Have the Palestinians ever faced a worse American electoral season? A sociopathic, New York “strong-man” narcissist versus a neo-liberal Zionist: whoever succeeds – and anything can happen this time – we know it won’t be good for Palestine. Both candidates gave almost identical speeches to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) convention this spring.
The temptation is to think Republican Donald Trump – with his love for authoritarian “winners” like Israel, and his vow to “bomb to hell” out of every problem – makes a better friend to Israeli aggression. Yet the record reminds us, with Hillary Clinton’s long history of defending Zionism, the Palestinians are between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
The ironies run deep with this Democratic candidate. Clinton holds the unprecedented distinction of being the only major party nominee, man or woman, ever to have actually visited the Gaza Strip – a historic trip she made at her husband’s side in the final weeks of 1998, when US President Bill Clinton faced impeachment at home.
Together during the first state visit by an American president to the occupied territories they attended the opening of the new Gaza airport, the signing of a revised Palestine National Charter, and meetings to shore up the Wye River Accords.
I recall visiting the new $83m airport with local Rafah friends, months after her visit, and not a single commercial flight had been permitted.
The terminal stood shimmering and empty in the blazing midday heat, a mirage. The paint still smelled fresh, and for kicks, we raced in civil defence Jeeps down one of the empty runways, past the control tower and hangars.
The next year, the whole place would be blown to bits by Israeli warplanes, the tower a smoking ruin, the runways full of bomb craters.
The Clintons were long-gone by then, and no one in the US government raised a hint of objection to what was both the symbolic and the practical demolition of Palestinian aspirations to fly free of the occupation – Gulf State and German money had built the place, who cared if the Israelis wanted it destroyed?
A year later, Clinton’s greeting with Suha Arafat stoked tabloid hysteria screams of “blood libel“, as if the First Lady, by embracing a Muslim woman, had committed treason – and she moved swiftly to a vocal, pro-Zionism position, where she remains today.
During that very same visit, Clinton campaigned to win the US senate seat for New York, while in “the 51st state”.
Every candidate makes pilgrimage there, to assure New Yorkers that they love Israel more than the next guy: it is a sloppy mess, with politicians competing for AIPAC approval, by kneeling to kiss the ring of a foreign power.
As a senator, she has visited the illegal wall destroying Palestinian life, praising it for its guarantee of Israeli 'security'; she visits Jerusalem, and repeatedly calls it 'Israel'...
Yet Hillary out-did them all in her fawning, gratuitously inserting the Zionist formula for Jerusalem’s subjugation in an official letter to an Orthodox Jewish union, writing that she believed the city to be “the eternal and indivisible capital” of Israel, while promising to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv.
The verbal formulation has long been a shibboleth of Israeli expansionism – Republicans in the Congress had passed a bill – the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 – ordering President Clinton to move the embassy, or face budget consequences.
However, the law contained a presidential waiver, and Clinton invoked it to get out of complying. This grotesque pantomime has has been repeated every year for the past 20 years, as Congress renews the law, each president opts out, and the embassy remains in Tel Aviv.
At the time, many wondered if the First Lady had been naive, or manipulated – her adoption of the language of Israeli conquest and annexation stood in sharp contrast to her party, her husband’s official position,and international law. It also contradicted the US State Department’s policy.
If she did not understand its dangerous implications, then her competency was in question; otherwise, it represented a shift for the party, signalling quiet abandonment of the Palestinians.
Her record since then speaks for itself. As a senator, she has visited the illegal wall destroying Palestinian life, praising it for its guarantee of Israeli “security”; she visits Jerusalem, and repeatedly calls it “Israel”; and as a 2008 presidential candidate, her campaign extolled Israel’s “right” to an “undivided Jerusalem as its capital”.
Since the beating she took for embracing Madame Arafat, Clinton is like the child who has touched a hot stove – she fears the Palestinians and their cause, and will not take it up again.
Palestinians will find no comfort at her official website. A look at her current Israel page, “Hillary Clinton and Israel: a 30-Year Record of Friendship, Leadership and Strength”, gives the general drift of her Zionism – record-breaking military budget increases for Israel’s war-making machine; opposing the Goldstone Report into rights violations during the Gaza conflict; criticising the United Nations for its votes against Israel; intelligence sharing with Mossad; and so on.
She promises, when she is president, to “defend Israel on the world stage” by opposing “anti-Israel bias” in international forums (the International Criminal Court and human rights venues), vowing the Security Council will never help Palestine; and to “stand up against” the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, while cutting off efforts to recognise Palestinian statehood.
It is clear that Clinton will not – as Obama did – be visiting any Arab capital with a proffered fig leaf. If, as Shakespeare warns us, “What’s past is prologue,” Clinton can be expected as president to mount the ramparts of Fortress Israel, and vigorously wave the flag – more aggressively than Bush or Reagan, or any president before her, portending hard times for Palestine.
Stanley L Cohen is a lawyer and human rights activist who has done extensive work in the Middle East and Africa.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.