|This is beginning to look like one of the worst periods in Israel's history. (Read this from the New York Times.) |
The Turkish government has essentially broken relations with Israel over Netanyahu's refusal to apologize for storming the Mavi Marmara relief ship and killing nine Turkish nationals in the process. Ordinary Egyptians (not the government) attacked the Israeli embassy in Cairo, forcing all of its personnel to return home to Israel. And the Palestinians, having despaired of achieving anything in negotiations with Israel under current conditions, are taking their case to the United Nations, where an overwhelming majority of the General Assembly will endorse Palestinian statehood, even though Israel will still control the territory of the new state.
Each of these events, standing alone, would be catastrophic for Israel. In combination, they create a perfect storm, one whose force can only be kept at bay by the U.S. government. But our government is unwilling to do what will ultimately help Israel if it means publicly opposing Netanyahu in an election year.
That sounds counter-intuitive. Politicians always want to give Israel whatever it wants in an election year. But this time around, standing with Israel's leader does not mean supporting Israel simply because it is he who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the tsunami heading towards his county's shores.
He is the one who ended negotiations with the Palestinians by refusing to accede to Obama's request for a settlement freeze. (Palestinians rightly refuse to negotiate while the land they are negotiating over is being gobbled up by settlers.) He is the one who refused to apologize to Turkey for killing its nationals, even after the United States devised a formula that both sides seemed happy with. (Netanyahu backed down out of fear of his thuggish foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman.) As for the Egyptians, they identify Netanyahu with the Mubarak regime, which barely raised a word of protest against the occupation of the West Bank or the strangulation of Gaza. Now the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the most critical component of Israel's security, is itself in jeopardy.
None of this happened overnight and all of it can be traced to the continuation of the 44-year-old occupation. Obama understands all of this, but when he tried to push the Israelis to start negotiations to end it once and for all, Israel's 'supporters' in America went ballistic. When Netanyahu told them to get Obama to back down "to save Israel," they did. AIPAC made sure that every member of Congress knew that they were being "scored" on the level of their support for Netanyahu. A low score meant closed checkbooks. Our president surrendered.
In that spirit, the U.S. is opposing Palestinian statehood on Netanyahu's behalf.
But not Israel's. Israel is in big trouble and it needs allies who will help it prevail over this sea of misfortunes. It doesn't have those allies. It just has self-proclaimed supporters in the habit of telling the Israeli government whatever it wants to hear.
Accordingly, there is no one who is telling Israel — from a position of strength — that it needs to end the occupation. The United States is, once again, playing the role of Israel's enabler.
But there is another way.
Media reports indicate that the Obama administration is desperate to avoid the Palestinian statehood resolution from coming up for a vote at the U.N. later this month. What that really means is that the United States is desperate to avoid jeopardizing U.S. interests throughout the Arab and Muslim world (including our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) by voting against the measure.
So why not vote "yes"?
The resolution simply codifies the U.S. policy favoring a two-state solution. Because it will change nothing on the ground (the Israelis will still control all the territory), bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will still be necessary to achieve a final status agreement. The U.N. resolution does not substitute unilateralism for negotiation. It simply levels the playing field so that negotiations will be between two states, not one powerful state and one occupied supplicant.
Any real change on the ground requires mutual agreement by both sides on all the issues: borders, security arrangements, Jerusalem, water resources, settlements, refugees. Nothing would be rammed down either side's throat because, as provided for in every significant proposal for negotiations (including all U.N. resolutions and the Arab League Initiative), every change in the status quo must be mutually agreed upon.
So what's the problem?
The problem is that the United States has promised Netanyahu to veto the resolution in the Security Council. (The Palestinians might opt for the General Assembly, where they are likely to prevail, but actual recognition as a state can only be conferred by the Security Council.)
But how about this?
The administration tells Israel and the Palestinians that we will vote "yes" in the Security Council (enabling passage) if the resolution includes language recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. This is a new and superfluous condition that the Israeli right has come up with recently that threatens to destroy any possibility of an agreement. Palestinians see this demand for what it is: moving the goal post. For the Israeli right, however, demanding recognition not just as Israel but "as a Jewish state," represents their last-ditch condition to block peace if agreement is reached on everything else.
In fact, it is no big deal. Israel is going to be a Jewish state (unless, of course, the two-state solution is replaced by the one-state solution) no matter what it's called. Palestinians know that.
Any Palestinian fear that "Jewish state" language will jeopardize the rights of Palestinian Israelis can itself be addressed within the U.N. resolution. It can include language echoing the Balfour Declaration, which called for a Jewish state with the caveat that it be "clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine."
