Supporting Netanyahu’s policies imperils Israel

To be sure, Israel has legitimate security concerns, perhaps now more than ever.

By
October 7, 2011 12:10
Netanyahu and Obama meet in New York

Netanyahu Obama 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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For all the protestations by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in support of returning to peace negotiations (if only the Palestinians would agree), one simple fact cannot be masked: Mr. Netanyahu does not want a two-state solution; he wants only to delay decision-making at all costs.

Thus far he has succeeded, and he is likely to continue to succeed with the unwavering support of US Congress and pro-Israel advocates in the US. But in doing so, Netanyahu and his American backers are jeopardizing Israel’s national security.

In a recent tongue-in-cheek YouTube video that now has hundreds of thousands of views online, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reasserted what Prime Minister Netanyahu stated at the Joint session of Congress: the West Bank should not be considered occupied territory. Ayalon claims that Israel has already compromised by not establishing its state on the east bank of the Jordan River, in what is today Jordan, in addition to the West Bank.

With this kind of position deeply entrenched in the Netanyahu government’s policy, getting to a viable, negotiated two-state agreement is a fantasy at best. Meanwhile, members of Congress, like chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros- Lehtinen (R), have introduced legislation to cut off funding for the United Nations and any state that votes in favor of a Palestinian state at the UN, as well as cuts to US bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Statements by Republican presidential candidates, like Texas Governor Rick Perry saying US President Barack Obama is “throwing Israel under a bus,” may be mere campaign rhetoric but merely serve to encourage Israeli intransigence.

Pro-Israel advocates in the US have fueled policymakers to take imprudent but politically advantageous positions by supporting Netanyahu at seemingly all costs. Perhaps with the best of intention to protect Israel’s interests, in this highly contested US political campaign season Israel is being used mostly by Republicans to seek political advantage. Ironically, it is being done to Israel’s detriment.

Such unmitigated political support for Israel would certainly further undermine US influence and credibility in the region and beyond.



Even more worrisome, however, is with “friends” like these in Congress, Israeli rejectionists of Palestinian statehood in the governing coalition led by Netanyahu are encouraged to continue advancing destructive policies that threaten the long-term national security that these US officials are presumably trying to safeguard for Israel.

To be sure, Israel has legitimate security concerns, perhaps now more than ever. The Israeli experience of withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon – however unilaterally and without a clear understanding with the Palestinians and the Lebanese respectively – only to receive rockets in return has alarmed the Israeli public with regard to the “land-for-peace principle.”

The fact that the PA controls only the West Bank, leaves many Israelis doubtful that any agreement could be implemented on the ground when Hamas and other extremist Palestinian groups still openly seek Israel’s destruction and systematically engage in acts of violence and terrorism.

Certainly the prevailing conditions in the West Bank are dramatically different from those that existed prior to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. No one should expect Israel to simply withdraw from the West Bank without iron-clad security arrangements built on and going far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation that already exists.

Netanyahu’s repeated assertion of his willingness to sit down and negotiate is meaningless unless he puts something on the table to lend credibility to his plea to negotiate in earnest.

He failed again to do so in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

Thus the question that deserves an honest answer is whether Israel is better off today than it was when Netanyahu assumed the premiership nearly three years ago. The answer is clear. Israeli-Egyptian peace is the most precarious it has ever been; Israel’s relations with Turkey have appreciably deteriorated; its ties with the Obama administration have been strained. The international community, including many of members of the European Union, largely identifies Israel as the culprit behind the prolonged stalemate in Israeli- Palestinian relations. Meanwhile, the uncertainty engulfing the broader Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring redoubles Israeli anxiety.

To suggest, however, that this state of affairs and Israel’s growing isolation would have happened regardless of Netanyahu’s bankrupt policy and the continuing occupation is groundless. The occupation has nurtured and continues to nurture anti-Israeli sentiments throughout the international community, especially the Arab and Muslim world.

And only by ending it can Israel walk the high moral ground and claim its rightful place among the free nations.

The burden of proof now rests on Netanyahu’s shoulders. His policy to date has been simply to “delay.” In his speech to the UNGA he missed yet another golden opportunity not only to make the case that Israel is seeking a genuine peace but also to identify what Israel will be willing to do to move toward a genuine two-state solution. Instead, he placed Israel on the defensive by justifying the occupation and the settlements, offering no new initiatives or ideas, and most noticeably, no new gestures of good will such as a temporary freeze on settlement construction to lure the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Whereas today the Palestinians have a clear strategy – to use the United Nations to enhance their international position, as does the Arab world – to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative, Netanyahu has no plan. Indeed, Netanyahu’s policy is to miss any opportunity to pursue peace if it is predicated on a two-state solution.



To be sure, Netanyahu is placing Israel on a dangerous course that could increase its isolation and renew violence that would place the security of Israeli citizens and the future of Israel in jeopardy. Until his backers in the US stop mere politicking and recognize their culpability in contributing to Israeli isolation, the campaign to delegitimize and endanger Israel will not change. Netanyahu must face the inevitable, pull back from the ledge and pursue the only prudent path to a two-state solution.

The writer is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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