May 24 2011
I have been watching with considerable interest, the generally unhinged reaction of many prominent mil-blogs and other commentaries about President Obama’s speech last Thursday regarding Israel and the Palestinians. It would be funny, if the consequences were not so serious.
The most unhinged reactions I have read to date-have come from several sources, retired military officers ( many of whom ought to know their history better), hysterical Fox News commentators, and today’s outraged column in the Wall Street Journal. Obama hates Israel. Obama is picking on poor little beleaguered Israel. The Palestinians are thugs and terrorists and have no right to settle in the holy land of Zion. Why can’t Obama just leave Israel alone?
This of course leads, in the American context, to the not so subtle innuendo’s from all of the usual suspects. Obama must be a Muslim not to support America’s best buddy in the whole world, he’s obviously arrogant, and he’s throwing Israel under the bus. Israel, in their eyes, has done nothing wrong. Those settlements in the West Bank? Just good business-not colonization of in support of the goal of Yeretz Israel. Don’t even think about calling it an occupation! Bibi says so. Israeli-and more specifically Likud obstructionism to any settlement with the Palestinians? Just plain good faith diplomacy.
Now I will put my cards on the table-if I had my way, a third party along the lines of the British (preferably Britain) and their mandate would administer Palestine-just as was done in the years prior to World War II. I base that wish on the fact that for the long term I: 1) Do not believe a Palestinian state is viable along the West Bank and 2) I don’t think that Israel wants or can, come to a long term settlement with Palestinian authority.
Of course that is just nostalgic and wishful thinking on my part. It’s not going to happen-nor is it representative of what the current situation on the ground, its sheer historical fantasy on my part.
And fantasy is what it seems Americans love to indulge in when it comes to Israel. Commentators over at OPFOR-when they are not attacking anyone who supports Obama’s speech as a raging anti-semite, are indulging in some historical fantasies of their own.
Obama’s statements differ from previous US presidents. Flash traffic sports fans-they don’t.
But on substance, what did we learn yesterday? Certainly not that a Palestinian state must be “based on” the 1967 borders. Why this has been described as some kind of radical betrayal of Israel (“thrown under the bus”, in Mitt Romney’s words), is utterly beyond me. When Bill Clinton pushed the same thing, Aaron David Miller said America was acting as “Israel’s lawyer”. George W. Bush, whom Israelis saw as a staunch supporter, said the same. According to my colleague in Jerusalem, the innovation seems to have been the invocation of “1967” in so many words. Why this is substantial is a mystery to me.
As the same colleague also mentions, there was an innovation, one not of substance but of sequencing—always close to the heart of these negotiations, since everyone knows what the substance must be. Mr Obama talked about settling borders and security first, and refugees and Jerusalem later. The more intransigent Israelis and their American supporters dislike this; they want a comprehensive settlement or nothing. But it’s not clear to me why this is the best option, even from their point of view. Israel is going to give up most of the West Bank in any settlement, and will and must only do so with security guarantees, as Mr Obama reiterated today. Land-for-peace would be most of what Israel wants. Meanwhile the status quo on refugees and Jerusalem favour Israel, which has its way on both at the moment.
The 1967 borders are indefensible. First of all-this statement presumes that Israel will actually end up back at the 67 borders. The odds of that happening are slim to none. For one thing-there is no way on God’s green earth that Israel will ever give up East Jerusalem, and there is no opposing Army that would even have the gumption to try. What part of “mutually agreed land swaps” did you not understand? ( or care to listen to). Since most folks are learning impaired when it comes to Israel, let me show you a visual aid that will show you why the 67 borders have to be the starting point for a final settlement:
If you have ever been to Israel and to the West Bank, as I have, you will know right away why Israel has the land to the East in the West Bank-that’s where the flat farmland is. The territory rises in elevation as you head west towards Jerusalem. Furthermore, the big takeaway from that graphic is that “Palestinian living space”, such as it is-is an archipelago of distinct ghettos. I guess I am the only person who appreciates the irony of a state that was formed as a result of outrage about rounding people up into ghettos and placing movement restrictions on them-doing the same thing to other people 40+ years later. The reason the territory is so chopped up? Jewish settlements that Israel was never supposed to allow in the first place, but did as a way to appease its orthodox population.”The settler movement could put down settlements in much of the sparsely populated south of Israel proper with no problem. Instead, they insist on taking Palestinian land. They are not colonizing the West Bank only to make it more ‘secure’ (they are making it less so), but rather out of greed, ambition, and expansionism. It is not about defense, it is about offense.” (and water availability).
Those orange spots are not a way to create a viable state-and Netanyahu knows it. And that’s perfectly fine with him. But it shouldn’t be for any thinking American. The 1967 lines dividing Israel from the West Bank and from Gaza have always been Washington’s point of departure for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But now, for the first time, the four digits have become formal American policy.
Now that position has a pretty firm basis in international law-but this is where the irrational factor comes into play with American supporters of Israel. They don’t care-they just want the Palestinians to go away and die. After all, in the eyes of some wild eyed conservatives-they are all terrorist savages anyway.
