Phyllis Bennis: President Obama recognizes injustice and need for two states but does nothing to pressure Netanyahu to make concessions to Palestinians
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week’s edition of The Bennis Report with Phyllis Bennis, who now joins us from Washington, D.C.
Phyllis is a fellow and the director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. She’s the author of many books, including Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism and Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
Thanks very much for joining us, Phyllis.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Great to be with you, Paul.
JAY: So what did you make of the president’s visit to Israel?
BENNIS: Well, among other things, it proves once again that he’s got a Cracker Jack speech writing team. His speech in Jerusalem and even some of the stuff he said to the Palestinians was pretty great. You know, the man can talk. And the speech talked about justice. He talked about the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and justice. He called on young Israeli Jews to go beyond or over the heads of their government. He talked about Palestinians having a right to be a free people. And, you know, he said that there should be negotiations.
But the problem was he said all that wonderful stuff but made very clear, quite explicit, that if Israel simply said no, there would be no consequences. The U.S. will continue to pay the $30 billion of our tax money that’s going directly to the military of this 23rd wealthiest country in the world. The U.S. will continue to negotiate a new aid agreement that would probably be even more than $30 billion. It will raise the amount of money we’re paying to Israel for its Iron Dome anti-missile battalions. It will continue to support Israel in the United Nations so that there is never any actual accountability for potential war crimes. So none of that is going to change. That was the astonishing thing. This great speech about what we would like to happen, and we don’t even think that for you, from your vantage point, you Israelis, we don’t think what you’re doing is very useful, but if you continue doing it, we’ll still have your back.
JAY: Yeah. Analysts here when they were talking about it said this was sort of a tactical move, that he was speaking to the Israeli people, he’s trying to shift Israeli public opinion, and that it was more meaningful than just rhetoric. What do you make of that?
BENNIS: I wish that were the case. I mean, I wish this were based on his assessment that Israel is such a great democracy that if you can convince all the people that their government would somehow do the right thing–that doesn’t happen in this country, and I don’t think it happens in Israel. So, you know, I simply don’t think that was the case.
There was a bit of a quid pro quo on Iran, but it was essentially saying that we’ll let up on any pressure on Israel around Palestine, around oppression of the Palestinians, if Israel will just stop bothering us about Iran. That was the essence of the quid pro quo.
Beyond that, there was really no policy basis, no strategic basis, no actual shift in anything that the U.S. is doing.
JAY: Now, one of the things, of course, that got a lot of attention was President Obama apparently brokered this phone call: Netanyahu phoned Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey, and apologizes for killing Turkish citizens on the Gaza flotilla and agrees that they’re going to pay compensation to the families, and then the third point agrees to lift the blockade on Gaza. And then the reports after that are, oh, we don’t really have much of a blockade against Gaza anymore; it’s just some construction materials. One, my understanding, it’s more than construction materials. And two, are they even really serious about that?
BENNIS: Certainly it’s much more than just a little bit of building equipment. The siege of Gaza remains intact. A year and a half or so ago, the Israelis did ease a little bit of the restriction on food and some medicines, but the hospitals are still desperately under-equipped. They can’t get in new equipment. They can’t get in sufficient drugs.
The tunnels are functioning as the lifeline to Gaza. That’s the reason that you don’t see starvation and people dying from absolute lack of medical equipment and medical supplies in Gaza is because of the tunnels.
But the Israeli claim that somehow they are allowing people to cross their borders doesn’t take into account what they’re actually keeping out, and it certainly doesn’t take into account people. The siege of Gaza is fundamentally a siege of the people of Gaza, who are not allowed to go in, to go out. Family reunification is not allowed. The link between the West Bank and Gaza is completely severed.
So the notion that Israel is somehow not doing very much that’s bad is simply a lie, and they’re hoping they can get away with it. Unfortunately, in the conversation with Erdogan, there’s no indication that he called them on it. That’s really–.
JAY: Well, actually, two days later he did make a statement which said he’s waiting to see if the Israelis are serious about lifting the siege of Gaza and relations won’t be normalized until they do.
BENNIS: Right, and hopefully he’ll implement that. That’s the kind of diplomatic statement that may be aimed more at his audience at home than it is real. We don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see how and if and for how long Erdogan holds Israel accountable for these violations.
But it was also important from another vantage point, and that was that it made clear that when the U.S. wants to pressure Israel for something they want, which in this case was a reconciliation between its two crucial allies in the region, Israel and Turkey, the U.S. gets what it wants. So whatever happened in that little trailer on the tarmac, when President Obama took Prime Minister Netanyahu into the room and said, Bibi, you’re going to do this, with whatever threats and blandishments he had to dangle, it worked. And that’s one of the important lessons. The U.S. has the capacity to pressure Israel.
It doesn’t use that capacity on behalf of the Palestinians. It will use it when necessary to gain something vis-a-vis Turkey. But so far we have not seen a commitment to the lovely words that President Obama spoke to justice, to an end of occupation, to equality. We’re not seeing that.
JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis.
BENNIS: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.