against attacking Iraq. They furthermore see the Palestine/Israel situation to be more critical, which needs resolving. Hence, Bush appears to be supporting a Saudi-driven peace plan and increasing its criticisms of Israel perhaps as a means to get back support for possible action against Iraq. The Tony Blair and George Bush meeting, in this context, has been scathingly criticized by John Pilger as being hypocritical17, as Bush and Blair apparently meet to discuss peace in the Middle East (for Palestine and Israel), while discussing possible ways to bomb a country (Iraq).

But continuing terrorist attacks from extremist Palestinian groups has since then, very quickly seen Bush reiterate that Palestinian terrorists and Arafat are the main cause of the conflict, resulting in Israeli needing to defend itself.

George Bush's speech (June 24, 2002) in which he announced that the U.S. will support a Palestinian state if the Palestinian people are prepared to reject Arafat and choose a different leader, has been met with much cynism, anger and criticism18. This has especially been the case in the Middle East, where people have suggested that Bush is saying he will support a Palestine state if the leader fits the U.S.'s definition of acceptable. In his speech, for example, he "called" for a regime change (saying near the start, "I call upon the Palestinian people to elect new leaders") while for Israel, in comparison, he merely "challenged" them to be committed to real peace (saying "So I challenge Israel to take concrete steps to support the emergence of a viable, credible Palestinian state").

"Because of the major role that the United States plays in life and death issues in the Middle East, American editors and reporters have a special responsibility to constantly examine the fairness of their reporting and how critically they examine information they present to the American people. And they need to examine the possibility of their own racism and begin treating Palestinians and other Arabs as equal citizens whose lives carry just as much value as Jewish Israeli lives."

Eduardo Cohen, What Americans need to Know - but probably won't be told - to Understand Palestinian Rage19,

(Continuing Storm: The U.S. Role in the Middle East20 from Foreign Policy in Focus provides more in-depth look at the US involvement in the Middle East.)

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