Wednesday, January 14, 2009

... and America's, too

Barak Ravid reports in Haaretz Gaza op causing long-term harm to Israel's image 01/14/09. And since both the President and the Congress generally have gone out of their way to identify the US with it, too, there's a big spillover effect to the United States. Ravid writes:

A similar message also came across in a conversation that President Shimon Peres had with the delegation of European foreign ministers who came to Jerusalem a week ago. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union Commissioner responsible for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy [and formerly the Austrian Foreign Minister], said to Peres: "You have the right to self-defense, but what is happening in Gaza is beyond all proportion. I am telling you, Mr. President, Israel's image in the world has been destroyed."

Even though the issue is not being accorded much attention in Israel, in Europe, the Arab countries and even the United States, the main story regarding Gaza is the many civilians hurt in the fighting. According to United Nations reports, approximately 300 civilians were among the more than 900 Palestinians killed. People are seeing images from Gaza of a sort that were not broadcast in previous wars, such as Kosovo or Afghanistan. Incidentally, these pictures are hardly being broadcast at all in the Israeli media. [my emphasis]
Clinton in her Senate testimony this week stuck to the current official US position that we shouldn't enter negotiations with Hamas until they basically agree with the US position on everything that needs to be negotiated. She could hardly say anything else at the moment.

But Obama seems to understand clearly that the notion that just talking to some hostile power or group is in itself some kind of reward is a concept doesn't go very far when there are things that need to be negotiated.

If neither Israel nor Hamas has the desire to reach a real peace agreement, it will not be possible for Obama and Clinton to force them to do so. But putting the US clearly into the position of actually trying to bring the two together in a serious way will open better options for the US in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. Because it would at least reduce the automatic identification of the US with Israel's more dubious wars, like Lebanon in 2006 and the Gaza Strip now, that much of the world currently makes.

It's hard to see how the highly one-sided position the Cheney-Bush administration took with Israel these past eight years has enhanced Israel's overall security situation. Unless we're assessing Israel's security interests as requiring an indefinite postponement of any final peace settlement until the West Bank Israeli settlers are so strongly established there any two-state solution will no longer be possible.

And that point may be reached already with the Gaza offensive. That would mean, realistically, that Israel's future would be as a single state that incorporates Gaza and the West Bank and majority Palestinian.

Israel's goal has been to remain a Jewish and democratic state. Under those conditions, they will have to give up one or the other. Because remaining a Jewish state with a Palestinian majority would mean a full-blown apartheid system, of which we see a very definite initial phase in the West Bank. Staying fully democratic will mean accepting the status nominally envisioned in the old Palestinian Liberation Organization's program of a "secular democratic state".

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