Israel »

Haaretz: What American Jews Haven’t Been Told about Gaza

July 30, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

If you’ve been anywhere near the American Jewish community over the past few weeks, you’ve heard the following morality tale: Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping the newly independent country would become the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas seized power, ransacked greenhouses, threw its opponents off rooftops and began launching thousands of rockets at Israel.

American Jewish leaders use this narrative to justify their skepticism of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But in crucial ways, it’s wrong. And without understanding why it’s wrong, you can’t understand why this war is wrong too.

Let’s take the claims in turn.

Israel Left Gaza

It’s true that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israel’s more than 8,000 settlers from Gaza. (At America’s urging, he also dismantled four small settlements in the West Bank). But at no point did Gaza become its own country. Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders. It never did. As the Israeli human rights group Gisha has detailed, even before the election of Hamas, Israel controlled whether Gazans could enter or exit the Strip (In conjunction with Egypt, which controlled the Rafah checkpoint in Gaza’s south). Israel controlled the population registry through which Gazans were issued identification cards. Upon evacuating its settlers and soldiers from Gaza, Israel even created a security perimeter inside the Strip from which Gazans were barred from entry. (Unfortunately for Gazans, this perimeter included some of the Strip’s best farmland).

“Pro-Israel” commentators claim Israel had legitimate security reasons for all this. But that concedes the point. A necessary occupation is still an occupation. That’s why it’s silly to analogize Hamas’ rockets—repugnant as they are—to Mexico or Canada attacking the United States. The United States is not occupying Mexico or Canada. Israel — according to the United States government — has been occupying Gaza without interruption since 1967.

To grasp the perversity of using Gaza as an explanation for why Israel can’t risk a Palestinian state, it helps to realize that Sharon withdrew Gaza’s settlers in large measure because he didn’t want a Palestinian state. By 2004, when Sharon announced the Gaza withdrawal, the Road Map for Peace that he had signed with Mahmoud Abbas was going nowhere. Into the void came two international proposals for a two state solution. The first was the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, in which every member of the Arab League offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees. The second was the 2003 Geneva Initiative, in which former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators publicly agreed upon the details of a two state plan. As the political scientists Jonathan Rynhold and Dov Waxman have detailed, Sharon feared the United States would get behind one or both plans, and pressure Israel to accept a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines. “Only an Israeli initiative,” Sharon argued, “will keep us from being dragged into dangerous initiatives like the Geneva and Saudi initiatives.”

Sharon saw several advantages to withdrawing settlers from Gaza. First, it would save money, since in Gaza Israel was deploying a disproportionately high number of soldiers to protect a relatively small number of settlers. Second, by (supposedly) ridding Israel of its responsibility for millions of Palestinians, the withdrawal would leave Israel and the West Bank with a larger Jewish majority. Third, the withdrawal would prevent the administration of George W. Bush from embracing the Saudi or Geneva plans, and pushing hard—as Bill Clinton had done—for a Palestinian state. Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, put it bluntly: “The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process. And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.”

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Gaza withdrawal did not meet minimal Palestinian demands. Not even the most moderate Palestinian leader would have accepted a long-term arrangement in which Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza while maintaining control of the Strip’s borders and deepening Israeli control of the West Bank. (Even in the 2005, the year Sharon withdrew from Gaza, the overall settler population rose, in part because some Gazan settlers relocated to the West Bank).

In fact, Sharon’s advisors did not expect withdrawing Gaza’s settlers to satisfy the Palestinians. Nor did not they expect it to end Palestinian terrorism. Ehud Olmert, a key figure in the disengagement plan (and someone who himself later embraced Palestinian statehood), acknowledged that “terror will continue” after the removal of Gaza’s settlers. The key word is “continue.” Contrary to the American Jewish narrative, militants in Gaza didn’t start launching rockets at Israel after the settlers left. They began a half-decade earlier, at the start of the second intifada. The Gaza disengagement did not stop this rocket fire. But it did not cause it either.

Hamas Seized Power

I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.

