Rattling the Cage: US, read Israel the riot act

There's no peace camp; there's only the war camp and the more-war camp.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I'm very surprised by the postwar election polls. I thought Tzipi Livni would come out of Operation Cast Lead the winner and Binyamin Netanyahu's lead would dissipate, but it seems people still haven't switched to a postwar mentality. They're not thinking diplomacy, they're gearing up for Round Two in Gaza. In such a mood, Israelis don't want a woman and they don't want a diplomat, not if there's a swaggering, glowering macho man around, e.g. Netanyahu. Avigdor Lieberman fills the bill even better, but he's still a little foreign, a little raw, he's still the outsider, still not widely accepted as a national leader. He's the rising power, though. Give him time. But hey - George Mitchell is in town. The Obama administration is taking its first crack at making peace in the Middle East. I wish it luck. I'd urge Mitchell to try to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on this trip, because the next time he comes back there will be a new government in Jerusalem, and if the prospects for peace are zero today, they will be zero squared after the election on February 10. Over the last eight years, since the Oslo Accords blew up and the intifada began, there doesn't seem to be any limit to how nationalistic, how gung-ho, how anti-Arab the public can become. Operation Cast Lead marked a great leap rightward; the upcoming election will be one more; the Likud/Israel Beiteinu/Shas government that comes out of it will be yet another. (Labor will probably serve as the government fig leaf, the totem of "national unity" and sop to Obama, with Ehud Barak, the gifted military technocrat, carrying on as defense minister.) THERE USED to be a peace camp here that represented a substantial part of the public which could at least put some restraints on the country's nationalist bent. But in the past eight years, the peace camp has contracted and become marginalized to the point that it, too, is a fig leaf, a sop to the Americans. In truth, it has no voice anymore, no influence, no power to slow the march to war even a step. Some 94% of the country's Jews supported the war in Gaza, according to one poll, which struck me as being about right. What's an opposition of 6%? A fig leaf for a "vibrant democracy." There are reasons for the wholesale shift to the right, for the blindness to anybody's suffering but our own. In all, these have been a traumatic eight years: suicide bombings from the West Bank, war with Hizbullah in the North, war with Hamas in the South. It would have driven any nation blind. But blind isn't good. Blind is dangerous, and that's what Israel has become - to itself and to everyone around. Because of the Kassams on Sderot, we were blind to the misery we inflicted on Gazans with the siege, which started on day one after disengagement. Because Gazans killed 28 Israelis, both soldiers and civilians, between that day and Operation Cast Lead, we were blind to the more than 1,250 Gazans, both fighters and civilians, that we killed in the same period. Because Gazans kidnapped Gilad Schalit, we remain blind to the roughly 10,000 Palestinian prisoners - the great majority of whom have nobody's blood on their hands - that we hold. RIGHT BEFORE the war, Hamas offered us a truce in return for a lifting of the siege, and no one here gave it a moment's thought. During the war we racked up a kill ratio of 100-1; we used white phosphorus, which is like napalm, on some crowded civilian areas; we destroyed apartment building after government building after university building - and the reaction to it here is anger at those who say we went too far. Meanwhile, the Arab citizens of Israel kept control of their emotions; they wept and shouted but never turned to more than scattered, negligible violence - and our loathing for them has only grown. More than ever, we want them out. Lieberman is building his career on this popular demand, he's running one of the most crudely racist campaigns in the country's history ("Only Lieberman understands Arabic") and it's going like clockwork. Unless police and prosecutors can nail him for corruption, which they haven't been able to do after investigating him for about a decade, this impressive, witty, brutal man could be the face of our future. None of this - the militarism, the racism, the rise of demagogues, the tunnel vision - is new. It's just worse, and it keeps going in that direction with nothing to hold it back, no counterforce. Politics isn't a battle between the left and right anymore, it's between the right and the far-right. There's no peace camp, there's only the war camp and the more-war camp. I hope Mitchell remembers this trip fondly, because the country is only going to be more intransigent the next time. At some point after a Netanyahu government takes over, the Obama administration is going to have to try a Hail Mary pass on Israel, or give it up. If the US doesn't become willing to read us the riot act - to demand an end to the siege of Gaza and the West Bank settlements, and back that demand with threats - then in future, Obama should send his envoys elsewhere. In Jerusalem, they'll be wasting their time.