If anyone had any doubt about whether the Palestinians would declare a state in September, they can’t have them now.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to Congress that essentially was a series of insults to Palestinians and every insult was met by applause and standing ovations.
In fact, Netanyahu’s appearance itself was an insult.
In the entire history of the United States, only four foreign leaders have addressed joint sessions of Congress more than once.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, America’s great ally, addressed Congress three times during World War II. President Nelson Mandela was honored for destroying apartheid and freeing South Africa. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was recognised for opening negotiations with the Palestinian people.
And now Netanyahu. For what? In his entire term in office he has done nothing but reject every request by the United States that he take some action (like freezing settlements) to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In the history of Israel, there has been no prime minister as hardline on Palestinian rights and as indifferent to the wishes of the United States as Netanyahu.So why was he invited to address a rare joint session?
He was invited because the new Republican leadership of the House of Representatives wanted to demonstrate, loudly and clearly, that Congress will not support President Barak Obama in the event that he tries to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
And that is exactly what the Netanyahu appearance today did demonstrate. The prime minister unambiguously stated that he had no intention of making peace with the Palestinians.
He began by saying that, in point of fact, there is no occupation, stating, that “in Judea and Samaria [the term Israeli right-wingers use for the West Bank], Israelis are not foreign occupiers” but the native inhabitants. (He cited Abraham and Isaiah from the Bible!)
He said he might consider giving up some of that land but not an inch of Jerusalem. Additionally, he said that Israel would retain most settlements and insist on a military presence in the Jordan Valley (thereby ensuring the any State of Palestine would be locked in on both sides by Israel).
He said that Israel would never negotiate with a Palestinian government that included Hamas, whether democratically elected or not. He declared that not a single Palestinian would be allowed to return to Israel; not even a symbolic return would be acceptable to him.
There is little reason to elaborate. Netanyahu today essentially returned to the policies that Israel pursued before Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat agreed on mutual recognition and the joint pursuit of peace.
And the worst part is not the appalling things Netanyahu said, but how Congress received them. Even Netanyahu’s declaration that there is no Israeli occupation was met with thunderous applause with the Democrats joining the Republicans in ecstatic support. Every Netanyahu statement, no matter how extreme, was met with cheers.
Netanyahu was also applauded wildly when he invoked Palestinian terrorism over and over again, even seeming to lump his former “partner,” President Mahmoud Abbas with people who “educate their children to hate, [who] continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.”
His bottom line, which Congress fully bought, was that all Palestinians are terrorists who haven’t earned a state. And probably never will.
Congress cheered and cheered and when Netanyahu was finished, they climbed over each other to touch the hem of his garment.
It was as if Congress thought that no Palestinians or other Arabs (or Muslims) would be watching. It was as if it believes that it can shout its lungs out for Netanyahu (and thereby secure those campaign contributions from AIPAC), without any consequences to US policy and national interests in the Arab world.
But Congress is wrong. The message it sent to the Middle East today, to the whole world, in fact, was that Palestinians cannot count on the United States to ever play the role of “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians. Even if President Obama was inclined to, Congress would stop him. And AIPAC, using the leverage its campaign contributions gives it, would hold Obama’s feet to the fire too. As far as Congress is concerned, Palestinians do not exist. They have no rights, to a state least of all.
And that is why Palestinians have no choice but to unilaterally declare a state in the fall. They cannot count on America. As David Ben Gurion understood when he went to the General Assembly to achieve recognition of Israel, a small, powerless people must take its destiny into its own hands.
The good news is that, although Congress is in Netanyahu’s pocket, the Obama administration isn’t. Netanyahu insulted the President at the White House last Thursday and then again in the halls of Congress by eliciting support for policies Obama rejects. And the administration is furious.
That means that although Palestinians can and should ignore Congress, the White House and State Department are still in play. Yes, they will both go along with Netanyahu, but, probably, without much enthusiasm.
And they can send a signal to our allies that although the United States cannot openly oppose Bibi’s policies because of Congress – and AIPAC’s control of it – the allies can. The Palestinians should not give up on Obama or on Secretary of State Clinton either who cannot abide Netanyahu and made sure she was out of the country to escape being present for his speech.
