For years, liberal American publications have been generally sympathetic to Israel, even when they are criticizing its governments’ policies. Now, in light of an unprecedented New York Times editorial, that attitude might be about to change.
The New York Times editorial board has realized, about a decade too late, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care what the Obama administration — or any U.S. administration, for that matter — thinks about his policies regarding the Palestinians.
According to the editorial published Friday, October 7, headlined At the Boiling Point With Israel, the catalyst for this realization was Netanyahu’s decision to approve the building of a new settlement deep in the West Bank, only three weeks after the U.S. finalized a package of military aid for Israel to the tune of an unprecedented $38 billion, spread over 10 years. Israel receives more military aid than any other country, by far: Egypt, which receives $1.31 billion per year, is the second-largest recipient of direct military aid from the United States.
As noted in the editorial, the new settlement will be geographically located so that it is added to a string of existing Israeli housing projects that collectively nearly bifurcate the West Bank.
In response to Israel’s announcement the State Department and the White House released angry statements that referenced broken promises and castigated Israel for not behaving as friends should behave toward one another.
After 50 years of unfettered settlement growth and expansion — which was neither halted nor slowed even during the so-called Oslo Spring — the United States expressed unfiltered anger about Israel’s settlement project, even though it has been the policy of every U.S. administration, without exception, to oppose settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. The principle of a two-state solution is predicated on an Israeli military and civilian withdrawal from most of the West Bank. But Israel has never had to suffer any consequences for flouting international law or ignoring U.S. policy. And that is not going to change.
What has changed, very late in the game, is the attitude of the New York Times. Like most U.S. publications, it has for decades pulled its punches when it comes to Israel’s policy and actions. Not this time. “Mr. Netanyahu,” the editorial’s author notes bluntly, “Obviously doesn’t care what Washington thinks, so it will be up to Mr. Obama to preserve that option [the two-state solution] before he leaves office.”
The best idea under discussion now would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states. The United Nations previously laid down principles for a peace deal in Resolution 242 (1967) and Resolution 338 (1973); a new one would be more specific and take into account current realities. Another, though weaker, option is for Mr. Obama to act unilaterally and articulate this framework for the two parties.
In other words, the Times is suggesting that Obama instruct his ambassador to stop providing diplomatic cover for Israel; that it refuse, for the first time, to exercise the U.S. veto on anti-Israel resolutions at the UNSC. Even when Secretary Baker angrily accused the government of Yitzhak Shamir of obstructionism under the first Bush administration way back in 1990, he never suggested the U.S. would stop providing diplomatic support for Israel in the international arena.
Netanyahu makes liberal Americans — the Americans who read the New York Times and who are generally sympathetic to Israel — very angry. He makes them angry because he has been so blatantly, unrepentantly, triumphantly disrespectful to Barack Obama and, by extension, the office he holds.
Netanyahu has lectured the president about Israeli security in front of the press while sitting in the White House. He has colluded with Republicans and major Republican donors like Sheldon Adelson to undermine the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, even though he knows that the vast majority of U.S. Jews are Democrats and Obama supporters. He overtly supported the Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2008 and shamelessly accepted an invitation from the Republicans to address Congress about his opposition to the Iran deal, despite the angry opposition of the White House. The New York Times criticized all these incidents, but I believe this is the first time they have suggested the U.S. should stop providing diplomatic protection for Israel.
In keeping with the Obama administration’s official position, the Times in this editorial presents the two-state solution as an endangered but viable possibility. That position is no longer realistic, and I suspect most of the people on the Middle East desk at the State Department know this. Unfortunately this obvious reality conflicts with the realities of U.S. domestic politics.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister for nearly a decade, and he is well positioned to stay in power for at least another decade. There is no one to challenge him. And it has escaped hardly anyone’s notice that he is grooming his son Yair to come up through the Likud and replace him when he finally retires. Netanyahu will never stop settlement expansion in the West Bank. Never. Nor will he consider withdrawing settlements — let alone reducing or ending the army’s presence there. Never. His entire worldview, which has remained completely unchanged since he was a young man, is predicated on the far-right variety of Zionism, hawkishness and nationalism, and on holding on to that occupied territory.
Hypothetically, Netanyahu’s grip on power could be shaken if Israelis felt real consequences for their government’s policies in the occupied territories. If, for example, industrialized democracies were to slap onerous visa restrictions on Israeli passport holders, or if they were to impose major economic sanctions that prevented Israeli companies from engaging in international trade. But these types of sanctions are not in the realm of possibility. The domestic political and economic costs for the countries with the power to make Israel feel economic pain would be too high. So I think is is too late to prevent this train from crashing. Pity it took the U.S. a few decades to realize this.
P.S. I wonder what will happen to Gaza, with over 70 percent of its nearly 2 million people living on international aid under a 10 year-old military closure in a territory fast becoming uninhabitable?