$40 Billion Arms Deal for Israel: Why Obama's Palestine Rhetoric Rings Hollow
President Jimmy Carter caught significant flak early in his administration when he stated that the “ultimate requirement” for Arab-Israeli peace was to resolve the “Palestinian problem” through a “homeland provided for the Palestinian refugees who have suffered for many, many years.”
Widely viewed at the time as the president heretofore most sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people, Carter nevertheless made clear just how constricted his support for Palestinian rights was when a few months later he elucidated: “I have never thought and do not think that it’s advisable for us…to have an independent Palestinian nation located between Israel and Jordan.”
If Carter’s truncated espousal of a Palestinian homeland was considered path-breaking in 1977, then President Barack Obama’s recent visit to the Middle East is a clear indication of how far the acceptable discourse on Palestinian rights has shifted in a positive direction since. Speaking to Israeli students in Jerusalem, Obama urged that “the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized.”
He called on his Israeli audience to “Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day.”
Obama admonished his audience that “Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.” Not only were these commonsense observations by Obama non-controversial; they were even met with significant applause from his listeners.
Words are important and the significance of the president articulating the obvious to an Israeli audience—that Israeli-Palestinian peace cannot be established as long as Israel continues to deny Palestinians self-determination and justice—should not be underestimated. However, Obama’s refusal to acknowledge, much less rectify, the seminal role that U.S. diplomatic and military support for Israel plays in subverting those very Palestinian rights, unfortunately means that Palestinians will continue to suffer the indignities of Israeli apartheid and its “separate and unequal” two-tier standard of law for the foreseeable future.
As the truism goes, actions speak louder than words, and the worth of Obama’s intangible rhetorical support in Jerusalem for Palestinian self-determination and justice pales in comparison to the very real military aid to Israel offered during the trip. At a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the day before, Obama revealed that the United States would begin negotiations with Israel to prolong U.S. taxpayer-funded weapons to Israel long after he leaves the White House.
Not to be outdone by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, whose administration signed an agreement to give Israel $30 billion in weapons from 2009 to 2018, Defense News reported that the Obama administration is entering negotiations with Israel that would leave U.S. taxpayers on the hook to fund up to an additional $40 billion in weapons for Israel through the 2027-8 budget cycle.
This agreement would nearly double the annual U.S. taxpayer funding of Israel’s military since Obama took office. Not only is this policy fiscally absurd: Israel is a wealthy nation with a higher per capita income than Spain, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, whereas the United States is an increasingly indebted country slashing and burning social programs relied upon by our nation’s most vulnerable. It is also politically inane to give Israel the weapons it needs to maintain its repressive grasp over the Palestinians while declaiming in favor of Palestinian self-determination.
If Obama truly believes, as he told the Israeli public, that “ It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home,” then how can he pursue such a self-evidently contradictory policy of providing Israel with the weapons that it will use to build apartheid walls alienating Palestinians from their land, staff checkpoints to control Palestinian movement, and demolish Palestinian homes and agriculture?
In a moment that recalled “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Rabeea Eid, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, challenged Obama during his speech to answer the question “Who killed Rachel Corrie?” Corrie, a U.S. peace activist, was crushed to death almost exactly ten years before Obama’s trip, when an Israeli soldier ran her over with a U.S. taxpayer-financed Caterpillar bulldozer as she stood to prevent Israel’s demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip. As Eid told The New York Times, he was motivated to speak out so “the American people know what is happening here, and to know that the money from their taxes is going for the weapons for Israel” to commit the human rights abuses of Palestinians that Obama decries.
Although U.S. presidents can articulate support for Palestinian human and national rights to a much greater extent than was possible during the Carter administration, as long as the United States continues to fund ever-greater shipments of weapons to Israel, it will remain deeply complicit in Israel’s discriminatory policies toward Palestinians and Obama’s rhetoric on Palestinian self-determination and justice will ring hollow.