This is an important book, one all Americans who care for democracy should read. It shows that the second greatest victim of Zionism, after the Palestinians, is the Americans. It documents how almost without exception the United States has relegated its policy towards Palestine and Israel to the Zionists. It suggests a question: If Washington knuckles under to Israeli demands as regards the Palestinians, would it say no to Israel living out a Zionist dream, with far greater territorial conquests?
Until Neff's book Fallen Pillars, no one has so authoritatively documented the ever-widening gap between what Washington says and what Washington does regarding its Middle East policy. Neff, author of the warriors trilogy on the 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars, shows how the United States over the past 50 years has largely if not totally negated its avowed policy. He writes of six "fallen pillars" dealing with refugees, borders, Palestinians, Jerusalem, settlements and arms.
A half-century ago, U.S. policy makers avowed they sought an even-handed approach, with justice for the Palestinians. But then the United States moved to an ever closer embrace of Israel, always "at the expense of the Palestinians." As to why Washington changed its policies, Neff writes that both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian observers agree that the Israeli lobby-and the pressure it can exert on politicians supplied the force that toppled major U.S. policy pillars.
As the first fallen pillar, Neff takes up the subject of refugees. He makes it plain that the Israeli-Arab conflict has been primarily due to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and that the sad plight of those driven from their homes "lay at the base of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Yet Israel has refused to acknowledge the refugees have any rights. I and countless others have seen the victims, sitting in squalid refugee camps in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan and within Palestine itself. As one remarked to me, "Here I sit, a refugee in my own land." Typically, following the lead of Israel, Washington policy makers have ignored them, making no effort to repatriate, resettle or compensate them. For leaders such as President Clinton and Prime Minister Peres, they are like ghosts they hope will go away.
Israel has never defined its borders, continually adding new territories to its maps. And whatever the Israelis claim, U.S. presidents seem to support them. "This has been true under Democratic as well as Republican Presidents," Neff writes, with "the notable exception of Dwight Eisenhower." By 1949 Israel had militarily seized more territory, beyond the original borders laid out in the 1948 partition plan. President Truman admitted he "did not have the political strength to stand up to Israel." But when in 1956 Israel again dramatically expanded its border by attacking Egypt and capturing the whole of the Sinai Peninsula, Eisenhower insisted Israel withdraw. He used a lever of U.S. dollars to force compliance. By 1967, when Israel seized large chunks of more Arab lands, the Israelis found President Lyndon Johnson to be putty in their hands. Although Lord Caradon, author of Resolution 242, said the United Nations was on record as stating the Israelis must relinquish lands seized militarily, if there was to be peace, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Arthur Goldberg, an avowed Zionist, chose not to see it that way.
Next, Israel seized a portion of southern Lebanon, an area that now includes nearly 10 percent of that country. President Jimmy Carter acquiesced. "Washington not only allowed Israel to retain its conquests but encouraged its most extreme political elements," Neff records.
In his chapter on "Palestinians," Neff quotes former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that there was "no such thing as a Palestinian people" and points out that "only after a century of struggle and denial" did Israel-and then the United States-at last recognize that there were Palestinians and that they represented a distinct people. Again, following Israel's desires, the United States consistently has said it is opposed to a Palestinian state.
Then there is the "fallen pillar" of U.S. policy on Jerusalem, a city holy to a billion Christians and a billion Muslims, as well as 14 million Jews. The United States seems to speak only for the Jews. Originally, the United States sought to be fair and assumed that Jerusalem would be an international city. This policy pillar rested on the terms of the original partition plan for Palestine adopted by the United Nations in 1947. It designated Jerusalem a corpus separatum with its own government under a six-member U.N. Trusteeship Council. In 1948 U.N. Mediator Count Folke Bernadotte said Jerusalem was "never intended to be part of the Jewish state" under the partition plan and he proposed giving Jerusalem to Transjordan. Although Bernadotte abandoned his proposal, Zionists did not want him around. Jewish Stern Gang terrorists assassinated him on September 17, 1948.
After the fighting, barricades and barbed wire separated Palestinian and Israeli areas for the next 19 years. Only a single crossing point, open to diplomats, foreigners and occasional Christian pilgrims, connected Eastern and Western Jerusalem. From this division onward, Neff writes, "Israel inexorably tightened its official grip," first on West Jerusalem by stealthily moving government agencies there from Tel Aviv.
When the U.N. Trusteeship Council said Israel must remove these offices, the United States abstained in the vote. Israel again openly defied U.N. wishes by passing a proclamation declaring Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Despite worldwide opposition, the Jewish state in 1953 moved its Foreign Ministry from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. From 1953 to 1967, since the question of Jerusalem was "so inflammatory in domestic political terms," Washington policy makers tended to ignore the issue.
In the 1967 War, the Israelis stormed the old walled city, confiscated Palestinian lands, and destroyed hundreds of Palestinian homes specially those near Haram al-Sharif with its Western Wall, sacred to Jews, as well as in the old Jewish Quarter.
By 1980, after Israel declared an annexation of Arab East Jerusalem and proclaimed that "Jerusalem united in its entirety is the capital of Israel," the Security Council strongly censured the move. Though all other members supported the censure, the United States abstained. By a policy of building illegal settlements within Arab East Jerusalem-and denying building permits to Palestinians, Israel succeeded in a population shift: Arab East Jerusalem now has more Jews than Palestinians. During the administration of Bill Clinton, the most pro-Israel president to date, the Israelis were permitted to build East Jerusalem settlements with the "tacit approval of Washington."
In reversing policy on Jewish settlements in occupied Palestine, the United States, Neff writes, has done "a complete about face." Originally the United States clearly stated its opposition to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land seized in 1948, as well as its opposition to illegal Jewish settlements. But criticism of the settlements grew increasingly muted, from "illegal" under Jimmy Carter to "obstacles to peace" under Ronald Reagan to "complicating factors" under Bill Clinton. Since the waning days of the Bush administration, Washington has even agreed to help finance some settlement construction with U.S. funds.
For a sixth "fallen pillar" Neff turns to the sale of arms. Originally in 1947, recognizing that the Middle East was a powder keg that could spark a third world war, Washington called for a total embargo on selling weapons to Israel as well as to the Arabs. Now, however, the United States provides Israel with nearly all of its most advanced weapons. And, Neff points out, despite Washington's worldwide opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it turns a blind eye to Israel's atomic arsenal, among the largest in the world.
With a "peace process" now underway, Israel's supporters want the issues Neff raises to be forgotten, claiming these topics are ancient history. But Zionists cannot wish away the "fallen pillars"; down the road the old injustices will be there to haunt us. Until Israelis and Americans face this reality, there will be no peace.