The foreign policy of the US during the three years of the Donald Trump administration has undergone a slow change. It has gradually departed from international norms and carried out clear violations of the legal and ethical standards the country had previously championed. While some of these changes can be clearly identified as pro-Israel in the Middle East conflict, other policies that have no direct relation with Israel appear to have adopted both the style and the justifications that Tel Aviv has often used to defend its actions that are contrary to international laws and norms.
The Trump administration began by flouting international resolutions that specifically called on UN member states not to move their embassies to Jerusalem until a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been found. That December 2018 decision was in direct violation of the 1980 UN Security Council resolution 478, which called on all members not to recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and asked members with missions in Jerusalem “to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the city.” Washington adopted the Israeli justification by claiming that its move was merely recognition of the reality on the ground.
Furthermore, US officials, including Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, went on a public campaign calling on all UN member states to follow America’s act, in violation of the UN Security Council resolution.
America’s Israelization continued by its abrupt refusal to accept that the Palestinian territories are “occupied” — again in violation of UN resolutions and decisions by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The Trump administration followed that by giving legitimacy to illegal Israeli settlements built in occupied territories in violation of the Geneva Convention.
The process of Israelization, however, was not limited to Palestine, but also included other occupied territories. The US’ decision to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights violated, for the first time, an international post-Second World War understanding that it is unacceptable to acquire land by war. This mistaken precedent clears the way for countries throughout the world to potentially start settling their differences with their neighbors through military aggression, rather than negotiations and the rule of law.
All these actions that mimic what Israel does in the region are done without any backing from the UN.
Perhaps the US’ most recent violation of international humanitarian law was the decision to assassinate an Iranian official on sovereign Iraqi land, which was followed up by threats to bomb 52 historic and cultural sites in Iran — another clear war crime according to international law.
In all these acts, the Trump administration has repeated a number of often-used Israeli justifications, which range from accepting the reality on the ground to insisting an action was a pre-emptive defensive move in order to counter undeclared possible future threats.
All these actions that mimic what Israel does in the region are done without any backing from the UN or its important Security Council. As has been the case with Israel, actions without international backing turn the region into a jungle, where might is right.
The Israelis have for decades been allowed by the international community, including the US, to flout the rule of law and international norms. What is new in the past three years is that Washington has not only departed from its previous public denunciations of clear Israeli violations, but has adopted the Israeli policy itself and used it to justify its own actions in various parts of the world.
The outcome of such a change is not limited to the US or the Middle East. It provides a green light to military powers throughout the world to resolve their problems with their opponents using unrestricted military power. This was made clear by a headline in an Indian newspaper, which called for an assassination campaign against Pakistani military officers it considers supportive of terrorism using America’s (and by extension Israel’s) policy that the ends justify the means.
After the end of the Second World War, the civilized the world met and agreed on a set of understandings that were aimed at avoiding the use of military action to resolve disputes between countries and peoples. America, the home of the UN and the UN Security Council, was seen for years as the most important protector and defender of this basic international understanding. However, recent years have shown that not only is Israel being given a pass on its violations of international laws and understandings, but its actions have become a model for demagogic leaders in America, India, the Philippines and other countries, which prefer to flex their military might to solve their problems. These violations must not be allowed to become the norm around the world; otherwise we will be paving the way for another global catastrophe.
- Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab