I must confess I was dumbfounded. It was bad enough this winter when Israel refused to call a moratorium on settlements in the West Bank, even after the United States urged it to do so (and sent our latest $3 billion check). Israel even rejected a 90-day freeze.
Then, last week the U.N. Security Council prepared to vote on a motion to formally condemn those settlements. It was nothing with real consequences, just a political ritual in New York. Then, we learned that the U.S. vetoed the resolution, giving Israel a tacit green light to continue expanding their illegal occupation. As reports have revealed, the pressure from conservative members of Congress and The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was overwhelming.
Now we know more. On Thursday before the vote, President Obama phoned the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and pressed him to block the Security Council resolution. This issue is at the heart of Palestinian identity and concern, and it was backed by more than 120 nations. And, we know well that Arab nations are utterly dismayed with the U.S. refusal to see the settlement issue as a "rights" issue. But to press Abbas on this? Are we serious? Abbas took the request to his senior advisers and they rejected it immediately, as well they should. You might as well tell Texas to put a Mexican flag over the Alamo. They would be insulted, to say the least.
The Middle East is experiencing turmoil I have not seen in my lifetime. Populist movements are now upending regimes in countries where the U.S. has old allies. America understands "justice for all" and in principle should be standing with every movement from Libya to Egypt. But when we refuse to see the injustices within the borders of our allies, such as Israel -- injustices that seem crystal clear to the rest of the world -- we will be seen as hypocrites. Guaranteed. If these Middle Eastern dominoes keep falling, when will 3.5 million Palestinians living under military occupation ask the same questions now asked in almost every other Arab country: When will it be our turn?
Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. He is the author of numerous books both on the Middle East (Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology) and the New Testament (Jesus the Middle Eastern Story Teller, The New Testament in Antiquity, and Encounters with Jesus).