And so we can look forward to a unilateral declaration of statehood in September. The Israelis who refuse to negotiate with stateless Palestinians will have no choice but to negotiate with the state whose land it is occupying. And those negotiations, state to state, may produce peace and the “two states for two peoples” that most Palestinians and Israelis aspire to. In any case, it’s the only hope.
Palestinians should thank Prime Minister Netanyahu and, even more, the United states Congress for making their choice so much easier. Together they helped create the Palestinian state today. And that is a very good thing.
As for Americans, we should be deeply ashamed of our Congress. It has been sold to the highest bidder.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
You can follow MJ on twitter @MJayRosenberg
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports that the Obama Administration is arguing that the Constitution does not require congressional authorization for the Libya intervention because it is not a “war,” but merely some smaller scale of military action:
“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Mr. Obama told The Boston Globe in December 2007.
The administration’s legal team appears to be distinguishing between a full war and a more limited military operation, on the theory that the Libyan intervention falls short of what would prompt any Congressional authority to control decisions about whether to initiate hostilities.Asked about Mr. Obama’s 2007 statement, Tom Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, said Monday that the administration “welcomes the support of Congress in whatever form that they want to express that support.” But, Mr. Donilon added, Mr. Obama could authorize the operation on his own.
“This is a limited — in terms of scope, duration and task — operation, which does fall in the president’s authorities,” he said.
As I have pointed out here and here, this may be a reasonable argument if the Libya operation remains short and very limited in scale. But if it drags on or the fighting escalates, the administration’s legal position will become increasingly tenuous. Moreover, as Jack Goldsmith points out, the administration may be relying on Clinton-era arguments justifying the 1994 Haiti and 1995 Bosnia interventions. But those arguments relied heavily on the notion that the interventions in question were “consensual” (US forces had been invited by the governments of those countries). By contrast, the Libyan government certainly hasn’t invited us to bomb its forces, and the administration has not recognized the rebels as as the “true” government in Gaddafi’s place.
Some might say that none of this really matters. After all, no court is likely to enjoin military operations against Libya, even if a lawsuit were filed. But the president and Congress have an independent duty to uphold the Constitution even if courts cannot or will not force them to do so. We should strive to establish a political culture where all three branches of government take their constitutional obligations seriously. I am not naive enough to believe that politicians will ever do so fully. But we can certainly do better than the present situation where most of our elected leaders give the Constitution no more than lip service unless forced to do by defeat in Court.
Constitutional considerations also matter in so far as they might sway public opinion. While people who strongly support or strongly oppose the Libya intervention are unlikely to change their minds on the basis of constitutional concerns alone, many observers are on the fence. I am one such fence-sitter myself, since I see some strong arguments on both sides of the policy issue. The Libya action has split both the right and the left in interesting ways. In such a fluid situation, constitutional arguments might have a greater impact than in a case where partisan divisions are tightly drawn and most people have strong commitments to one side or the other.
As the U.S. debates its future role in the Libyan conflict, Defense officials slammed the brakes on any broad participation Thursday, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying there will be no American ground troops in Libya “as long as I am in this job.”
Under withering congressional probing and criticism of an ill-defined mission to aid a rebel force that officials know little about, Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen sketched out a largely limited role for the U.S. military going forward, with Gates saying some other country could train the rebels trying to oust strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
“My view would be, if there is going to be that kind of assistance to the opposition, there are plenty of sources for it other than the United States,” said Gates. “Somebody else should do that.”
Asked by one lawmaker whether the U.S. involvement might inevitably mean “boots on the ground” in Libya, Gates replied, “Not as long as I am in this job.”
The U.S. turned over control of the military operation to NATO Thursday, just hours before Gates and Mullen told Congress that future U.S. participation will be limited and will not involve an active role in airstrikes as time goes on.
They were unable; however, to answer key questions from clearly agitated lawmakers about the length of the operation and how it will play out if Gadhafi does not relinquish power.
The U.S. goals are unclear and officials don’t know who the rebels are, said Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, adding that if it came to a vote he would not support U.S. involvement in the operation.
He and others repeatedly complained that Congress has not been consulted on the Libya operation, and chafed that the legislative branch is not willing to be a backseat driver.
