The news earlier this week that President Obama had decided to suspend efforts toward curtailing Israeli settlement policy should be seen as a major setback in Middle East peace efforts.
More important, for American Jewry, it should be seen as the result of a betrayal–not by President Obama but by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who from the time even before Barack Obama was President, mobilized his own forces to prepare a counter-strategy for what both sides knew would be the President’s aggressive efforts toward realizing what prior administrations could not: peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
No sooner was the President in the White House than did Benjamin Netanyahu denigrate the basic rules of diplomacy among allies by referring to the President’s Jewish advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel as “self-hating Jews.” Of course Netanyahu would deny having said this but no one that I know in the American Jewish community believed him.
We took it to mean that this fight between administrations would be personal–especially given the overwhelming support from Jewish voters that Obama received in 2008–nearly 80 percent.
Additionally, the Obama Administration would present to the Netanyahu government a plan for peace that was essentially the same plan brought forward by President Clinton and eventually endorsed even by President Bush–with final status on Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees serving as the remaining issues to be resolved.
The only real difference this time around was that Obama would take a slightly different tack –signaling a kind of “even-handedness” toward the Arab world which most people found to be a refreshing, if not transparent attempt to convey fairness in negotiation.
Since there was no Anwar Sadat to travel to Jerusalem, Obama went to Cairo, where his historic speech meant to show respect but also speak certain truths previously unarticulated by an American president in an Arab capital.
Before long, Iran exploded in a brief civil uproar, exposing the brutality of the Iranian regime. Moderate Arab countries quietly offered support, revealing their own concern over Iran’s repressive tactics and nuclear ambitions, and signaling that a new, moderate Arab and Muslim voice could possibly be strengthened across the region.
In the West Bank, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad quietly built the first real Palestinian national infrastructure that was winning international support and investment as well as the trust of Israeli security and economic leaders.
Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to strengthen the hands of West Bank settlers and in particular, those determined to move into and populate overwhelming Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, a clear provocation.
One shouldn’t forget the shocking and audacious attempt to embarrass Vice President Biden while on a visit to Israel less than a year ago.
While it’s true that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel, there is no justifiable reason to purposely upset the delicate balance of demographic tensions by claiming rights to live anywhere in Jerusalem while similar rights are neither allowed nor defended for Palestinians.
One could hardly imagine Palestinians being allowed to re-settle en masse in Baka or Katamon; so why it’s right or fair that Jewish settlers move into A-Tur or Sheikh Jarrah is beyond rational explanation. Unless the reason is to subvert any attempt at making peace which the Obama administration was struggling to achieve–and to our great concern, that’s what we have with the Netanyahu government.
This past summer, when American Jewish leaders were up in arms and rallied to defend multiple definitions of Jewish identity in the face of the annual attack on the religious rights of non-Orthodox Jews in Israel, the Netanyahu government successfully employed a diversionary tactic, mollified an angry Diaspora leadership, and hammered out a compromise.
But simultaneously, he played that same leadership for his own cause–buying time to continue a settlement policy that would continue to earn the ire of the Obama Administration.
Feigning interest in progress, Netanyahu came to Washington, shook hands with Mahmoud Abbas, but we all knew, in watching this charade, that little progress would be made as long as settlement policy continued unabated.
And when the midterm Congressional elections ended with Netanyahu meeting not only with the President but with Republican Whip Rep. Eric Cantor as well, coordinating an attack on the White House that was a shameful diplomatic embarrassment for Republicans as well as the Israeli government, last week’s announcement was pre-ordained.
From “self-hating Jews” to shaming a staunch ally like Joe Biden; from subverting twenty years of diplomatic relations to playing partisan politics openly between a Democratic president and a Republican leadership out to destroy him at all costs, Prime Minister Netanyahu has earned for himself the latest time-out from the White House.
Though he sees it as a victory, the only hands currently strengthened are the hands of those who think that with enough time and stubbornness, their side will win without the need to compromise. Sadly, the conflict between Israel and Palestine only continues to prove that real problems left unattended will eventually detonate–and bring more needless bloodshed to an undeserving silent majority of Israelis and Palestinians.
Though he’s taken several knocks on the chin (and twelve stitches in the lip) on the matter of Israel I stand with President Obama. Prime Minister Netanyahu has not bargained in good faith.