But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election. In January 2006, four months after the last settlers left, Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem chose representatives to the Palestinian Authority’s parliament. (The previous year, they had separately elected Abbas to be the Palestinian Authority’s President). Hamas won a plurality of the vote – forty-five percent – but because of the PA’s voting system, and Fatah’s idiotic decision to run more than one candidate in several districts, Hamas garnered 58 percent of the seats in parliament.

To the extent American Jewish leaders acknowledge that Hamas won an election (as opposed to taking power by force), they usually chalk its victory up to Palestinian enthusiasm for the organization’s 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction (The president of the New York board of rabbis said recently that anyone who voted for Hamas should be considered a combatant, not a civilian). But that’s almost certainly not the reason Hamas won. For starters, Hamas didn’t make Israel’s destruction a major theme of its election campaign. In its 2006 campaign manifesto, the group actually fudged the question by saying only that it wanted an “independent state whose capital is Jerusalem” plus fulfillment of the right of return.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that by 2006 Hamas had embraced the two state solution. Only that Hamas recognized that running against the two state solution was not the best way to win Palestinian votes. The polling bears this out. According to exit polls conducted by the prominent Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, 75 percent of Palestinian voters—and a remarkable 60 percent of Hamas voters—said they supported a Palestinian unity government dedicated to achieving a two state solution.

So why did Hamas win? Because, according to Shikaki, only fifteen percent of voters called the peace process their most important issue. A full two-thirds cited either corruption or law and order. It’s vital to remember that 2006 was the first Palestinian election in more than ten years. During the previous decade, Palestinians had grown increasingly frustrated by Fatah’s unaccountable, lawless and incompetent rule. According to exit polls, 85 percent of voters called Fatah corrupt. Hamas, by contrast, because it had never wielded power and because its charitable arm effectively delivered social services, enjoyed a reputation for competence and honesty.

Hamas won, in other words, for the same reason voters all across the world boot out parties that have grown unresponsive and self-interested after years in power. That’s not just Shikaki’s judgment. It’s also Bill Clinton’s. As Clinton explained in 2009, “a lot of Palestinians were upset that they [Fatah] were not delivering the services. They didn’t think it [Fatah] was an entirely honest operation and a lot of people were going to vote for Hamas not because they wanted terrorist tactics…but because they thought they might get better service, better government…They [also] won because Fatah carelessly and foolishly ran both its slates in too many parliamentary seats.”

This doesn’t change the fact that Hamas’ election confronted Israel and the United States with a serious problem. After its victory, Hamas called for a national unity government with Fatah “for the purpose of ending the occupation and settlements and achieving a complete withdrawal from the lands occupied [by Israel] in 1967, including Jerusalem, so that the region enjoys calm and stability during this phase.” But those final words—“this phase”—made Israelis understandably skeptical that Hamas had changed its long-term goals. The organization still refused to recognize Israel, and given that Israel had refused to talk to the PLO until it formally accepted Israel’s right to exist in 1993, it’s not surprising that Israel demanded Hamas meet the same standard.

Still, Israel and the U.S. would have been wiser to follow the counsel of former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, who called for Sharon to try to forge a long-term truce with Hamas. Israel could also have pushed Hamas to pledge that if Abbas—who remained PA president—negotiated a deal with Israel, Hamas would accept the will of the Palestinian people as expressed in a referendum, something the group’s leaders have subsequently promised to do.

Instead, the Bush administration—suddenly less enamored of Middle Eastern democracy–pressured Abbas to dissolve the Palestinian parliament and rule by emergency decree. Israel, which also wanted Abbas to defy the election results, withheld the tax and customs revenue it had collected on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. Knowing Hamas would resist Abbas’ efforts to annul the election, especially in Gaza, where it was strong on the ground, the Bushies also began urging Abbas’ former national security advisor, a Gazan named Mohammed Dahlan, to seize power in the Strip by force. As David Rose later detailed in an extraordinary article in Vanity Fair, Condoleezza Rice pushed Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to buy weapons for Dahlan, and for Israel to allow them to enter Gaza. As General Mark Dayton, US security coordinator for the Palestinians, told Dahlan in November 2006, “We also need you to build up your forces in order to take on Hamas.”

Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Dahlan’s forces were weaker than they looked. And when the battle for Gaza began, Hamas won it easily, and brutally. In response, Abbas declared emergency rule in the West Bank.

So yes, members of Hamas did throw their Fatah opponents off rooftops. Some of that may have been payback because Dahlan was widely believed to have overseen the torture of Hamas members in the 1990s. Regardless, in winning the battle for Gaza, Hamas—which had already shed much Israeli blood – shed Palestinian blood too.

But to suggest that Hamas “seized power” – as American Jewish leaders often do – ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted Fatah coup backed by the United States and Israel. In the words of David Wurmser, who resigned as Dick Cheney’s Middle East advisor a month after Hamas’ takeover, “what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.”

The Greenhouses

Israel responded to Hamas’ election victory by further restricting access in and out of Gaza. As it happens, these restrictions played a key role in explaining why Gaza’s greenhouses did not help it become Singapore. American Jewish leaders usually tell the story this way: When the settlers left, Israel handed over their greenhouses to the Palestinians, hoping they would use them to create jobs. Instead, Palestinians tore them down in an anti-Jewish rage.

But one person who does not endorse that narrative is the prime mover behind the greenhouse deal, Australian-Jewish businessman James Wolfensohn, who served as the Quartet’s Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement. In his memoir, Wolfensohn notes that “some damage was done to the greenhouses [as the result of post-disengagement looting] but they came through essentially intact” and were subsequently guarded by Palestinian Authority police. What really doomed the greenhouse initiative, Wolfensohn argues, were Israeli restrictions on Gazan exports. “In early December [2005], he writes, “the much-awaited first harvest of quality cash crops—strawberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers and flowers—began. These crops were intended for export via Israel for Europe. But their success relied upon the Karni crossing [between Gaza and Israel], which, beginning in mid-January 2006, was closed more than not. The Palestine Economic Development Corporation, which was managing the greenhouses taken over from the settlers, said that it was experiencing losses in excess of $120,000 per day…It was excruciating. This lost harvest was the most recognizable sign of Gaza’s declining fortunes and the biggest personal disappointment during my mandate.”

The point of dredging up this history is not to suggest that Israel deserves all the blame for its long and bitter conflict with Hamas. It does not. Hamas bears the blame for every rocket it fires, and those rockets have not only left Israelis scarred and disillusioned. They have also badly undermined the Palestinian cause.

The point is to show—contrary to the establishment American Jewish narrative—that Israel has repeatedly played into Hamas’ hands by not strengthening those Palestinians willing to pursue statehood through nonviolence and mutual recognition. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when Sharon refused to seriously entertain the Arab and Geneva peace plans. Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it refused to support a Palestinian unity government that could have given Abbas the democratic legitimacy that would have strengthened his ability to cut a two state deal. And Israel played into Hamas’ hands when it responded to the group’s takeover of Gaza with a blockade that—although it has some legitimate security features—has destroyed Gaza’s economy, breeding the hatred and despair on which Hamas thrives.

In the ten years since Jewish settlers left, Israeli policy toward Gaza has been as militarily resourceful as it has been politically blind. Tragically, that remains the case during this war. Yet tragically, the American Jewish establishment keeps cheering Israel on.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.608008

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American Politics »

The Atlantic: Compassionate Conservatism is Back, Right on Schedule

July 25, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

Over the past two decades, since the 1992 presidential election, Republican politics has followed a cycle. It goes like this:

Stage One: A Democrat wins the presidency and expands the size of government.

Stage Two: Republicans mobilize to prevent big government from destroying the American way of life.

Stage Three: Republicans take Congress.

Stage Four: Congressional Republicans battle the Democratic president over the size of government. They cut spending and reduce the deficit, but in the process become wildly unpopular.

Stage Five: The Democratic president uses the unpopularity of the Republican Congress to help win reelection.

Stage Six: Republican presidential candidates ditch their assault on big government and become compassionate conservatives.

We’re now back at Stage Six.

