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Israel and the United States: An exceptional relationship

To understand why many Americans who have no particular soft spot for Zionism nor Arabism, are cheering on Donald Trump, one must revisit a short statement from Thucydides.

From the streets in Bethlehem where festivals to celebrate the birth of Christ have been transformed to people’s protests, from the Syrian President to the Secretary General of the United Nations, from the EU to Turkey, Saudi Arabia to Iran, Russia and China to Britain and Germany, Qatar and Egypt to Iraq and Afghanistan–the condemnation of Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem/Al-Quds as the capital of Israel has been unanimous.

The reasons that world powers, political parties, religious leaders and activists have reached this conclusion, do however vary. Palestinians are fighting for their home and for justice, Muslims are fighting against an insult to their religious dignity, Christians such as Orthodox Patriarchs throughout the world and the Catholic Pope are doing the same.

Arabs are fighting for the unity of Arab nationhood and countries like Russia and China are speaking for peace and calm amid US provocations and destabilising acts that neither of the more restrained superpowers wish to visit upon the Middle East.

This is all clear enough. What is more worrying and indeed more exotic, is the globally heterodox behaviour of Tel Aviv and Washington.

The Israeli leadership and military have for years disregarded international law as though it is a frivolous ‘pick and choose’ phenomenon rather than the last best chance the world has for a less-violent order among men and nations.

In 1947, the General Assembly of the young United Nations recommended a controversial plan to partition what was then British controlled Palestine in the form of UN General Assembly Resolution 181(II). The resolution was not binding and was not even intended to be the final proposal. It was meant as a starting point for negotiations at an international level. In spite of this, Zionist leaders declared their state of Israel anyway, which was eventually recognised by the UN in 1949, again under controversial and far from unanimous circumstances.

It is not a surprise that a state literally conceived from lawlessness–a unilateral declaration of independence should behave in a manner which consistently disregards international law. This is not unique in modern history, as such a situation was witnessed in terms of the unilaterally declared and implicitly racist state of Rhodesia in 1965, as well as the unilateral declaration of a “state” called Kosovo which has been illegally pried from occupied Serbian territory.

Had Zionist leaders negotiated at the UN, as was the plan, rather than take matters into their own hands, things would have turned out differently and almost certainly for the better, from any perspective. Indeed, prior to the 1940s, and moreover, prior the period of British Mandate rule, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peacefully in Palestine. In this sense, the Ottoman Empire was a far better steward of Palestine than was the British Empire.

What is more worrying than the attitude of Israeli leaders which is not philosophically different from that of former Rhodesians and contemporary “Kosovar” leaders, is why contemporary US leaders have adopted such a similar attitude.

In the US, a country whose public schools are so notoriously poor that many cannot even find the Levant on a map, many Trump supporters and Evangelical “Christians” are cheering on Trump’s otherwise derided decision with all the fervour of Israel’s far-right Liduk party. While some base their support on extremist interpretations of scripture, among putatively secular commentators in the United States, there is a kind of ‘wild west’ attitude wherein anything strong is favoured over anything perceived as weak–even when weakness is a result of oppression rather than innate shortcomings.

During the Peloponnesian War, when Athens was laying siege to the island of Melos, the historian Thucydides quoted an Athenian envoy in his dialogue with representatives of Melos. He said, “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must”.

This attitude seems to be a kind of philosophical truism to be striven for, rather than cautioned against, for  many in the United States. This attitude is pervasive among people who are not seduced by Zionism nor Arabism, but by power. Rather than criticising countries for faulting peace initiatives and pushing the world closer to conflict, far too many in the United States prefer to cheer on might, as though might not only makes right, but rather, that might inherently is right.

While in other parts of the world, the argument is made that the mighty must become righteous, such considerations are not popular in the United States, even among ordinary citizens who unlike their Congressmen and Senators have never received a single penny from the Israel lobby.

Donald Trump’s decision is said by many of his more worldly apologists, to be a mere recognition of the status quo in the occupied territories. The opposite is in fact true: it is a demonstration that the US will reward military might which led to the occupation of internationally recognised Palestinian territories with a stamp of approval.

Trump’s move as already led to the shooting of Palestinian protesters, but mainstream media in the US has not conditioned people to allow themselves to feel sympathy for the Palestinians. The Palestinians are armed mostly with stones and from John Wayne to Bruce Willis, modern American ‘myth heroes’ of the silver screen do not throw stones. Thus, Israeli exceptionalism and the American tendency to worship power, irrespective of what that power is used for, is truly something beyond a marriage of convenience. It is a marriage of inevitable proportions.

The United States has an empathy problem which feeds a culture of violence abroad, ignorance at home and tragedy all around.

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