A friend called last night. He’d read my recent posts about the current unpleasantness between Israel and the US (here and here). He reminded me that he was very pro-Israel (he is) but wanted me to understand that the announcement of building in East Jerusalem was a misstep. “It was a big slap in the face, a huge insult. Netanyahu needs to control these guys.”
I told him that I thought the US was looking for an excuse for a spat with Israel and would have found one anyway. “OK,” he said, “but it was still a slap in the face.”
Not exactly. This morning in a fine example of l’esprit d’escalier, I came up with this analogy:
An acquaintance falls in love with my wife. One day he sees me kissing her. “How could you insult me like that?” he asks.
What is insulting here is the long-standing refusal of the US to recognize Israel’s rights in Jerusalem. That is the ongoing slap in the face, not Israel’s exercise of its rights. The relationship of Israel with Jerusalem is essential, and to borrow a phrase the Obama people like, it is an ‘unbreakable bond’. It is a consensus issue among almost all Israelis; a marriage is not a bad comparison.
What does it mean if Israel apologizes and accepts the US demands?
- It means that Israel agrees that its rights to build in East Jerusalem — even in a Jewish neighborhood right next to the Green Line (it was part of “no man’s land” from 1948-67) — are limited, which implies that it is not fully sovereign there.
- It means that Israel agrees that the US has a right to micromanage Israel’s affairs, down to the level of local planning decisions.
- It means that Israel agrees that it, not the Palestinian Authority (PA), is responsible for preventing peace talks from going forward, which implies that further concessions may be required.
It’s as if I agree to apologize to my acquaintance and to stop kissing my wife. And to understand that he has the right to ask her out to dinner.
“OK,” my friend said, “but the average person, who doesn’t understand the details will simply see this as an insult. Israel shouldn’t have done it.”
True, but keep in mind that the average person is barraged by administration-friendly press accounts and statements by people like presidential advisor David Axelrod about the horrible insult to the US. While it probably won’t have the same consequences as the sinking of the Lusitania or the Tonkin Gulf affair, the technique is the same: treat an incident as a provocation to do what you wanted to do anyway.
So why has the White House decided to precipitate a rupture with Israel over a Jerusalem policy that they have ignored since 1967?
Jeffery Goldberg of the Atlantic has talked to the White House and thinks he knows:
…Obama is not trying to destroy America’s relations with Israel; he’s trying to organize Tzipi Livni’s campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government. I’m not actually suggesting that the White House is directly meddling in internal Israeli politics, but it’s clear to everyone — at the White House, at the State Department, at Goldblog — that no progress will be made on any front if Avigdor Lieberman’s far-right party, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Eli Yishai’s fundamentalist Shas Party, remain in Netanyahu’s surpassingly fragile coalition.
So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset that does not have to rely on gangsters, messianists and medievalists for votes.
Can you believe the chutzpah? Especially from a White House that is presently doing its best to get health-care bill votes from gangsters, messiansts and medievalists? (I can name names, but that would be off-topic.)
Even if it were possible to move Israel’s government to the left — and the result of bringing down Netanyahu would be the opposite — it would not advance Obama’s stated goal of an Israel-Palestinian peace treaty. This is because what prevents such an agreement are the maximalist demands of the Palestinians, demands for a strict Israeli retreat to 1949 lines including in Jerusalem, ‘refugees’ flooding Israel, and no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Tzipi Livni, as Prime Minister, would not agree to these demands, just as Ehud Olmert did not and just as Itzhak Rabin never would have. These are red lines for the Center and moderate Left no less than for Netanyahu’s coalition.
At the same time that the US pressures Israel and tries to foment regime change, it has never criticized the PA. Not for its extreme demands and preconditions for negotiation, not for its continued antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda, not for deliberate incitement of violence. Where was the US criticism when official PA media claimed that the dedication of the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue was an attempt to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple?
So what will be the consequences of this policy? Clearly to encourage the PA’s leaders to be more radical, to continue incitement, to stiffen their demands, to refuse to enter negotiations. Why should they do otherwise when the Obama Administration sends them the message that they are OK as they are but that Israel needs to give up more? Why shouldn’t they just wait for Obama to squeeze more out of Israel and hand it to them?
Indeed, the Obama Administration is tough on Israel while it is soft on Syria, Libya, and — the original state of gangsters, messianists and medievalists — Iran. Barry Rubin has speculated in numerous articles that US policymakers think that if they grant the Arabs and Iranians concessions in advance, then they’ll be more helpful with US interests in Iraq, nuclear weapons, terrorism, etc. But of course this flies in the face of one the basic principles of negotiating, which is to not give your assets away for nothing.
Stupid or evil? I’ve asked this question before.