In the late 1990s, after Bill Clinton campaigned for reelection against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on government spending, George W. Bush decided that he too would make congressional Republicans his foil. In September 1999, when GOP budget hawks tried to cut the earned-income tax credit, the Texas governor declared, “I don’t think they ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor.”

Now the same pattern is repeating itself. In 2012, Mitt Romney boasted that he was “severely conservative.” He chose Paul Ryan as his running mate in large measure to mobilize Republicans who loved Ryan’s assault on the welfare state. But Romney and Ryan lost in part because Barack Obama, like Clinton before him, scared Americans about the GOP’s assault on government. Moreover, as in the late 1990s, the budget deficit is going down.

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.
As a result, potential GOP presidential candidates are falling over one another to run as Bush did in 2000: as compassionate conservatives. Rand Paul is arguing for shorter prison sentences. Republican Governors John Kasich and Mike Pence are expanding Medicaid. Marco Rubio recently said it was time for Republicans to stop trying to balance “the budget by saving money on safety-net programs.” Even budget cutter extraordinaire, Paul Ryan, wants to “remove it [the fight against poverty] from the old-fashioned budget fight.”

It’s easy to see why compassionate conservatism is back. It’s harder to see it helping Republicans all that much.

First, it didn’t even help Bush all that much. Let’s remember, he won less than 48 percent of the vote in 2000. Between them, Al Gore and Ralph Nader won more than 51 percent. Exit polls that year found that of the 10 qualities Bush voters cited as reasons for voting for him, “cares about people like me” was number seven. In 2004, pollsters asked the question differently. As Ben Domenech has noted, Bush won only 24 percent of voters who said their top priority was a candidate who “cares about people.” He won only 23 percent of voters who said their biggest concern was health care. That’s better than Mitt Romney, who won only 18 percent of voters who prioritized “car[ing] about people.” But it’s exactly the same as John McCain’s percentage in 2008. And on health care—a key domestic-policy issue on which Republicans want to show they’re not hard-hearted—Bush in 2004 did slightly worse than McCain and Romney.

The big reason Bush won in 2004 isn’t because he wowed voters with his compassion. It’s because he won 86 percent of those who said their number one concern was “terrorism” and 80 percent of those who prioritized “moral values.” Since then, national security has faded as a political issue and the GOP’s historic advantage on it has disappeared. Something similar has happened on the culture war, which has shifted in the Democrats’ direction because gay marriage—which Bush won votes for opposing in 2004—is now far more popular.

If the first problem with running as a compassionate conservative is that it didn’t work so effectively for George W. Bush, the second is that being seen as compassionate is probably harder for a Republican today. Suspicion of the GOP among key demographic groups is greater, and the Republican base is less tolerant of reaching out to them. When Bush was president, the leaders of both parties opposed gay marriage. Now it’s a partisan issue, which makes it harder for a Republican candidate to win LGBT votes, at least without provoking a rebellion among the GOP’s Christian conservative base.

It’s the same with Hispanics. Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, but since then Hispanic have become more alienated from the GOP. The activist right’s fury over illegal immigration has deepened, which means that compared to the Bush years, a Republican presidential candidate will have more suspicion to overcome and less political flexibility with which to overcome it.

Finally, the ranks of the demographic groups Republicans are targeting with their compassion crusade are more numerous. By 2016, Hispanics will represent more than double the share of the American electorate they represented in 2000. That means even if a Republican won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, as Bush did, the consequences would be more dire, since his Democratic opponent would have won 65 percent of a higher number.

Then again, if history is any guide, stage seven of the Republican cycle is that a presidential candidate professing compassionate conservatism loses the popular vote by a half-million votes but is handed the presidency by the Supreme Court. The way the Roberts Court has been acting, I wouldn’t rule it out.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/07/the-cycle-of-compassionate-conservatism/375054/

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Israel »

Haaretz: The best weapon against Hamas: Palestinian hope

July 25, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

It’s easy to criticize the Israeli government’s response to the rockets launched from Gaza in recent weeks. It’s harder to offer an alternative. But honest critics have an obligation to try. So here goes.

The short answer is that I’d treat the rockets as military symptoms of a political problem. That doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t return fire. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad can attack Israel with impunity, they may never stop. But returning fire—or even invading Gaza—will never make Israel safe.

