In one of the more bizarre and immature displays of dysfunctional diplomacy in recent years, Washington has again refused to assist in funding Unesco. The reason for this petulant playground behaviour is that in 2011 Unesco accepted Palestine as a member.
Israel objected to this, followed by the US (voting was 107-14 in favour of membership), and both have again picked up their teddy bears and flounced away. It is interesting to examine why they keep pressing the delete button on the aspirations of the Palestinians to live decently.
A US law of 1990 bars funding to any UN body that “accords the Palestine Liberation Organisation the same standing as member states.” Moves to have this altered in accordance with political developments have been successfully resisted by the powerful pro-Israel clique in the US of whom a prominent member is recent House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who describes herself as a “strong supporter of Israel”.
As with so many of the multitude of Israel’s devotees in the US House and Senate, Ms Ros-Lehtinen visits Israel at the expense of the Israeli government (which is the world’s largest recipient of US aid – what goes around, comes around; how delightfully ironic) and in August, during her last sybaritic sortie, spoke effusively about peace-loving Israel which she believes is a paragon of virtue so far as human rights and decency to fellow human beings are concerned.
But why did the virtuous Israelis recently cut down another hundred Palestinian olive trees belonging to poor Arab villagers and intend to pull up by the roots even more in the village of Yabad in the West Bank? The Israelis have destroyed over 800,000 Palestinian olive trees in their combination of flattening farmland to build illegal settlements and sheer viciousness intended to drive Palestinians further into poverty. The latest spiteful devastation will ruin the economy of Yabad, which depends almost entirely on olives for survival.
Naturally, the Israelis chose the time when the crop is about to be harvested. If they had left their destruction for another few days the villagers could have picked their olives and had enough money to live, albeit frugally, for another horrible year under Israeli occupation. But they will see their entire livelihood ruined by Israel’s vindictive blitz on their ancient olive groves.
According to her website, Ms Ros-Lehtinen, the industrious Congressional supporter of Israel, is “a tireless advocate for human rights across the globe, challenging tyranny and championing the rights of the oppressed.” So why doesn’t she support oppressed Palestinians? Why doesn’t she admit that Palestinians have rights and that they deserve recognition as a nation? Why does she support destruction of Palestinians’ olive trees?
Her contempt for Palestinians is demonstrated by her determination to have the US maintain denial of support for Unesco, which seeks to “create the conditions for dialogue among civilisations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values,” furthering “observance of human rights, mutual respect and the alleviation of poverty.”
But Ms Ros-Lehtinen considers that Palestinians – who own so much of the land that is now called Israel – have no rights at all. And the great majority of the 535 US Senate and House legislators who depend for their re-election – their very political survival – on financial donations by members of the vast and powerful Israel lobby in America, agree with her cash-heartedly. So hundreds more olive trees will be uprooted.
Unesco has a culture of peace, but Israel has a culture of confrontation in which it has the wholehearted support of US legislators. The UN was formed “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person… to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” but this is futile when almost all members of America’s political class refuse to approve their own administration’s efforts to allow Palestinians to live in freedom.
Over half a million Jews occupy 200 settlements illegally built on Palestinians’ land. The world has condemned Israel’s occupation of their territory, but to no avail. The US Secretary of State, the honourable and decent John Kerry, has said “Let me emphasise that the position of the United States is that we consider now, and have always considered, the settlements to be illegitimate.” But Kerry hasn’t a hope of having the existing hundreds of illegal settlements evacuated, and the land returned to its owners, or of stopping construction of many more.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reluctantly indicated a pause in the next phase of illegal settlement building because it would “create an unnecessary confrontation…at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the international community to reach a better deal with Iran.” Nothing about Palestinians, of course, because they do not matter to Israel. He has declared that if there is ever a Palestinian state, it “must be…without the power to enter into treaties or control its borders.”
It has recently been said that President Obama considers Netanyahu to be a pain in a sensitive area of the presidential anatomy, and this is understandable – but most of his country’s lawmakers find him soothing, elsewhere. It would be political suicide for any senator or member of the House of Representatives to criticise him. So nothing is going to happen. There will never be a Palestinian state for as long as Israel exerts such power over the US. And it isn’t just Unesco that suffers: it is everything the UN stands for.
The world-wide cause of “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” is being ditched because the most powerful nation on earth is in thrall to one of the most intolerant. And countless Palestinian olive trees – and livelihoods – continue to be destroyed in the cause of Jewish territorial expansion.