I've been posting all week about the amazing disrespect that Israel showed to the Obama administration in general and Vice President Joe Biden in particular this past week over their efforts to push forward long-stalled Israel-Palestine peace talks. I don't know for sure when we reach the point where a two-state solution becomes impossible, though I think we're already there. But the United States needs to prepare our Middle East policy for decades in which Israel will face the choice of either becoming a non-democratic, apartheit state even within Israel's current legal borders, or becoming a democratic state that no longer has a Jewish majority.
Here are some recent articles on the immediate situation:
Jacob Heilbrunn, Hillary Clinton and IsraelHuffington Post 03/12/10: he puts great significance on the fact that the US government was willing to publicly complain about a blatant diplomatic "bitch slap" from Israel, and one that has real consequences for the US position in the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan. "Obama, in other words,is going for broke," he writes. If we see his administration actually start to reduce military and economic aid to Israel to impose material consequences for their settlement policies, then we can say he's applying a level of seriousness to Israel-Palestine peace issues than we've seen from a US administration in a long time. But responding with a bare minimum of diplomatic griping in response to a serious diplomatic incident doesn't merit being described as some new breakthrough, as Heibrunn does. At best, it's marginally more pragmatic than the Christian Zionist/neocon policy pursued by the Cheney-Bush administration.
M.J. Rosenberg, The US-Israeli CrackupTPM Cafe 03/13/10 and The US-Israel Crackup: Part TwoHuffington Post 03/12/10: He reminds us that Biden's trip had two purposes. Promoting the peace talks was one. The other was to coordinate US policy on Iran with Israel. Which makes Prime Minister Netanyahu's attending a John Hagee hoe-down in Jerusalem the day before Biden's visit a double message: Hagee is not only totally opposed to peace talks there, he's also an advocate for US war against Iran. Rosenberg - a former editor of the AIPAC lobby's newsletter - thinks that it's good to see Secretary Clinton responding diplomatically to Netanyahu's insult to the United States.
But he's not confident it represents a substantive change:
... although this all looks good, we should not kid ourselves. AIPAC is coming to Washington for their grovelfest (see link in original column below) and that means angry donors demanding that the US apologize to the Israeli government for hurting its feelings. Count on your favorite House liberals (Chris Van Hollen, Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, Steny Hoyer, Alan Grayson, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, etc) to lead the charge for Bibi with Senators Boxer, Schumer, etc joining in).
In the end, we'll almost surely cave. One thing to remember, though. Israel's behavior this week really does indicate that its posturing about Iranian nukes is a kind of head fake. If Israel was really worried, it would not have insulted the US government publicly. At least those of us who really do care about Israel (the real Israel, not the Israel of the settlers) can rest assured that the Iranian threat is not "existential" at all, as Israelis are always claiming. If it was, they would not have forced a confrontation with America over these fanatical settler zealots rather than seriously coordinate with the US on Iran (which is what Biden was in Israel for).
Mark Landler, Clinton Rebukes Israel on Housing AnnouncementNew York Times 03/12/10: news report on Clinton's diplomatic response to the Netanyahu government. Clinton is currently scheduled to speak at the annual AIPAC Policy to be held in Washington, March 21-23. Since Netanyahu is also one of the featured guests, how she approaches that speech - and if she gives it there at all - will tell us a lot about how serious the Obama administration takes Netanyahu's diplomatic insult this past week.
We are shocked and stunned at the Administration's tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem. We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States.
Yet it appears that again we are dealing with disorderly conduct by the Prime Minister’s Office that allows such grave matter to materialize. Time and again, we see incidents happening here that attest to foolishness, indifference, and insensitivity. Otherwise, how could it be that every time an American envoy arrives here, ranging from George Mitchell to Hillary Clinton to Joe Biden, we embarrass them with acts that look like sticking a finger in one’s eye?
This week's contretemps with Biden and now Clinton, however, has moved the settlement issue - and particularly the fate of East Jerusalem, whose status as the capital of any future Palestinian state is widely considered a pre-condition for any viable two-state solution - front and centre once again.
"It is now abundantly clear that with or without a formal declaration from Netanyahu, getting events in Jerusalem under control - which includes a de facto full-stop settlement freeze in Jerusalem - is no mere discretionary gesture but a political imperative," according to Lara Friedman and Daniel Seidemann of Americans for Peace Now (APN). "Failing that, this political process will be stillborn."
But it is not only the peace talks, which Obama's special envoy, George Mitchell, had laboured long and hard to convene, that this week's incident has put into question. In the words of one veteran U.S. Mideast hand, Aaron David Miller, it also raised new questions over "the degree to which Israel is willing to take into account U.S. interests."
Indeed, while Biden's mission was originally aimed at publicly reassuring Israelis of Washington's "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment" to their security, as he put it immediately after his arrival, the private message, especially in light of the Interior Ministry's announcement, was that Israel should reciprocate, according to an account published in Yedioth Ahronoth.
"'This is starting to get dangerous for us,' Biden castigated his interlocutors," the newspaper reported. "'What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.'"
Yitzhak Benhorin, Ambassador Oren reprimandedYNet News (Yedioth Ahronoth) 03/14/10: "The US State Department summoned Israel's Ambassador in Washington Michael Oren for a meeting Friday where he was reprimanded by a US official."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has led Israel into a serious crisis in relations with the United States and to a collapse in peace talks with the Palestinians just when they were to be resumed.
A year after he took office, it is apparent that his government's policies, which made it top priority to populate East Jerusalem with Jews, is leading to Israel's increasing international isolation and threatening its key security interests in the name of an extreme right-wing ideology.