Israel can destroy Hamas’ rockets, but Hamas will eventually rebuild them bigger and better, as it did after the last war, and the one before that. And in the relatives and friends of the Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, it will find plenty of new recruits willing to fire them. Israel can overthrow Hamas and then pull back, but it will leave in its wake Somalia-like chaos that gives groups even more radical than Hamas free reign. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to install Fatah, but doing so will harm the latter as much as the former because any faction that rides into Gaza atop an Israeli tank will lose its public legitimacy forever. Israel can overthrow Hamas and try to govern Gaza itself, but that would require Israeli 18- year-olds to permanently patrol house-to-house in a territory where they’re constantly at risk of becoming the next Gilad Shalit.

So what would I do? First, I’d seek a cease-fire that eases those aspects of Israel’s blockade that have no legitimate security rationale. (That doesn’t mean acceding to Hamas’ cease-fire demands but it means recognizing that a cease-fire that does nothing to address the blockade – as Israel wants – won’t last).

Here are a couple of examples. Since 2010, Israel has made it easier for goods to enter Gaza. But it still makes it extremely difficult for goods to leave. According to the Israeli human rights group Gisha, only two percent as many truckloads leave the Strip as did in 2007. If Israel wants to check those trucks to ensure they’re not carrying weapons, fine. (Last December, the Netherlands tried to donate a high-tech scanner for exactly that purpose).

But essentially barring Gazan exports to Israel and the West Bank — historically Gaza’s biggest markets — is both inhumane and stupid. It’s helped destroy the independent business class that could have been a check on Hamas’ power, and left many in Gaza with the choice of working for Hamas or receiving food aid.

In addition to goods, Israel should make it easier for people to leave Gaza, too. A quarter of Gazans have family in the West Bank. Yet even before this war, Israel allowed Gazans to travel to the West Bank only in “exceptional humanitarian cases.” Yes, Israel can restrict the travel of terrorists. But preventing young Gazans from studying in the West Bank – like preventing Gazan businessmen from exporting there – is self-defeating and inhumane. It feeds the isolation and despair that Hamas exploits.

Second, I’d let Hamas take part in a Palestinian unity government that prepares the ground for Palestinian elections. That doesn’t mean tolerating Hamas attacks, to which Israel should always reserve the right to respond. But it means no longer trying to bar Hamas from political participation because of its noxious views.

It’s common to hear pro-Israel hawks ridicule Mahmoud Abbas for lacking authority over Gaza and for serving the 10th year of a four-year presidential term. But by opposing Palestinian elections, Israel creates the very circumstance its supporters bemoan. Without free elections — which means elections in which all major Palestinian parties can run — Palestinian leaders will never enjoy authority in both Gaza and the West Bank nor the legitimacy to make painful compromises on behalf of their people.

Israel wants Hamas barred from any Palestinian unity government, and any Palestinian election, until it accepts the two-state solution and past peace agreements. But as I’ve suggested before, the current Israeli government probably couldn’t meet those conditions.

There’s a better way. What’s crucial is not that Hamas as a party endorse the two-state solution. After all, Likud as a party has not endorsed the two state-solution, either. What’s crucial is that Hamas promise to respect a two-state agreement if endorsed by the Palestinian people in a referendum. In the past, Hamas leaders have told the media they would. Israel, or its Western allies, should get that pledge in writing, and, in return, allow the free elections necessary to produce a Palestinian leadership with the legitimacy to make a deal.

Finally, Israel should do everything it can — short of rigging the elections — to ensure that Hamas doesn’t win. Already, polls show that Abbas would defeat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh easily. (If Israel really wanted to crush Hamas, it could release jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who has strongly endorsed the two state solution, and who in polls defeats Haniyeh by an even larger margin). But Israel could also help ensure Hamas’ defeat by showing Palestinians that Abbas’ strategy of recognizing Israel, and helping it combat terrorism, actually works. It could do so by freezing settlement growth and publicly committing to a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem. That would give Abbas an instant boost.