Gates and Mullen insisted that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s military has been degraded by as much as 25 percent, but Mullen noted that regime forces still outnumber the rebels by about 10-to-1.
Meanwhile, they said the opposition groups are fractured and operating independently city by city, and just 1,000 of the rebels are militarily trained.
Their comments came as Gadhafi’s forces struck forcefully back at the rebels this week, recapturing lost ground and triggering pleas for help from the battered and failing opposition forces.
Gates said that he believes political and economic pressures will eventually drive Libyan leader Gadhafi from power, but the military operation will help force him to make those choices by degrading his defense capabilities.
Gates and Mullen testifed before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in the wake of new revelations that small teams of CIA operatives are working in Libya.
Gates declined to comment on the CIA activities in Libya.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that the CIA has sent small teams of operatives into Libya and helped rescue a crew member of a U.S. fighter jet that crashed.
The CIA’s precise role in Libya is not clear. Intelligence experts said the CIA would have sent officials to make contact with the opposition and assess the strength and needs of the rebel forces in the event President Barack Obama decided to arm them.
Meanwhile, battlefield setbacks are hardening the U.S. view that the poorly equipped opposition probably is incapable of prevailing without decisive Western intervention, a senior U.S. intelligence official told The Associated Press.
The administration says there has been no decision yet about whether to arm the opposition groups, and acknowledged that the U.S. needs to know more about who the rebels are and what role terrorists may be playing there.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. must better explain to the American public that this is not an open-ended conflict and that the U.S. will not become embroiled in a civil war.
Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said he has concerns about U.S. objectives in Libya.
“History has demonstrated that an entrenched enemy like the Libyan regime can be resilient to airpower,” McKeon said.
Associated Press writers Adam Goldman and Robert Burns contributed to this report.
Should the United States and Europe want Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi out of power? Sure. But the real question is how U.S. policy is dealing with this crisis.
1. Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that all of these people talking about how evil Qadhafi is are doings only because he is being so severely challenged in a civil war. Where were all of these humanitarians when nobody was writing about his repression? Better late than never but let’s get real about what has happened here.
2. How can a president go to war without even seeking congressional support. Some in the media are so ridiculously eager to support Obama that one CNN reporter defended him by saying that he had telephoned some members of Congress! Note how this parallels the use of czars, regulation, and executive orders to bypass Congress regarding domestic affairs. Just because Barack Obama is a Democrat and an alleged “liberal” (this is a radical, not a liberal White House), why should he be allowed to act in a non-democratic fashion?
3. What is the aim of the war? Overthrowing Qadhafi? Forcing a ceasefire? Protecting civilians? I’ve never before seen anarchy on the side of a U.S.-led (or is it a French-led?) coalition. From minute to minute the strategy seems to change.
4. Who is the opposition that the West fights to help? Islamists? Tribalists? Regionalists? Moderate democrats? Before you help someone win a war it helps to know who they are.
5. How can people who spent years criticizing the war in Iraq, telling us that war is not the solution to problems, decrying civilian casualties from other countries’ defensive activities, arguing that such interventions led to endless commitments, and such things now plunge the United States into a third simultaneous war in a Muslim-majority country?
6. This war was entered into on the premise that the “Arabs” support it. But now the Arab League opposes the war. Has anyone in the U.S. government considered the regional implications? One might note that the Arab nationalists oppose the intervention while the Islamists support it. That’s not a good indication.
7. Just calling something a humanitarian intervention does not solve all problems. The U.S. intervention in Somalia–the perfect example of a disaster in this regard–was also humanitarian in motivation.
At least the Iraq war was a huge success at the beginning and only later became something of a mess. This war is a mess from the start.
I am not saying that I oppose military intervention in Libya in principle. But such a confused and ill-defined operation is horrifying. The real issue is not whether something should be done but how it’s being done.
This has been bouncing around over the weekend, but somehow I missed it until now. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, December 2007:
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.
So Obama agrees with Dennis Kucinich that his authorization of military action against Libya was unconstitutional. Presumably he disagrees with Kucinich’s suggestion that he should therefore be impeached.