If the Palestinians agreed to the "Jewish state" formulation, the United States would not only be free to vote for the resolution but might be able to convince Israel to vote for it as well. And we would be well on the way to implementation of the two-state solution.
Netanyahu, for his part, owes Obama big time. How about, for once, giving the United States a break? Not to mention Israel.
AND MORE FROM MJ ROSENBERG:
Shooting Ourselves In The Foot At The U.N.
It is amusing watching the usual suspects — including those in the Obama administration — announce their opposition to the United Nations resolution that would grant the Palestinians their long-sought state.
Some of the opposition comes from the lobby and its congressional cutouts who are dedicated to preserving the status quo (i.e., the occupation). The Obama administration surely has a far more nuanced position but is terrified at the prospect of challenging the lobby as it faces a tough re-election campaign.
In any case, the United States looks utterly helpless. The Palestinians no longer view President Obama as an honest broker. Having watched him back down after every attempt to bring Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to the peace table, they view Obama as no different from his most recent predecessor.
As for the Israeli leadership, it openly disrespects the president. Netanyahu, like most bullies, is only impressed by those who bully him right back. Obama's repeated capitulations win him no points with Netanyahu, who believed from day one that Obama could be rolled. He has been proven right while his many dovish critics at home — who insisted that there would be a price to be paid for disrespecting the United States — look like Nervous Nellies.
It is the United States that is paying the price, not Israel.
Look at how the Obama administration is handling the upcoming U.N. vote. This week, in a last ditch attempt to avert a U.N. vote, the administration dispatched Dennis Ross, the National Security Council official in charge of Arab-Israeli affairs, to the region, along with David Hill, who is filling in as Special Envoy to the region following the resignation (in disgust) of George Mitchell.
Hill is a respected foreign policy professional, but both Palestinians and Israelis know that Ross is the guy who matters. He is also the official responsible for the administration's failure to make any headway on Israel-Palestinian issues since coming to office.
That is not because Ross is inept; he isn't. But he is a true-blue supporter of right-wing Israeli policies, best known for, between government jobs, having led AIPAC's own think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
More than any administration official since Elliot Abrams — in the George W. Bush administration — Ross believes that the United States must never publicly differ with the Israeli government about anything. (Apparently it was Ross who devised Vice President Biden's pledge that there must be "no daylight, no daylight" between Israeli and U.S. policies.)
Dispatching Ross to talk to Palestinians and Israelis about the U.N. vote demonstrates that the administration is just going through the motions on Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. After all, the Palestinians don't trust Ross at all and the Israelis know that he is fully on their side. Ross brings nothing new to the table and certainly nothing to induce the Palestinians to forego their statehood initiative.
If the United States was dedicated to advancing diplomacy rather than reassuring the lobby, it would pressure Netanyahu to return to negotiations based on the '67 lines (as has been the case with all previous negotiations), with a settlement freeze as a form of earnest money. In return, the Palestinians would drop its U.N. initiative. Unfortunately, that won't happen because the lobby (and its friend, Dennis Ross) will not permit pressure on Israel, just on the Palestinians — who have been warned that if they go ahead with the vote, they will lose U.S. aid.
So it looks like there will be a U.N. vote and the United States will be among the few nations in the world to vote "no." Not even Mahmoud Abbas' repeated assurance that his first act following the vote will be to open negotiations with Israel will have an impact on the U.S. position. No, we will stand with Netanyahu even though internationally the perception that the U.S. and Israel are joined at the hip is the last thing any president wants.
But let's not give up hope. This weekend is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a particularly inauspicious time for the Obama administration to look like Netanyahu's puppet.
This is not to say that the terrorists who would love to strike America again are seriously concerned about the Palestinians. They aren't. But America's seeming hostility to the Palestinians and our "no daylight" alliance with Israel gives them a convenient pretense to commit terrorism. And it gives the vast majority of the people in the Middle East, who are fighting against both Al-Qaeda and their Western-backed dictators, further reason to question our motivations in the region.
The Palestinian issue is the one issue on which all Muslims are united. No matter whether they are Saudis or Iranians, Indonesians or Afghans, the one issue that brings Muslim together is the belief that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza are terrible wrongs, supported by the United States. (Muslims aren't the only ones who feel this way, as will be demonstrated by the overwhelming vote for the Palestinian statehood resolution that the U.S. and Israel will stand virtually alone in opposing.)
The Obama administration should keep that in mind when it decides how it will handle the vote. Promoting the two-state solution, starting with a vote FOR a Palestinian state at the U.N., is not only the moral thing to do — just as it was when the U.S. supported Israel's statehood at the U.N. in 1947 — but it is also the right thing to do from the standpoint of America's security. For Israel's sake, for the Palestinians', and for our own, the President should tell the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. to vote "yes."