On Wednesday, June 23, 2004, the U.S. House of
Representatives, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, endorsed right-wing Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to colonize and annex large sections of
the Palestinian West Bank, seized by Israel in the June 1967 war.
This was not just another "pro-Israel" (or, more accurately, "pro-Israeli right")
resolution, but an effective renunciation of the post-World War II international
system based upon the premise of the illegitimacy of the expansion of a country’s
territory by military force.
House Concurrent Resolution 460, sponsored by right-wing Republican leader
Tom DeLay, "strongly endorses" the letter sent by President George W. Bush to
the Israeli prime minister in April supporting his so-called "disengagement"
plan. This unilateral initiative calls for withdrawing the illegal Israeli settlements
from the occupied Gaza Strip, but – far more significantly – would incorporate
virtually all of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel,
leaving the Palestinians with a series of non-contiguous and economically unviable
cantons, each surrounded by Israeli territory, collectively constituting barely
10% of historic Palestine. (Even in the case of the Gaza Strip, Sharon’s plan
would allow Israel to control the borders, the ports, and the airspace, as well
as having the right to conduct military operations inside Palestinian areas
The vote was 407 in favor of the resolution and only 9 opposed.
The Bush letter so overwhelming supported by the House declares that "the United
States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other
plan." Indeed, the resolution appears to be part of an effort to short-circuit
last fall’s Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan supported by the Palestinian
leadership and leading Israeli moderates. In that proposal, the Palestinians
agreed that Israel could annex some blocs of settlements, but only along Israel’s
internationally recognized borders and only in exchange for an equivalent amount
of territory currently part of Israel that would be granted to the new Palestinian
state. According to public opinion polls, the majority of Americans – including
a majority of American Jews – support this approach over the Bush-backed Sharon
plan so overwhelming endorsed by Congress.
The resolution does not even make mention of the once highly-touted "road map"
for Israeli-Palestinian peace that the United States drew up with representatives
of Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The "road map" demanded
that any growth in the settlements be frozen and that the remaining outstanding
issues, such as borders and the status of Palestinian refugees be left for negotiations
between the two parties.
Congressman Pete Stark of California, one of the nine dissenters, observed
how the resolution did not call on both Israelis and Palestinians to work together
to find a peaceful solution to this conflict, correctly observing that "all
parties in the process must work together," something the resolution notably
omitted. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Deputy minority leader Steny Hoyer
(who was a cosponsor of the DeLay resolution) refused to place a resolution
cosponsored by Stark (H.R. 479), which applauds Israelis and Palestinians who
are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace
and encourages both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunity
offered by these peace initiatives.
According to Israeli press reports, Sharon brought four separate disengagement
plans to Washington requiring various degrees of Israeli withdrawal, but President
Bush ended up endorsing the one which allowed Israel to annex the largest amount
of Palestinian territory. Now, much to the chagrin of progressive and moderate
Israelis, Congress has also chosen to throw its weight behind the most right-wing
of the four proposals.
Most observers – including leading Israeli military and intelligence officials
– recognize that by leaving the Palestinians with little hope of achieving a
viable state through negotiations, this will only swell the ranks of extremist
Palestinian groups and produce more terrorism. Congress has rejected this analysis,
however, insisting that Sharon’s land grab will somehow "enhance the security
of Israel and advance the cause of peace in the Middle East."
The resolution calls for the Palestinian "state" that could eventually emerge
to be "based on rule of law and respect for human rights," but does not call
on Israel to respect the rule of law and human rights, which its occupation
forces and colonists – according to reputable human rights organization in Israel
and elsewhere – are violating on a daily basis.
The resolution also repeatedly cites Palestinian terrorism as the obstacle
to peace and security, not the Israeli occupation and repression that has spawned
it. Furthermore, the resolution calls for the United States to further strengthen
Israel’s military prowess and defends Israel’s right to launch attacks against
Palestinian groups that "threaten Israeli citizens," which presumably includes
settlers and their militias which have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds
of Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of children.
In supporting this resolution, Congress has effectively renounced UN Security
Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel – in return for security
guarantees from its Arab neighbors – to withdraw from territories seized in
the June 1967 war. All previous U.S. administrations of both parties had seen
these resolutions as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace.
These Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deem
it illegal for any country to transfer any part of its civilian population onto
territories seized by military force. UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452,
465 and 471 explicitly call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied
territories. The vast majority of these settlements that the Bush-Sharon plan
seeks to formally annex into Israel were built after these resolutions were
In an incredible act of chutzpah, however, the resolution claims that Israel
should not be expected to withdraw from these settlements "in light of new realities
on the ground," namely the settlements built in violation of these UN Security
Congress, however, apparently agrees with President Bush that Sharon’s Israel,
unlike Saddam’s Iraq, need not abide by UN Security Council resolutions.
In that clause, the resolution refers to the illegal settlements euphemistically
as "Israeli population centers." More significantly, the resolution refers to
these settlements as being "in Israel," effectively already recognizing their
The resolution also insists that supporting the right of Palestinian refugees
to return to their homes in Israel – or even in the occupied territories to
be annexed by Israel under the Bush-Sharon plan – would not be "just" or "fair."
The Bush letter endorsed by Congress effectively destroys the once highly-touted
"road map" and marks the first time in the history of the peace process that
a U.S. president has preempted negotiations by announcing support of such a
unilateral initiative by one party. Both Israel and the United States continue
to refuse to even negotiate with Palestine Authority President Yasser Arafat,
Palestinian Prime Minister Amhed Qureia, or any other recognized Palestinian
leader, on substantive issues dealing with a peace settlement.
Supporting the resolution were the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other right-wing groups. Leading
the opposition to the resolution were Churches for Middle East Peace, the Tikkun
Community, and similar progressive organizations. That the entire House Democratic
leadership and all but a handful of Democrats overall supported the resolution
is demonstrative of just how far to the right the Democratic Party has gone.
In short, the Democrats, like the Republicans, now support the neoconservative
doctrine that places the right of conquest over the rule of law.
More fundamentally, Congress’ effective endorsement of an Israeli annexation
of land it conquered in the 1967 war is a direct challenge to the United Nations
Charter, which forbids any country from expanding its territory through military
conquest. The vote, therefore, constitutes nothing less than an overwhelming
bipartisan renunciation of the post-World War II international system, effectively
recognizing the right of conquest.