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2008-01-24

Where Do the Presidential Contenders Stand on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

Guests

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada and the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

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As the news out of Gaza makes international headlines, we take a look at where the Republican and Democratic presidential contenders stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We speak with the co-founder of the online publication Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Chicago to Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of the online publication The Electronic Intifada, author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ali Abunimah. Your response to what’s happening now in Gaza, from here in the United States?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I’d like to say that the suffering in Gaza has been so unremitting and so horrible and will continue. But I think we have to recognize and celebrate the resistance and the people power of the people in Gaza. And we have to recognize that there has been a deliberate siege on them by Israel, a decision taken by the leaders of Israel to starve and inflict suffering on a million-and-a-half people.

The government of Egypt has been complicit in this. They could have opened the borders months ago. Israel has been besieging Gaza for almost two years in this way. Egypt didn’t have to wait until Palestinians took matters into their own hands to free themselves from this barbaric siege.

The United States is complicit. And, by the way, Amy, this is another setback for the Bush Doctrine. The people of Gaza have been the victims of an experiment by the Bush administration and Israel, where, first of all, they had a democratic election. The US and Israel didn’t like that result, so they tried to overthrow Hamas using Contra-style militias and using a starvation siege. Hamas turned the tables on them and got rid of those militias. So they decided to tighten the siege on the people of Gaza, and the people of Gaza decided to break out of it themselves.

But the thing we have to absolutely focus on is the responsibility here. Israel, as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip, remains fully responsible for everything that happens there. Under Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, passed, by the way, after the horrors of World War II, Israel is legally required to provide as much food, water, medicine and fuel as the civilian population needs.

And the excuse that the Israelis are using, that they’re doing this in response to rocket fire, we know for a fact that Israel has rejected ceasefire after ceasefire put forward by Hamas and other Palestinian factions. We know for a fact that there are no rockets coming out of the West Bank. And yet Israel continues to carry out extrajudicial executions in the West Bank and military attacks on Nablus, on Balata refugee camp and all the other places in the West Bank.

We have to be clear that what Israel is trying to do is a massive experiment in ethnic cleansing to get rid of a million-and-a-half people who do not fit its demographic desires and the desire to remain a state where one ethnic group has special and better rights by virtue of its religion. That’s what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, I wanted to ask you about the candidates in the United States. You’re speaking to us from Chicago, so let’s start with Barack Obama. The stances of the presidential Democratic and Republican candidates on the Israel-Palestine conflict. I can’t remember when in a debate they were asked about the mounting crisis there.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I don’t know if they’ve been asked in a debate, but whenever they have been asked, they have all gone out of their way to express full support for what Israel is doing. Barack Obama is not distinguished from the rest of the pack, except by for how far he has moved to try to appease AIPAC and pro-Israel movements.

I remember, Amy — I knew Barack Obama for many years as my state senator — when he used to attend events in the Palestinian community in Chicago all the time. I remember personally introducing him onstage in 1999, when we had a major community fundraiser for the community center in Deheisha refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. And that’s just one example of how Barack Obama used to be very comfortable speaking up for and being associated with Palestinian rights and opposing the Israeli occupation. And just yesterday, he apparently sent a letter to Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador at the UN, to urge the US not to allow any resolution to pass criticizing Israel and saying how Israel was forced to impose this barbaric medieval siege on Israel.

None of the other candidates in the mainstream have spoken out for Palestinian rights. The only ones who have taken forceful positions opposing the current US strategy are Dennis Kucinich on the Democratic side and Ron Paul on the Republican side. The mainstream are all perfectly comfortable with the war crimes that Israel is committing, no matter how much they talk about human rights elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton, her view on the Israel-Palestine conflict, specifically also what’s happening now in Gaza?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Again, we saw Hillary Clinton, the moment her political ambitions became pronounced, shift. You’ll remember, when she spoke in the 1990s in favor of a Palestinian state, since then she has become one of the most anti-Palestinian hawks. For example, a couple of years ago, she went and staged a photo opportunity in an Israeli settlement by the apartheid wall and talked about how the wall was necessary. This wall, of course, which has been condemned as illegal by the International Court of Justice, which has ordered Israel to tear it down, Hillary Clinton went and stood in front of it and endorsed it.

And we’ve seen that time and again. John Edwards, the same, staunchly pro-Israel. On the Republican side, you have John McCain, who talks like a maverick on other issues, but on this one he has gone out of his way to offer full support for Israel. You have Huckabee, who is on the Christian evangelical right, that is historically not very friendly towards Jewish people, but is very strongly pro-Israel for reasons of biblical prophecy. And Huckabee, who is — according to a report in the Jerusalem Post, talked about a Palestinian state in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, so really talking about the forced transfer or ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians as a solution. That, unfortunately, is the level of discourse.

And maybe it’s because there’s such a consensus in the mainstream on unconditional support for Israel, no matter how illegal its actions or how harmful they are to the United States, perhaps because there’s such a consensus, that’s why there’s no debate.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Romney?

ALI ABUNIMAH: Governor Romney, I haven’t heard his specific words, except that he has been particularly outspoken in claiming that Islamic militancy, of which he claims Palestinians are a part, is the greatest threat to the United States. And what we’ve seen is this debate happening, this discussion happening in a broader context, Amy, where many of the candidates, not just on the Republican side, whereas they claim to be running against Bush or at least away from Bush, have actually absorbed some of the basic tenets of Bush’s worldview, which sees the United States and the West engaged in this massive civilizational struggle against Islam. It’s a very dangerous and false idea.

And many Muslims feel that they are now the targets of a hysteria, which is similar or has even become worse than the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, where Islamic militancy is under every bed and where any form of resistance, any form of resistance to US imperialism, to Israeli colonization and occupation, is defined as extremism. And there’s nobody who’s — you’re not even allowed to go and get food for your family from Egypt if you’re starving without being called an extremist, without being accused of militancy or terrorism. That’s level we’ve reached.

No resistance is permitted, Amy. But what we’ve seen from Gaza and what we’ve seen time and again in Lebanon is that resistance will continue, that people will not quietly accept the fate that has been designed for them in the boardrooms of the Pentagon and the White House and the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. People will resist.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, I want to thank you very much for joining us from Chicago, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada. His book is called One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse.

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