Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow. In a long interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, the President revealed — or at least presented the public face of — his thinking on the Palestinian question, Iran, Syria and other Mideast issues.
If what he told Goldberg truly reflects his thinking, it is profoundly depressing, because his remarks display both ignorance and prejudice. And the timing, when Bibi is already on his way, is ugly.
…with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.
The “time is running out” theme is pervasive (Goldberg headlines the interview with it). But “changes in demographics,” at least if you exclude Gaza, are definitely in favor of Israel. The Jewish birthrate is high, and the Palestinian one is declining. There are far fewer ‘Palestinians’ than official numbers would have it. “What’s happening with [Jewish] settlements” — a few additional homes within existing communities are planned — is irrelevant, and one can even argue that illegal European-sponsored Arab construction in Area C is more significant as a fact on the ground.
Most important is this: the fact that Abbas is relatively (stress that word) moderate compared to his likely successors has precisely the opposite implication than the one Obama suggests. What good would a deal reached with Abbas be if (when) he is replaced by an extremist who will tear it up?
[Netanyahu] has an opportunity also to take advantage of a potential realignment of interests in the region, as many of the Arab countries see a common threat in Iran. The only reason that that potential realignment is not, and potential cooperation is not, more explicit is because of the Palestinian issue.
So the Saudis and Kuwaitis who still hate Palestinians for their support of Saddam; the Lebanese who maintain an apartheid system in which Palestinians residing there cannot go to Lebanese schools, own property or work in numerous professions, and who fought a vicious mini-war against a Palestinian militia in one of the refugee camps several years ago; the Egyptians who are enthusiastically collapsing Hamas tunnels — these Arabs would jump at the chance to cooperate with Israel if only it were nicer to the Palestinians?
Yes, they are scared to death of the prospect of a nuclear Iran, but the idea that nations which have historically (long before ‘occupation’) made opposition to Jewish sovereignty an ideological pillar of their regimes would suddenly go public about any cooperation with Israel is ludicrous.
But here’s what I know from my visits to the region: That for all that we’ve seen over the last several decades, all the mistrust that’s been built up, the Palestinians would still prefer peace. They would still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas, go back and forth to work without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people. And they recognize that Israel is not going anywhere. So I actually think that the voices for peace within the Palestinian community will be stronger with a framework agreement and that Abu Mazen’s position will be strengthened with a framework for negotiations.
Maybe a few short visits weren’t enough. He seems to have missed the ideological indoctrination in the Palestinian media that calls for an unending struggle until there can be a complete victory, an ideology in which martyrdom for the Palestinian cause is the highest value, and in which Jews are compared to the Crusaders, who even after hundreds of years were expelled from ‘Arab land’.
And he has missed the surveys of Palestinian popular opinion that show that, for example, in 2011, “Only 7% agreed that ‘Israel has a permanent right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people’ while 84% thought that ‘over time Palestinians must work to get back all the land for a Palestinian state'”. So much for the Palestinians recognizing that “Israel is not going anywhere!”
Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?
When I read this, I wonder what ‘Israel’ he’s talking about. The one I know has reduced restrictions on Palestinian movement in recent times, to the point of endangering security (and released murderers, if that counts). It also treats Israeli Arabs as well as any national minority is treated anywhere in the world.
So it is not realistic nor is it my desire or expectation that the core commitments we have with Israel change during the remainder of my administration or the next administration. But what I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.
Aggressive settlement construction? Nobody is building settlements, except perhaps Arabs in Area C. Why does he keep hitting this nonsensical issue? Only because it is a reason to blame Israel for the inability to reach an agreement, and to set the stage for the threats to follow. The man is a bully — except with Iran, which he is afraid of.
Here he becomes a pussycat. “Time is running out” to give the Palestinians a state that they certainly ought not to have, but
… the most important thing that I have said to Bibi and members of Congress on this whole issue is that it is profoundly in all of our interests to let this process play itself out. Let us test whether or not Iran can move far enough to give us assurances that their program is peaceful and that they do not have breakout capacity.
If, in fact, they can’t get there, the worst that will have happened is that we will have frozen their program for a six-month period. We’ll have much greater insight into their program. All the architecture of our sanctions will have still been enforced, in place. Their economy might have modestly improved during this six-month to one-year period. But I promise you that all we have to do is turn the dial back on and suddenly —
There are several paragraphs of rationalizations, but I’ll spare you. The sanctions regime is dead. It cannot be brought back to life. It was leaky before, and now it has a iceberg-sized gash in it and is listing 70 degrees. He’s given the Iranians the time they need to do precisely what they want, which is to get the “breakout capability” that will make it impossible to stop them. That is “the worst that will happen,” and it will happen for sure, unless someone bombs them.
Providing this interview on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit is reminiscent to his 2011 announcement calling for an agreement “based on pre-1967 lines” while Bibi was, like today, on his way to the White House. This tactic is an embarrassment. David Horovitz wrote,
The timing could not have been any more deliberate — an assault on the prime minister’s policies delivered precisely as Netanyahu was flying in to meet with him, and on the first day, too, of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual tour de force conference across town.
At the very least, that might be considered bad manners, poor diplomatic protocol, a resounding preemptive slap in the face: I’ve just told the world you’re leading your country to wrack and ruin, Mr. Prime Minister. Now, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?
Did I say he was a bully?