All process, no peace

February 11, 2015

Municipalities across the U.S. are helping to finance Israel’s colonization of Palestine, explains Minnesota solidarity activist Bob Kosuth.

AMERICANS WHO follow the news but don't know this issue thoroughly must be befuddled as to why these endless "negotiations" never produce results in spite of the relentless chatter about how the U.S. and the two parties so badly want to find a "two-state solution" to the conflict.

Of course, there are the stock answers in the U.S. media: "terrorism," Hamas, and the Israelis having "no partner for peace," among others. But there are much better answers than these, and the experience of Minnesota Break the Bonds in trying to get the Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) to divest its Israel bonds illustrates the nature of the challenges faced by those who seek a just and honest solution to this decades-old dispute.

The thesis presented here is simply that the two powerful actors in this three-way entanglement--the U.S. and Israel--simply do not want any agreement with Palestinians if it undermines their real, unstated goals in the region. For the United States, that means the maintenance of their ability to project military power in the region in order to control crucial shipping lanes and oil supplies. Even if the U.S. doesn't currently need the oil itself, it desires to control the flow of oil, which translates into geopolitical power.

BDS activists outside a Minnesota State Board of Investment meeting
BDS activists outside a Minnesota State Board of Investment meeting (Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign)

For its part, Israel claims to be interested in peace, but only on its terms, which put colonizing land and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians far and away above any other concern. The evidence is simple and clear: Since Israel's 1967 takeover of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the number of Jewish settlers has grown to more than half a million in places where Palestinians used to but can no longer live. Israel can get away with this because they get billions of dollars, weapons and political cover from the U.S. It's an immoral and unholy alliance, and Palestinians pay the price.

None of this is to deny that acts of violence are sometimes directed against Israelis or Jews outside of Israel, as in the recent attacks in Paris. Such acts are to be condemned, and I unequivocally do so here. But we need to make two points. First, thanks to Israel's massive firepower financed and supplied by the U.S., Palestinians suffer violence out of all proportion to what is suffered by Israelis. In the 2014 Gaza bombing and invasion, for example, more than 2,100 Gazans died, of whom 1,462 were civilians; 495 of those were children and 253 women. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and seven civilians died, typical proportions in these conflicts. The purpose is clearly to demand submission rather than establish a basis for negotiations.

Second, and more important, if the U.S. and Israel are so interested in peaceful negotiations, why do they constantly thwart any and every attempt by both Palestinians and the world community to bring the Palestine issue before the United Nations or International Criminal Court, even by the usually obedient Palestinian Authority? It was widely reported that both Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Secretary of State John Kerry, if not Barack Obama himself, lobbied governments on the UN Security Council to abstain so that the embarrassment of a U.S. veto could be avoided.

Nigerian arms were twisted particularly hard, and it would be truly amazing if the $692 million in U.S. aid to Nigeria were not part of the conversation. Indeed, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz gives Power special credit for having "crafted the president's defense of controversial Israeli policies." So much for the U.S. as honest broker. If Samantha Power had been representing the U.S. in the 1980s, she no doubt would have argued for "constructive engagement" in South Africa.

UNFORTUNATELY, BUT not surprisingly, it has been no easier to get Palestine issues addressed in Minnesota than at the UN or in Washington, D.C. Since 2009, the Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MNBBC) has been advocating for the divestment of the state's millions of dollars in Israel bonds, unrestricted money which is used in the Occupied Territories for a whole range of illegal purposes like building Jewish-only settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, and construction of infrastructure to allow passage to and from Israel proper for Jewish settlers only.

The Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49) prohibits all such activities. When Minnesota funds activities that violate an international treaty or convention that has been ratified by Congress, under the U.S. Constitution this constitutes a violation of U.S. law. Because the SBI knows that the money Israel gets from selling its bonds is used for purposes that violate international law, it is financially complicit in those violations.

On these grounds, MNBBC brought a lawsuit against the SBI. As a recipient of a state pension, this author was one of the plaintiffs. In spite of the issues of international treaties and Geneva Conventions referred to above, the state court and appeals court saw fit to dismiss the case on the grounds that, among other reasons, the plaintiffs were merely in "a policy disagreement with the discretionary decisions made by the Legislature and the SBI." In other words, the courts, much like Samantha Power at the UN, saw fit to sweep aside all the issues of this long history and simply embrace the unjust power relations of the status quo.

It's not that the state hasn't or can't do anything. The SBI has divested from companies in Sudan and Iran based on laws passed in the State legislature. In 1985, acting on its own authority, the SBI established its own divestment policies for companies doing business in South Africa. Thus, both the state and the U.S. government can find reasons to do what they want to do and reasons to avoid doing what they don't want to do.

More than 23 states and many municipalities and organizations own Israel bonds. Those pursuing divestment will surely encounter the same kind of obfuscation and duplicity that we have met here in Minnesota. The solution is a vigorous and visible grassroots campaign connecting the continued colonization and violence in Palestine with the contradiction of owning Israel bonds right in one's own state or community. Jettisoning Israel bonds is a moral and political imperative. Not doing so would be nothing less than a violation of the public trust.

A previous version of this article appeared at MinnPost.

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