Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bibi, Biden and the Opportunity for Brokered Bickering

This past week was a banner one for the Middle East Peace Process. It was the week when the Government of Bibi Netanyahu was outed as yahoos, obstructions to peace, and most importantly, fair game for the U.S. Government to treat like a piƱata.

For those of you who’ve done a Rip Van Winkle imitation this week and have missed the events in the Holy Land, Vice President Joe Biden went to the region to help publicize a major breakthrough. This was supposed to be the beginning of four months of so-called “indirect” peace talks in which George Mitchell, the United States’ Middle East Peace Envoy, would shuttle between the Israelis and Palestinians as the first step toward ultimate face-to-face negotiations between the combatant parties. However, shortly after those talks were announced, and while Vice President Biden was still in the Region, the Israeli Interior Ministry issued a public statement that Israel planned to build 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as the future capital of any viable Palestinian state. This public statement was actually distributed by Bibi’s office, and while he claims that the timing of the statement had nothing to do with Biden’s visit, he is clearly supportive of the policy of continuing to enlarge the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem.

Let’s step back a second. Before becoming an activist on peace issues, I didn’t have any compunction against publicly criticizing Israel. Now, however, after working with people whose entire approach to Middle East Peace is lecturing Israel, and after noting how far away the Palestinians are from demonstrating that they’re willing to accept Israel as a permanent Jewish state, I’m not nearly as willing to put Israel down. Still, there are times when even those peace activists who are truly pro-Israel as well as pro-Palestinian have to step back and call a spade a spade: Bibi Netanyahu and his coalition of Likudniks and right-wing extremists are enemies of peace. Or, to be more precise, Bibi might indeed want to see a peaceful solution someday in the distant future, but what he’s willing to offer the Palestinians today is peanuts. And I don’t blame them for telling Bibi where he can stick it.

I guess if nothing else, the peoples who are bringing you perpetual war in the Middle East now have twin slogans. For the Palestinians, their slogan should be the “Two-Stage Solution” – meaning that they claim to support two states, but really, they want Israel to voluntarily give up land to create a Palestinian state (that’s stage 1) and then they expect to see Arabs acquire more and more of the so-called “Israeli” land until eventually, they would have a majority in that state as well (that’s stage 2). It’s not going to happen – nor should it – but if you talk to Palestinians, many see this as the inevitable result of the fact that the region has more Arabs than Jews. As for the Israelis, their slogan should be the “One and One-Half State Solution.” The Jews would get one state. And the Palestinians would get half a state – specifically, whatever is left of the Arab side of the 1967 borders after you carve out the increasing number of Jewish settlements, including those in East Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, it’s not hard to figure out why peace in this region is so illusory.

Taking a look at the broader picture, this week might best be understood as a terrific opportunity for the peace process. The Obama Administration is on record as saying that if there is to be peace, the settlement building must stop. Israel has now thoroughly and blatantly thumbed its noses at that idea. It’s harder to be more aggressively pro-settlement than to announce (a) plans for a large new settlement (b) in some of the land that is dearest to the Palestinians, and (c) at the same time that the United States Vice President is in the region announcing a new round of peace talks. This sort of “screw you, America” message deserves a response. It has given the American Government pretty wide berth to sharpen its rhetoric AGAINST Netanyahu and his minions.

I realize that Bibi is trying to come across as a Jewish version of Dick Cheney – Captain Macho. He would have us believe that no matter what the U.S. says against his Administration, he could care less. Israel will do what Israel thinks is in its best interest, and if the U.S. doesn’t like that, that’s our problem. But … that kind of attitude can only be taken so far. At some point, those of us who have opposed the growing “BDS” movement with respect to Israel (i.e., boycotts, divestiture and sanctions) will be forced to reconsider. At some point, an Israeli Administration can become so noxious that even the country’s greatest friends in the U.S. – even staunch Zionists like yours truly – will have to say that the Administration needs to be taught a lesson.

So watch out, Bibi. You’re not nearly as omnipotent as you might think you are. And for my fellow American Zionists who have been so loyal in supporting Israel, just remember: supporting Israel is one thing, supporting Bibi Netanyahu is something very, very different.

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