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Support for Israel remains issue in US election

Jul 30,2016 - Last updated at Jul 30,2016

Hillary Clinton’s long (57 minutes) speech after she won the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency last Thursday was indeed impressive. 

Although foreign policy is rarely an issue in an American national election she nevertheless told a very large audience that had repeatedly cheered her remarks: “I’m proud that we put a lid on Iran’s nuclear programme without firing a single shot — now we have to enforce it, and keep supporting Israel’s security.”

But what about the security of the other countries in the Middle East — Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and particularly the Palestinians who have virtually lost their homeland and a large number of them remains in the Israeli-occupied West Bank which is only 18 per cent of their original Palestine? 

It was amazing that the State Department, which Clinton once ran, should come out coincidentally with a statement “sharply” criticising Israel for building hundreds of illegal settler housing units in the occupied West Bank and conducting a spate of home demolitions in Palestinian areas. 

The rebuke from the Obama administration, the New York Times reported, “returned the settlement issue to the spotlight four weeks after the United States and other nations criticised Israel for continuing to build in occupied territory”.

Israel is believed to have demolished more than 650 Palestinian structures in those areas this year. 

The State Department spokesman, John Kirby, underlined in a statement that Israel “is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution”.  He added that the US “strongly” opposes settlement activity, “which is corrosive to the cause of peace”. 

What has been disappointing is that the State Department is not adopting any crippling actions against Israel. 

Shockingly, these new Israeli actions have come at a time when Israel’s aggressive Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now willing to improve his relationship with the Obama administration. 

His past preference was to await the upcoming leadership in the White House, which he assumed would be controlled by Clinton. 

The value of the projected 2018-2028 military agreement between Israel and the US is expected to be as high as $3.7 billion a year, but it must be spent in the US, unlike the previous accord that allowed Israel the freedom to spend the money on purchases from Israeli defence firms.

The recent expectations in Washington were that Israel can do whatever it wants since Clinton is seen as a firm supporter of Tel Aviv. 

Moreover, Clinton’s partner, vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine, is equally sympathetic to Israel as his record reveals, but less than his Republican counterpart, Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

Kaine, a 58-year-old former governor of the state of Virginia and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had opposed Netanyahu’s inelegant address to Congress, and he is described as having a “nuanced position on Israel that defies any easy characterisation”. 

For the record, he refused to be present when Netanyahu addressed Congress, 

The New Yorker magazine reported that Kaine, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, Central Asia and Terrorism had “used his position to stress advocacy for Israel”. 

It also revealed that as a co-sponsor of the US Strategic Partnership Act on the Middle East, Kaine has been endorsed by the American Jewish advocacy group J Street endorsed for his commitment “to making Israel a lasting home for the Jewish people that is safe, secure” and at peace with the Palestinian people.

Moreover, The New Yorker revealed that Kaine was criticised by a congressional colleague when he expressed concern that Israel’s leadership was leading the region away from a two-state solution. 

On the other hand, Pence describes himself as having a close relationship with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a hard-line supporter of Israel. Some expect this vice presidential nominee to give Donald Trump a pro-Israel boost. 

But the days ahead may still bring new surprises.

 

 

The writer is a Washington-based columnist.

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