June 09, 2011 1:54 pm ET
The Netanyahu government is now just where it wants to be. It feels no need to take any action to accommodate the Palestinians or entertain President Obama's suggestions for restarting negotiations.
When Meir Dagan, a right-winger who just retired as head of the Mossad, warned that he was losing sleep over the dangers posed to Israel by the policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, Bibi's backers criticized him for disloyalty. The government's mantra: We have it all under control. In other words, we intend to do nothing and hope for the best.
Unfortunately, the United States government is largely responsible for the current state of affairs. That is because we are the Israeli government's enablers.
If the United States indicated, with one voice, that we believe that Israel's policies are dangerous, pressure on Netanyahu to change course would become irresistible. More than anything, Israelis fear angering the United States.
Not only do we provide Israel with a $3.5 billion aid package that keeps its economy afloat and its military the mightiest in the region, we are also its only consistent backer at the United Nations and with the European Union. Any prime minister who seriously antagonizes the United States will not remain prime minister long, as Yitzhak Shamir discovered in 1992 when he dissed America one time too many and found himself replaced by Yitzhak Rabin.
Right now the Israeli government is terrified by the prospect that the United Nations will recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines in September. U.N. recognition would not just mean that the state of Palestine's flag would wave between those of Pakistan and Panama in New York, it would also mean that Israel would be forced to deal with Palestine state-to-state rather than state-to-subject people. That is the very last thing the Netanyahu government wants.
And it would happen, too, but for the United States government, which has promised that it will use its veto to stop it from happening. All the United States has to do is to abstain on the vote on establishing Palestine and the state will be created. (That is, of course, what we should do: abstain.)
That is only one example of the power the United States has when it comes to Israel. Israel is not quite the independent Jewish state envisioned by Theodor Herzl and the other early Zionists. It is independent, yes, but also dependent on the United States. And both countries know it.
The "pro-Israel" lobby would argue that the relationship is about friendship more than dependency. And, to an extent, it is. But only to an extent.
After all, if the U.S.-Israel relationship were all about friendship (or were, to use AIPAC's term, an "alliance"), the Israeli government would not consistently ignore American requests to slightly modify its policies to accommodate U.S. security needs. For instance, when successive presidents ask Israel to freeze settlements to both advance negotiations and help reduce the view in the Muslim world that the United States is Israel's puppet, the Israelis refuse. Even though a settlement freeze would in no way endanger Israel but would help us, the Israeli government won't do it. So we back down.
Nor is it a sign of friendship when the United States Congress wildly salutes Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose sole accomplishment during his time in office has been to strengthen the occupation and kill negotiations. If Congress felt actual friendship for Israel it would not strengthen Netanyahu with Simon says-like demonstrations of obedience that weaken those forces inside Israel that support U.S. efforts to advance peace. (Simon says: Stand up! Simon says: Sit down!)
After all, how can opposition leader Tzipi Livni argue that Netanyahu's recalcitrance is costing Israel American support when Congress, eager to please AIPAC, treats Netanyahu as if he were Winston Churchill?
No, this isn't friendship. This is domestic campaigning.
Does Congress know better? That is hard to say. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), just to pull a random name out of the air, is one of Netanyahu's most strident backers in Congress. As far as he is concerned, Israel can do no wrong. And anyone who disagrees with Israel is the enemy. (Weiner has called for Turkey's expulsion from NATO, despite its central role in U.S. defense, for allowing the Gaza relief flotilla to sail last year.)
Earlier this year Weiner stated, unequivocally and unambiguously, that the West Bank is not under occupation. Watch the video. He is not lying; he simply knows nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian issue except how to please the lobby. Sadly, he doesn't even know that the lobby itself would never say anything this ridiculous.
Weiner may be an extreme case, both in his devotion to the Israeli right and his ignorance about the Middle East. Most members of Congress know more (not necessarily much more) and enthuse about right-wing Israeli policies less (not necessarily much less).
All the same, it is clear that Congress cares about Israel's security only a little more than the Netanyahu government cares about the interests of the United States (or, for that matter, Israel's). Each is using the other, and neither will accept responsibility when disaster ensues.
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