There are only a couple of problems I can think of with this line of thinking. 1) They are not going away and dying-they are breeding like rabbits. and 2) they have no place to go. Any chance for them to go someplace else evaporated in 1988 when Jordan ceded its claim to the West Bank to the PLO. The Oslo accords formalize that by paving the way to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. That peace treaty recognized the Mandate border between Palestine and Jordan, but specifically makes note that the treaty does no prejudice the status of the territories occupied( there is that pesky word again) by the Israeli military. Don’t forget too, that in 1987, Jordan and Israel actually tried to negotiate giving the West Bank ( but not East Jerusalem) back to Jordan, but the deal was nixed by Yitzak Shamir. So like it or not-Jordan is not a part of this picture anymore.
‘Jordan is Palestine’. Good luck with that. King Abdullah is not that stupid-and it also ignores the reason Britain broke Jordan away from the Palestine to begin with. See Fantasy 2 above.
Israel is ringed by enemies on all sides, so it has to take drastic action to defend itself. Oh really? Those peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt don’t mean anything? And last time I checked-the Syrian military is a little busy right now trying to keep Al Asad in power. A better way to describe the situation is “Israel is ringing a lot of really pissed off people with no place to go“. And why not? Half of Palestinians in Gaza are unemployed and Israel will not allow them to export what they produce and deeply restricts imports. Restrictions within the West Bank make it difficult for Palestinians to commute to their places of employment and for goods to be transported to where they are needed. This has increased the costs of transportation and has thus led to lower profits for companies operating in the territories. Any wonder they are all pissed off?
It’s probably also a great time to point out that Israel is the only nation in the Levant with nuclear weapons and a military that outclasses any military, with the sole exception of the United States.
However-Israel’s security rests on achieving a deal with the Palestinians. Because right now they are facing two ticking time bombs they can’t control. One is the “Arab Spring”:
Netanyahu ignored a very important historical reality on Friday in Washington, that Israel’s intractable enemies are always replaced with something worse. The PLO was replaced with Hezbollah in Lebanon and supplanted by Hamas in Gaza. There is a very real possibility that Hamas could be overtaken by an al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated group in the near future. Waiting for a more agreeable negotiating partner is an exercise in folly, if only because one has never appeared before.On the other hand, I could be wrong. Problematically, that could be even worse for Israel. That would be widespread blooming of democracy in the Arab world. There is no reason to believe that democratic Arab governments would demand anything less than their autocratic ones do now. But they would have a great deal more credibility with the international community generally, and the United States in particular.It should be remembered that America’s great democratic ally, Iraq, does not recognize Israel, nor does it denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. There is no reason to believe that any other democratic Arab government would behave any differently, but their positions might seem a tad more reasonable when unattached to names like Bashir Assad or Saddam Hussein.Add to that the possibility that the Palestinians might have learned from their mistakes and come to understand that violent resistance isn’t going to get them anywhere. A peaceful intifada might be an irresistible force in the international community and could very well isolate Israel, especially an Israel with a hardline Likud government. There’s no way of knowing how even Israeli public opinion would react to demonstrations like the ones in Tahrir square, but it’s virtually certain that the American consensus in support of Israel would fracture.
The other is, the fact that for a population that hates sex-Palestinians sure seem to f*ck a lot:
The most likely outcome of Israel’s present course is a one state solution, achieved over decades, with much heartbreak and violence and ruined lives in the meantime. The Jews of Israel will likely end up like the Maronite Christians of Lebanon. France created Lebanon in 1920 for a then Christian majority, but Christian out-migration and rapid Muslim population growth reduced the Maronites to only about 22 percent of the population today if we count children. Likewise, Israeli Jews have already lost their majority among first-graders in what was Mandate Palestine in favor of Palestinians and Palestinian-Israelis. Current demographic trends will likely produce an Israel that is a third Arab by 2030 and that is not even counting the Occupied Territories. The instability in the Arab world and the Greater Middle East, which is growing, could well over time increase Jewish out-migration (out of sheer nervousness) so that it outstrips in-migration of Jews. I can’t see a way for Israel to escape this demographic and geopolitical fate and remain viable as a nation-state. Plans on the Israeli right to denaturalize and expel the 1.5 million Palestinian-Israelis are unrealistic and do not reckon with the likely backlash from the Arab world, which won’t remain weak and abject forever.
In summary-a whole lot of Americans would do well to look at Israel as it really is-not as they think it is. It’s not a Jewish version of America. It is a complicated society with some very unique things foisted upon because its foundation based on a religious basis and not a national one. More importantly, Israeli and American interests are not always aligned. None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed. That’s what Obama is trying to do-and if he has to kick Bibi in the nuts to do it-well I won’t cry salt tears. You know who told me that? David Petreaus:
“Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.
At some point, you have to ask yourself the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s. It certainly wasn’t the slobbering idiots on the floor of the US Congress today.