Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Tension with Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu miscalculated, and he's having a devil of a time getting out of it. The more you know about Israeli politics, the more you realize that Netanyahu was trying to have it both ways: appease the right-wing parties with more Jewish settlements in disputed territory while at least publicly hewing to the 'peace' line. This sort of behavior worked with Bush, who never asked for more than positive public statements from Israel. Barack Obama is not happy with it. Obama and Bush both endorsed a two-state solution (technically, Bill Clinton didn't insist on it) but Bush paid lip service to it. Bush allowed the Israelis to take steps that would make 'final status' negotiations harder. Obama wants a deal. He believes (correctly) that the way to get a peace settlement is not to set a "ticking clock" where each day without a settlement gives Israel a bigger piece of the pie.

There are some who suggest that Netanyahu intended to use the "Jewish lobby" as part of a two-pronged strategy to get the Obama administration to back down on settlements. This is highly unlikely, I think. Netanyahu knows that the hard-right view of Charles Krauthammer (it is per se support for terrorism to criticize Israel in any respect) is not the administration's line, nor even AIPAC's line. I think Netanyahu rather bought into the "Obambi" rhetoric, that Obama was weak, and figured he could please his right-wing coalition partners by blindsiding Joe Biden on his visit.

Now he's in a terrible predicament at home. The gambit failed. His non-rightist coalition partners are angry that Bibi has succeeded in doing what 40 years of Palestinian propaganda have failed to do: get the USA to turn screws down on Israel. And all for a principle that is silly: everyone knows that ISrael will probably keep most or all of Jerusalem and doesn't need to change any more 'facts on the ground' with new settlements to do it. It was a needless provocation. Obama is in something of a box too: he HAS to make Netanyahu pay dearly for this or it will happen again. IT is working, I believe.

Evidence is that Bibi came to Washington quite a bit shaken and was hoping for the usual smile-with-USA-president-don't-worry-all-is-good photo for his nervous constitutents at home. He didn't get it. Pics weren't allowed of the visit. Evidently at one point, Obama withdrew from the private meetings to have a private dinner with his family, rather than inviting Bibi to have dinner - a deliberate breach of protocol that Bibi is sorry got leaked. He seems almost whiny in interviews, as if he just can't imagine why a trick that worked for years isn't okay anymore.

Some have suggested that Obama is playing Israeli politics, trying to get Kadima elected. I think even Rahm Emanuel knows better than to play that game. But maybe not. It's changing the game in the middle east in ways that few thought possible. From here on out, Israeli politicians will not simply assume that appeasing right-wing factions will only cost them within Israel.

This also has to frighten the Palestinians a little bit. Sure, today they are happy to see Israel getting a bit of trouble, but they know they're next.


Raised By Republicans said...

This is a remarkable thing really. A US President willing to use the enormous leverage that the US has spent the last 50 years accumulating in that region.

And yes, I agree about the Palestinians. They are next. But first, they'll have to think about what they'll do if their bluff gets called by an Israeli government that is willing to or gets forced to bargain in something resembling good faith.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Netanyahu is simply not serious about a two-state solution. He just wants to kick the can down the road another few years hoping that, gradually, enough facts will change on the ground that it will never happen, or that the resulting Palestinian entity will be some rump area incapable of real statehood and dependent on Israel for water, jobs, and electricity. Obama is calling him on it. Calling him back to the Oslo process. That is good. What it leads to, I don't know.

The decision between peace or war lies with the Israelis above all, because they hold almost all the cards. If the public will turn away from the right-wing parties and agrees to a government that is committed to a fair division of land and resources, they will find a willing partner on the Palestinian side. What this means, though, is that Israel must negotiate from a position of equality, not a position of strength, which is what it prefers to do. This is where an outside honest broker like the USA can help out to knock heads and make the sides see each others' needs. The narratives of Oslo in 1994 are just these stories.

Raised By Republicans said...

I agree with just about everything you said except your Israeli "aleinschuld" theory: "The decision between peace or war lies with the Israelis above all, because they hold almost all the cards."

Hamas or Fatah can instigate violence too - albiet in an irregular way. But they can impose enough violence on their own to start a war. And they have done so several times when they thought it served their purposes.

This is not to say Israeli governments are blameless, far from it. But it is simply not true that they hold "almost all the cards" or that "the decision between peace or war lies with the Israelis above all."