Still, as we have noted a couple of times, it is very odd that Obama did not seek Congressional approval of the Libya mission. He certainly could have gotten it. And Obama’s statement that “military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch” is one with which most people–George W. Bush, for example–would agree. So why did Obama launch a military action under circumstances that he himself describes as unconstitutional and unwise?
Maybe he just couldn’t be bothered. One gets the feeling that Obama doesn’t want to invest any more time or energy than necessary in his presidential duties (as opposed to his presidential perks). Otherwise, I’m stumped.
…Several liberal Democratic members of Congress are claiming that President Obama’s decision to use force against Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi requires congressional authorization:
A hard-core group of liberal House Democrats is questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya, with one lawmaker raising the prospect of impeachment during a Democratic Caucus conference call on Saturday.
Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Mike Capuano (Mass.), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Rob Andrews (N.J.), Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during that call, said two Democratic lawmakers who took part.
Kucinich, who wanted to bring impeachment articles against both former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney over Iraq — only to be blocked by his own leadership — asked why the U.S. missile strikes aren’t impeachable offenses….
Saturday’s conference call was organized by Rep. John Larson (Conn.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus and the fourth-highest ranking party leader. Larson has called for Obama to seek congressional approval before committing the United States to any anti-Qadhafi military operation.
“They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress,” one Democrat lawmaker said of the White House. “They’re creating wreckage, and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground. … There aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.”
Andrew McCarthy, a prominent conservative legal commentator, makes a similar argument here.
This is another of those rare cases where I agree with Dennis Kucinich though I would not go so far as to advocate impeachment, . Unlike Kucinich (and Andrew McCarthy), I tentatively think that Obama has chosen the right policy on Libya. But whether right or not, military action on this scale surely does require congressional authorization under the Constitution.
interesting point, but I disagree that going into Libya was prudent.
Article I of the Constitution clearly gives Congress, not the president, the “power… to declare War.” The Founding Fathers sought to avoid a situation where one man had the power to commit the nation to war on his own initiative.
It’s arguable that some small-scale uses of force don’t rise to the level of a war and therefore can be undertaken by the president acting alone under his authority as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. President Reagan’s 1986 airstrike on Libya might be an example, as were Bill Clinton’s 1998 missile strikes against Al Qaeda base camps in Afghanistan. If all the Obama administration intends is to launch a few Tomahawk missiles, perhaps this action would fall in the same category. However, it seems highly likely that the president plans to go well beyond this. Military operations are likely to continue for some time, perhaps until Qaddafi has either been overthrown or at least compelled to leave the rebel-controlled parts of Libya unmolested. If so, it seems quite clear that congressional authorization for military action on that scale is required.
Congressional also might not be needed if all the president is responding to an ongoing or imminent attack. However, Qaddafi has not attacked the US in recent years (though he did sponsor numerous anti-American terrorist attacks in the 1980s and early 90s) and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he had any immediate intention of doing so.
As Andrew McCarthy recognizes, congressional authorization need not specifically use the words “declaration of war.” It is enough that it clearly authorize large-scale military action against the enemy in question, as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda and the Taliban did in 2001.
For all the hoopla about the supposedly overwhelming growth of presidential power, presidents have in fact gotten advance or nearly simultaneous congressional authorization for almost every major military intervention the United States has undertaken since World War II. This was true in Korea, Vietnam, the two Iraq wars, and many other cases. Bill Clinton’s 1999 military action in Kosovo was the one time during that period when a president entered into a major conflict in the face of actual opposition by the majority in Congress. In part for that reason, Clinton strictly limited the scale of American involvement, avoiding the use of ground forces and ensuring that US troops didn’t suffer any combat casualties. Perhaps Obama plans to do the same thing with Libya; but if so, he will be in a difficult position if more coercion is needed to succeed.
In addition to constitutional reasons, presidents also have strong political incentives to seek congressional support for military action. Without it, the president will have to take the sole political blame if anything goes wrong.
In this case, I have little doubt that Obama could get congressional authorization if he tries to do so. There is considerable Republican support for the Libya intervention, and Obama can also count on the support of most of his fellow Democrats. The Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate is backing him, despite the opposition of some House liberals.
For both constitutional and political reasons, the administration should seek a congressional vote as soon as possible.