Dishonest Broker: The U.S. Role in Israel and Palestine

by Nasser Aruri
South End Press: Cambridge MA, 2003, 265 pp.

This book is about the so called "peace process" in the Middle East since 1967. It is a revised and updated version of an earlier book, "The Obstruction of Peace: The United States, Israel, and Palestine," and includes material right up to the end of 2002. As such it is very useful not only as an introduction to the topic--especially for readers too young to remember Gerald Ford, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig etc.--but also as a guide to current events. Lenin mocked idealist philosophers of his day for muddling the issues by putting new window-dressing on 300-year-old failed ideas. We can say the same about every one of the U.$.-backed "peace" initiatives, from Carter's Camp David to Bush's Road Map. Watching the evening news after reading Dishonest Broker can lead to some serious deja vu.

As its name implies, Dishonest Broker debunks the pretense that the United $tates acts as an independent, neutral peacemaker in the Middle East. In fact, United $tates' leaders have publicly admitted they support I$rael as a defender of Amerikan interests in the region. "[Israel ] is a force in the Middle East that actually is a benefit to us," then-President Ronald Reagan said in 1981. "If there were not I$rael there with that force, we'd have to supply that with our own, so this isn't just altruism on our part" (p. 39). Reagan was just reiterating the strategy laid down in the Nixon-Kissinger Doctrine (ca. 1970), which placed the Amerikan "hose and water" in the hands of I$raeli "fireman" (p. 20). Or, as a spokesman for the I$raeli foreign office smugly put it: "The United States has come to the conclusion that it can no longer respond to every incident around the world, that it must rely on a local power, the deterrent of a friendly power as a first line of defense to stave off American intervention. Israel feels it fits this definition" (p. 19).

Because of its support for I$rael as a proxy force against independent Arab nationalist forces, the United $tates has continually sided with I$rael on fundamental issues. A partial list:

* Despite occasional mutterings from the White House that new I$raeli settlements on Palestinian territory are "not helpful," the United $tates has encouraged continued settlement. The settler population has doubled since the beginning of Oslo "peace process," while the U.$. government relaxed restrictions on Amerikan aid going to building settlements and did nothing about tax-exempt private subsidies (p.xiii).

* Despite rhetoric of "evenhandedness" and "reciprocity," the United $tates hypocritically upholds I$rael's "right to self-defense" while denying the Palestinians the same right (much the same way it applies this double standard to itself, reserving the right to pre-emptive strike while justifying the invasion of Iraq--or the bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan etc.--on the grounds that others are thinking about maybe producing some weapons long standard in the Amerikan arsenal). While I$rael received $80-$90 billion in U.$. aid from 1948 to 2000, and continues to receive more than $5 billion yearly--much of it in the form of Apache helicopters and jet technology used to bomb heavily populated civilian areas--the Wye River Agreement (to take one example) placed restrictions on Palestinian "possession, manufacture, or importing of weapons" (p.121; see also MIM Notes 252). While I$rael supplies settlers with arms then used in provocative attacks against Palestinians--which clearly violates numerous U.$.-brokered agreements but has elicited no response from the United $tates--I$rael has repeatedly occupied and razed towns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the pretext that the Palestinian Authority has not cracked down on "terrorists" (pp.119-122).

* Despite claims that the Oslo "peace process" put off "final status issues" such as the sovereignty of Jerusalem, no challenge to the status quo of I$raeli domination can survive long in the Amerikan political scene. When the elder George Bush said Jerusalem would be included in a settlement ban (1990), which was consistent with official U.$. policy, Republicans and Democrats (1) denounced Bush, accusing him of undermining the "peace process." Congress passed a resolution stating that "Jerusalem is and should remain the capital of I$rael& [and] must remain an undivided city" (pp. 128-135).

Aruri correctly argues throughout the book that the reason for setting aside fundamental "final status issues" was to ensure their de facto resolution in favor of I$rael. He quotes an advisor to I$raeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: "The intention all along was for the interim agreement to be very near the final settlement" (p. xv).

As mentioned above, reading Dishonest Broker sheds light on a lot of contemporary "reporting" and "debate" in the bourgeois press. We'll close this review by highlighting two examples.

"Blame it on Arafat." Apologists for Zionist colonialism often excuse I$rael of any culpability for Palestinian suffering by pointing to Arab leaders' own duplicity, vacillation, thuggishness, etc. "Jordan illegally annexed portions of the West Bank in 1949," they say ( as did I$rael, a fact these blowhards never mention). "Arab states do not grant resident Palestinians their rights" (ignoring why so many Palestinians are in exile). "Arafat is corrupt and anti-democratic."

Aside from the fact that the sins of Arab leaders do not absolve I$rael, which bears principal responsibility for Palestinian dispossession, these "arguments" ignore I$raeli and Amerikan complicity in keeping this kind of sell-out, neocolonial leadership in power. So you say there's no secular opposition in Arab countries, Mr. State Department Intellectual? You should have thought of that when you backed the Shah of Iran, the Saudi Monarchy, Egypt's Sadat, etc.

Arafat is a clear, almost farcical example of this. From the beginning of the Oslo "Peace Process," Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have been dependent on the United $tates and I$rael for power and international prestige. Aruri points out that before Oslo, "Arafat had become, together with his organization, increasingly irrelevant... The stark choice before him was either to be involved in the 'peace process' or to risk being bypassed altogether" (p. 84). The Palestinian Authority has no real authority to control its own economy or security. It has at best the trappings of statehood--and often not even those, as it cannot issue its own passports or currency (pp. 95-96).

This situation took a particularly ridiculous turn in the younger Bush's much-heralded June 2002 speech on Palestine. "Bush's speech called on the Palestinians, who were trapped in their homes for weeks and months under prolonged [I$rael-imposed] curfews, to change their leaders and 'build a practicing democracy,' & to conduct 'multiparty elections by the end of the year' & and of course to stop terrorism. Even the New York Times remarked on June 25, 2002: 'How the Palestinians can be expected to carry out elections or reform themselves while in a total lockdown by the I$raeli military remains something of a mystery'" (p. 207).

Throughout the book, Aruri makes the correct point that the United $tates and I$rael have consistently undermined internationalist forces in the Middle East while promoting narrow nationalists (see e.g. pp. 51-59).

The United $tates and I$rael after the cold war. The common wisdom after the collapse of the Soviet Union was that I$rael would be less important to the United $tates' geopolitical plans. Aruri shows that this has proven empirically incorrect: I$rael and the United $tates are as close if not closer than before. He gives several important reason why: first, the United $tates interests in the region have not fundamentally changed; second, I$rael has continued to do an effective job of selling itself to do Amerika's dirty work. This includes serving as a laboratory for Amerikan "anti-terror" tactics (p. 47).

The kernel of truth in the common wisdom is that there is nothing unique about I$rael marketing itself as a thug--contrary to anti-Semitic demagogues who say I$rael runs the U.$. government. Pakistan for example is angling to trade its help fighting Al Qaeda for U.$. support in its conflict with India.(2) This is a problem built in to imperialism: major powers look to defend their interests by any means necessary, while bourgeois nationalists from smaller countries look to cut deals with the major powers to their benefit and to the detriment of their neighbors.

1. Including George Mitchell, later chair of the "evenhanded" Mitchell Commission (pp. 181-184).
2. MIM Notes 260, 15 June 2002.