The end of the status quo for Israel and Palestine?

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2015 is shaping up as the year in which the status quo on Israel and Palestine may finally be broken. Just in the last month, a serious attempt was made to pass a resolution for Palestinian statehood in the U.N. Security Council. After its failure, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed over 20 international treaties and conventions, including the Rome Statute, which will enable Palestine to become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) by April 1. The ICC has already announced an inquiry into possible war crimes committed during this summer’s war on Gaza.

{mosads}At last, the worn-out paradigm of a “peace process,” in which the U.S. insisted upon talks that broke down over and over again while Israel continued to build settlements and further entrench its occupation, may finally be put to rest. Around the world, more and more countries are showing impatience with Israel and a willingness to take direct action to subvert stalemated talks, as evidenced by the accelerating numbers of countries that recognize the state of Palestine, including Great Britain, France, Spain and Sweden, as well as the European Union.

Meanwhile, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement initiated by Palestinian civil society continues to gain steam. Notably, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently expressed concern over the boycott movement’s growth, calling it a “grim situation” that is indicative of the international community’s increasing disillusionment with Israel’s oppressive policies.

Regardless of the political assessments of any of these strategies — and certainly opinion ranges among Palestinians — all of them invoke international law and are nonviolent means to advocate for Palestinian rights.

In Washington, however, U.S. policymakers are as knee-jerk as ever in supporting Israeli policies. It was widely understood that the U.S. would have vetoed the statehood resolution in the Security Council had it received enough votes, in line with its historically heavy-handed use of its veto power in its role as Israel’s protector. Through heavy pressure of members of the council, the U.S. was able to avoid a veto, but was one of only two votes against the resolution (along with Australia), despite the fact that it was mostly in line with the long-stated U.S. commitment to the two-state solution.

On Dec. 14, as part of the omnibus appropriations bill, Congress passed a hasty provision requiring the U.S. to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it initiates or supports ICC war crimes investigations into Israel. That leaves the U.S. with little domestic wiggle room to avoid cutting off aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Policymakers aren’t exactly chafing under these restrictions. To date, not a single elected official or member of the Obama administration has offered a critique of these punitive measures. And even without legislative language, the moment the PA signed the Rome Statute a chorus of officeholders from both parties began to clamor for an immediate cut-off of aid, resulting so far in in a bill to do the same introduced by Sen. (and presidential aspirant) Rand Paul (R-Ky.). More efforts to punish the Palestinians may be on the horizon, as U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) released a statement last week decrying the Palestinian move as “deplorable,” which could preview the introduction of bipartisan legislation. Meanwhile, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has now declared openly that suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority is among its legislative priorities, a sure harbinger of action to come from Congress.

While the State Department spokesperson said the administration was “deeply troubled” by Palestinians taking recourse in international law, in the very same briefing the spokesperson expressed only the mildest concern about an incident in which Israeli settlers violently attacked U.S. diplomatic vehicles investigating the destruction of Palestinian olive groves.

And this past summer, U.S. policymakers expressed their support for the Israeli assault on Gaza both rhetorically and concretely, underwriting additional ammunition and financial support for an operation that caused the deaths of nearly 2,000 civilians, including 500 children, as well as the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure.

The U.S. policy approach to the region follows a longstanding, hypocritical pattern of expressing gentle concern with no actual consequences when Israel egregiously violates international law and U.S. policy, while offering harsh condemnation and concrete punitive measures when Palestinian official bodies seek legal recourse from Israeli violations.

To the American public, this approach is increasingly out of touch with the realities of Israeli policies. There is a generational disconnect between those who continue to support Israel’s actions unquestioningly and those who increasingly express criticism, as evidenced by the fact that around 60 percent of Americans 65 or older say they have more sympathy with Israel while barely 40 percent of Americans under 30 feel the same, according to a Pew poll this summer. This split is not only by age but also by ethnicity: both African-Americans and Latinos blamed Israel more than Hamas for this summer’s war.

This political shift is happening within the American Jewish community as well. In 2013, the Pew poll on Jewish American life found that 44 percent of all Jews in the U.S. think that settlement construction hurts Israel’s security. A J Street poll in November 2014 even found that 25 percent of Jewish voters support boycotts of goods produced in Israeli settlements.

This shift in American and Jewish opinion on Israel and Palestine resonates with our experience at Jewish Voice for Peace. We have experienced tremendous growth this year, as our number of chapters has nearly doubled, our membership has tripled and our online support has grown nearly fourfold since this summer.

There is no doubt that a growing constituency of Americans is challenging policymakers’ knee-jerk support for the state of Israel’s increasingly oppressive and anti-democratic policies. Our elected officials, however, need to catch up to the rest of us.

Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national grassroots organization working for a just peace for all Israelis and Palestinians.

Tags Chuck Schumer ICC International Criminal Court Israel Israeli settlement Israeli–Palestinian conflict Lindsey Graham Mark Kirk Palestine Palestinian National Authority Rand Paul Robert Menendez
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