Hamas’ great ally is despair. It grows stronger when Palestinians decide that settlement growth has made the two-state solution impossible. It gains strength when Palestinians decide that leaders like Abbas and Salam Fayyad are fools for helping Israel police the West Bank while getting only massive settlement subsidies in return.

Nothing would weaken Hamas more than growing Palestinian faith that through nonviolence and mutual recognition, they can win the basic rights they’ve been denied for almost half a century. Israel’s best long-term strategy against Palestinian violence is Palestinian hope. Unfortunately, as effective as Benjamin Netanyahu has been at destroying Palestinian rockets, he’s been even more effective at destroying that.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.606791

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Israel »

Haaretz: Is Netanyahu fighting just Hamas or the two-state solution as well?

July 16, 2014 | post a comment | Peter Beinart

What is Israel fighting for?

Most Jews think the answer is clear: Israel is fighting to keep its people safe from rockets. Most Palestinians think the answer is clear too: Israel is fighting to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. (According to the United States government, Israel still occupies Gaza despite withdrawing its settlers because it controls access to Gaza from air, sea, and—along with Egypt—land. If the United States controlled whether boats could dock, and planes could land, in Canada, we’d be occupying it even if no Americans lived there.)

A tremendous amount rides on how one views Israeli intentions. If Israel is only seeking to protect its people, then Hamas’ rocket fire really is – as Israeli spokespeople insist – the equivalent of Canada shelling the United States. Even if you acknowledge that the Canada-U.S. analogy is flawed because Israel occupies the West Bank and Gaza while America doesn’t occupy Quebec, it’s still possible to justify Israel’s behavior if you believe Israel wants that occupation to end. If, on the other hand, you believe that Israel desires permanent dominion over territories whose non-Jewish residents lack basic rights, then Israel’s behavior doesn’t look all that defensive. That doesn’t justify launching rockets into Israel. Hamas’ attempted murder of civilians is wrong, period, irrespective of Israel’s intentions. It is even more egregious because Hamas rejected a cease-fire, which Israel embraced. But as appalling as Hamas’ behavior has been, it’s hard to endorse Israel’s response if it is aimed not just at safeguarding its own people but at controlling another people as well.

Which is why Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments last Friday were so important. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement,” he declared, “in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” With those words, explained Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, a Netanyahu sympathizer, the Prime Minister was “insisting upon ongoing Israeli security oversight inside and at the borders of the West Bank. That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Publicly, at least, this is an earthquake. Until last Friday, Netanyahu was on record as supporting a Palestinian state. For five years, in fact, American Jewish leaders have insisted that he sincerely desires one. So what has changed on the ground to make Netanyahu change his mind? Nothing. Netanyahu now says he cannot relinquish control of the West Bank because Hamas could use it as a base from which to shell Israel, as it is now doing from Gaza. But that danger didn’t arise last week. Hamas has been shelling Israel, and refusing to recognize its right to exist, for a long time. The argument for the two state solution—which most top former Israeli security officials endorse – has always been that once Palestinians gained the rights and dignity that came with a state, their government would have a strong incentive to keep Hamas and other militants from imperiling that state by using it as a launching pad for attacks on Israel, as the governments of Egypt and Jordan have done in the decades since they signed peace deals. One can dispute this logic. But it is no less persuasive this week than it was last week. And last week, Netanyahu publicly supported a Palestinian state.

In reality, what has changed are not Netanyahu’s views but his willingness to publicly acknowledge them. Bibi is a man, after all, who in A Durable Peace, his major book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reissued in 2000, repeatedly compares a Palestinian state to the Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland. When elected prime minister in early 2009, he still publicly opposed a Palestinian state. And even when he supposedly embraced Palestinian statehood that June in a speech at Bar Ilan University, his own father told Israel television it was a ruse: “He doesn’t support [a Palestinian state]. He would support it under terms they [the Palestinians] would never accept.”

