Americans who follow the news but don’t know this issue thoroughly must be befuddled as to why the endless Israel-Palestine “negotiations” never produce results in spite of the relentless chatter about how the United States and the two parties so badly want to find a “two-state solution” to the conflict. The five-year effort of Minnesota Break the Bonds (MNBBC) to get the State Board of Investment (SBI) to divest its Israel bonds sheds some light on the nature of the challenges faced by those who seek a solution to this decades old dispute.
The thesis presented here is simply that the two powerful actors in this three-way entanglement — the U.S. and Israel — simply do not want any agreement with Palestinians if it undermines their real unstated goals in the region. For the United States that means the maintenance of their ability to project military power in the region in order to control crucial shipping lanes and oil supplies. For its part, Israel claims to be interested in peace, but only on its terms, which put colonizing land and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians far above any other concern. The evidence is simple and clear: Since Israel’s 1967 take-over of East Jerusalem and the West Bank there are now over half a million Jewish settlers where Palestinians used to live and can no longer live. Israel can get away with this because it gets billions of dollars, weapons and political cover from the United States.
None of this is to deny that acts of violence are sometimes directed against Israelis or Jews outside of Israel, as in the recent attacks in Paris. However, thanks to Israel’s massive firepower, financed and supplied by the U.S., Palestinians suffer violence all out of proportion to what is suffered by Israelis. In the 2014 Gaza bombing and invasion, for example, more than 2100 Gazans died, of whom 1,462 civilians; 495 of those were children and 253 women. On the Israeli side 72 soldiers and 7 civilians died, typical proportions in these conflicts.
Second, and more important, if the United States and Israel are so interested in peaceful negotiations, why do they constantly thwart any and every attempt by both Palestinians and the world community to bring the Palestine issue before the United Nations or International Criminal Court for resolution? It was widely reported that both U.N. representative Samantha Power along with Secretary of State John Kerry, if not President Barak Obama himself, lobbied nations on the Security Council to abstain so that the embarrassment of a U.S. veto could be avoided.
Unfortunately, it seems to be no easier to get Palestine issues addressed in Minnesota than it is at the U.N. or in Washington, D.C. Since 2009 MNBBC has been advocating for the divestment of the state’s millions of dollars in Israel bonds, unrestricted money which is used in occupied territories for a whole range of illegal purposes like building Jewish-only settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, and construction of infrastructure to allow passage to and from Israel proper for Jewish settlers only.
The Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49) prohibits all such activities. When Minnesota funds activities that violate an international treaty or convention that has been ratified by Congress, under the U.S. Constitution this constitutes a violation of U.S. law. Because the SBI knows that the money Israel gets from selling its bonds is used for purposes that violate international law, it is financially complicit in those violations.
On these grounds MNBBC brought a lawsuit against the SBI. In spite of the issues of international treaties and Geneva Conventions referred to above, the state court and appeals court saw fit to dismiss the case on the grounds that, among other reasons, the plaintiffs were merely in “a policy disagreement with the discretionary decisions made by the Legislature and the SBI.” In fact, it’s not that the state hasn’t or can’t do anything. The SBI has divested from companies in Sudan and Iran based on laws passed in the State Legislature. In 1985, acting on its own authority, the SBI established its own divestment policies for companies doing business in South Africa. Both the state and the US government can find reasons to do what they want to do and reasons to avoid doing what they don’t want to do.
It has become necessary to go directly to the people, the only real road to democracy. The next opportunity is to attend the March 4, 2015, SBI meeting in St. Paul. In the meantime, one can go here to sign a petition. Jettisoning Minnesota’s Israel bonds is a moral and political imperative. Not doing so would be nothing less than a violation of the public trust.
Robert Kosuth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He is the former director of the International Programs Office and Superior English as a Second Language Institute. Kosuth is active in various progressive organizations, most notably Minnesota Break the Bonds.
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