The Right Word
By Kelly Sloan
THE MYOPIC SLAP-DOWN OF ISRAEL
Washington’s reaction earlier this week to Israel’s poorly-timed announcement of its urban-development plans in East Jerusalem highlighted quite nicely the current administrations’, shall we say, unique approach to foreign policy; namely chastising and isolating our friends and allies, while offering concessions and making nice to our adversaries, all the while doing everything we can to downplay our own stature and influence on the world stage. (Brilliant! Now why has no one else thought of that strategy in the last 4000 years?)
During a visit to Israel, when Jerusalem’s Regional Planning Council announced plans to build 1600 new family housing units in disputed East Jerusalem, Vice President Joe Biden decided to shift the rhetoric up a gear or two by using words like “condemn” (which in diplomatic parlance is the equivalent to a knee in the groin) to describe the action. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and White House advisor David Axlerod similarly used language more commonly associated with pariah states like North Korea than friendly western-style democracies.
At the heart of this new hard-line approach to Israel is the fallacious notion that strong arming further concessions out of the Israelis is the key to Mideast peace, the Holy Grail of liberal Presidents since Carter. There are several problems with this approach.
First, it has no precedent. Every time Israel has made concessions – giving up land, destroying settlements, de-restricting shipments, what have you – it has been rewarded by a renewed campaign of violence. Second, if Obama thinks he can sway Netanyahu by coercive diplomacy, then he is (disturbingly) naïve – historically, any outside pressure tends to coalesce the Israelis around their leader, a trait whose provenance lies in their somewhat sequestered history. Any attempt, therefore to divide the Knesset would stand a strong chance of backfiring.
Furthermore, Obama’s entire notion of Mideast peace is myopic. Beyond the quasi-theological impetus behind the antagonism towards Israel’s very existence, neither Fatah nor Hamas would benefit from a lasting peace with Israel; their funding, arms and support from their various Arab and Iranian backers is contingent on continued unrest. As the two groups vie for domination in the region, both rely on continued struggle with Israel not only as their raison d’être, but as a tool for carving out their own relative positions. Even the tentative support that Fatah enjoys from the U.S. is only as a result of the ongoing internecine conflict with the more malignant Hamas. As such, nothing that Israel could ever offer, and nothing that the U.S. could browbeat Israel into offering, would be enough to appease the Palestinians.
Not to mention that with a strong yet unbalanced Iran poised to take the lead in the Islamic worlds crusade against “Zionist aggression”, and with memories of Anwar Sadat not yet relegated to antiquity, it is difficult to envision any Palestinian leader totally disregarding his own survival in favor of peace.
Then there is the moral dimension. One could cite the ample legal justification for Israel’s existence, dating back to the Balfour declaration, (and beyond), sensitivity to the memory of the Holocaust, or merely the fact that Israel represents a successful, free, democratic society driven by a market based economy and rule of law, virtually alone in the region in those regards (I wonder if a Palestinian parliament would include Jewish members, as the Israeli Knesset includes Arabs?). One could also point out the blatant double standard applied to the two sides; The Palestinians claims, repeated so often that you almost have to think they mean it, that the entire region must be wiped clean of the “Jewish stain” (in other places known as “ethnic cleansing”, or “genocide”), are all but ignored in the West, while the actions of Israeli police and paratroopers trying to protect their citizens are examined under an ethical microscope. Or, as Clifford May points out, how Fatah can dedicate a West Bank town square in the memory of one Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist by any definition, who in 1978 hijacked a bus and ultimately killed 37 Israeli civilians (including 13 children) and one American, without any condemnation from the U.S. Vice President or Secretary of State.
The real issue is not the building of apartments in East Jerusalem, or the quest for a mythical mid-east peace treaty. As the Israelis realize, the issue is the very real nuclear threat posed by Iran. American insistence on isolating Israel serves no purpose beyond emboldening Tehran, and at the same time forcing Israel into a corner. Israel’s collective focal principle is that it will never again allow the Jewish people to be led to the slaughter, nor will it abandon their security to the goodwill of others. Israel will strike Iran – it has no choice - and if felt abandoned, they will do so with as much power, force and rage as they can muster. If Obama is truly concerned about peace, he would be wise to consider this the next time he wants to use his ruler on David’s palm.