Rattling the Cage: The real freeze is coming

Obama is saying that while our government has the right to do what it wants, so does his.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Let's cut the nonsense: There isn't going to be any settlement freeze. No matter what Barack Obama demands, no matter what Binyamin Netanyahu agrees to, the settlements are going to keep on growing, both demographically and geographically, because that's what they've been doing under every Israeli government, even those that actually wanted to take them down, which this government doesn't. All these official statements about Israel being a "a law-abiding country" - it's true enough on this side of the Green Line, but in the West Bank it's a joke. In the West Bank, the settlers are the law. They build where they want to build, they take the land they want to take, and neither the IDF nor the Israel Police nor the Supreme Court nor any bunch of politicians stops them for long. For 42 years, the settler movement has been breaking the law, flouting government decrees, making monkeys out of soldiers and cops. The settlers' alliance with right-wing politicians, bureaucrats and real estate contractors, plus the emotional power they have over society as the bloodied "first line of defense" against terror, plus their readiness for violence and anarchy when they don't get their way, makes them stronger than any court or government. When Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, which seemed to signal the beginning of the end for the movement, there were about 100,000 settlers. Today, after Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Camp David, disengagement, the road map, Annapolis, Ehud Olmert - after peace processes and two-state solutions galore - there are about 300,000. The only times the settlers have been stopped was when the army pulled out permanently from the territory where they were living - from Sinai in 1982 and Gaza in 2005. It's no coincidence that the only two times Israel has uprooted settlers came under the leadership of two extremely strong, popular, right-wing national heroes, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon. Netanyahu doesn't have anything near their stature. Even if he would like to curtail the settlements, which is doubtful, he can't, certainly not with this gung-ho government. The best he can do is try to manage the settlements' expansion, which has proven unmanageable for prime ministers much stronger and more determined than he. Whatever he ends up telling Obama, there will be no settlement freeze, not of natural growth nor of unnatural growth. The West Bank settlers will see to that, as they always have. And if you don't believe me, ask them. WHICH BRINGS ME to the second pile of nonsense that everybody should stop pretending to believe: that the Netanyahu government is a partner for peace - with the Palestinians, with the Syrians, with the Americans, with anybody. This government could have made peace with the administration of George W. Bush, but with nobody else, or nobody else who matters. Not with any Arabs, and not with any liberal Democrats. Netanyahu reportedly wonders whether Obama is trying to bring down his government. I doubt it. I think Obama wants to try to pressure him into loosening Israel's grip on the West Bank and Gaza, and if that doesn't work - well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Which calls to mind one last crock of nonsense - that America is meddling in Israel's affairs, that Israel is a democracy, a sovereign state, and nobody, not even dear old Uncle Sam, has the right to tell us what to do. I'm sorry, but it's like this: The State of Israel is sovereign but so is the United States of America. Obama isn't holding a gun to our head, he isn't threatening to bomb us or blockade us or anything like that. He's saying that while our government has the right to do what it wants, so does his. If we want to go on building settlements, fine, but then the US is not going to go on supporting us as faithfully as it has. The guy in the White House has other countries to think about beside Israel, above all his own. Also, it appears this isn't just a matter of national interest with him, it's also a matter of principle - Obama really seems to believe the occupation is wrong, and he really means to end it. So if Israel wants to give the settlers veto power over its policy, fine, but the US isn't required to do the same. We're free, they're free, everybody's free. The decision is in our hands alone, and we know what it is: Either we break with the settlers or we begin alienating the United States. THE NETANYAHU GOVERNMENT will not end the occupation; the problem is I don't know if any government will, not the way politics in this country has been heading. Something very big has to change. Something has to scare this country even more than the prospect of a revolt by the settlers - and the only thing I can think of that's scary enough is the threat that America will stop being our special friend. I would prefer that we realized on our own that the settlements are wrong, that the occupation is wrong and that every possible step that doesn't endanger our security must be taken right away to hand the West Bank to the Palestinians. But it's not going to happen. I'm afraid we're going to have to be scared into it. I think that sooner or later, Obama is going to have to gradually withdraw American support for Israel - not militarily, I hope, but financially, diplomatically and psychologically. We think we can piss off the whole world so long as America is behind us - but if we find that even America has cooled toward us, that we really are alone in the world, I think at that point this country will finally tell the settlers: It's over. I wish I could believe there was a painless way to stop Israel's slide into becoming an armed ghetto, but I think the hard way will end up being the only way. Our good friends the Americans gave it a name - they call it "tough love."