Netanyahu has made no effort to get his Likud Party to endorse Palestinian statehood nor did he try to prevent it from running a parliamentary slate in 2013 dominated by avowed two state opponents. He’s doubled funding for settlements.  And according to the best reporting on John Kerry’s now-aborted peace effort, Netanyahu adamantly refused to discuss the boundaries of a Palestinian state while insisting, according to U.S. negotiators, that Israel’s “control of the West Bank would continue forever.” All of which is to say that Netanyahu’s statement last Friday, as Horovitz correctly observes, did not represent “a new, dramatic change of stance by the prime minister. It was a new, dramatic exposition of his long-held stance.”

Why is Netanyahu coming clean now? Because he can do so without risking a confrontation with the Obama administration, which has given up trying to broker a two state deal. For all those on the American Jewish right who claimed that Netanyahu would grow more willing to compromise once America ceased its diplomatic meddling and simply offered its unconditional support, the results are now in. Without American meddling, Netanyahu feels free to broadcast his rejection of the two-state solution to the world.

He’s also free to do so because he knows that the American Jewish establishment will not publicly challenge him. It’s extraordinary, when you think about it. Had Mahmoud Abbas declared that because of this week’s Gaza War he no longer supports the two state solution, American Jewish groups would have screamed with fury. But when Netanyahu does the same thing, they say nothing. As of Monday afternoon, in fact, not a single major American Jewish group had even commented on Netanyahu’s about-face.

What this silence proves is that for major American Jewish organizations, publicly supporting the two-state solution has little to do with actually achieving it. For the American Jewish mainstream, the real purpose of claiming to support Palestinian statehood is two-fold. First, it maintains the fiction that Israel’s almost half-century long control of the West Bank and Gaza is temporary, which allows American Jewish leaders to praise Israeli democracy without grappling with the fact that Israel controls millions of people who cannot vote for the state that dominates their lives. Second, it serves as a cudgel to wield against Palestinians. After all, were American Jewish groups to admit that neither they, nor Netanyahu, really support the two state solution, they would find it harder to brand Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic because they oppose the two-state solution too.

I’m not a pacifist. Although the images of Gaza’s dead sicken me, I could support this war if I believed it was aimed merely at safeguarding the right of Israelis to live free of terror. That’s why I found it easier to justify Ehud Olmert’s Gaza War in 2008. Because back then Israel had a prime minister who genuinely wanted to end its unjust, undemocratic dominion over millions of Palestinians. Today, by contrast, Israel’s prime minister wants to make that control permanent. And that means Israel’s missiles are instruments not only of self-defense, but also of conquest.

Netanyahu has now said as much himself. Even if our leaders won’t, American Jews must be prepared to listen.

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.605514?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

 

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Articles »

Why Anthony Weiner Shouldn’t Quit

June 12, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

The congressman’s public flogging doesn’t fit the crime, and is emblematic of our kick-’em-when-they’re-down culture. Peter Beinart on why we need a new rulebook for political sex scandals.

Excuse me for asking, but why exactly should Anthony…

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Why Are We Still in Aghanistan?

June 10, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

With the initial objective of vanquishing al Qaeda largely achieved, and the latest goal of luring the Taliban into a power-sharing deal out of reach, the main reason the U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan is inertia-not logic, says Peter Beinart.
On…

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Lousy Economy Won’t Sink Obama

June 5, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

Unemployment has edged up again two months in a row, and economic conditions are bad for most Americans, but the president’s strong personal approval ratings and a roster of weak potential GOP opponents mean he will win a second term, writes Peter…

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Palin Grabs Her Moment

May 30, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

There is no better moment for the ex-governor, who would snare most of the social-conservative votes that might have gone to Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour-and in 2016 would be old news and face a stronger primary field, writes Peter Beinart.
Sarah…

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The Palestinian Right to Dream

May 25, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

As Congress applauded Netanyahu’s tough speech, a young Ramallah man talked about creating a Palestinian Tahrir Square, using nonviolence-and the hope that American Jews would back such a civil rights approach. Political reality suggests otherwise,…

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Netanyahu’s Bizarre Response to Obama’s Palestinian Proposal

May 23, 2011 | Comments Off | Peter Beinart

President Obama’s parameters for a new round of Mideast peace talks were designed to head off U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state based strictly on 1967 borders-which would be catastrophic for Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu’s immediate rejection of the…

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