24 April 2014

Where Is Netanyahu Taking Israel? Part 1

If you are a regular reader of this humble soapbox, you will know my obsession with the twin peace processes involving the Kurds and the Palestinians.

And my rarely shared conviction that the US has been pushing for Kurdish and Palestinian statehood to ensure regional stability. And my occasional despair that shortsighted leaders like Erdogan and Netanyahu doing all they can to stop this from happening.

But this shortsighted charge actually hides a much more complicated reality and an intriguingly similar political climate in Israel and Turkey.

You see, in both countries, conservative voters are on the rise and are forcing their choices on these deeply polarized societies. In recent years, conservative forces everywhere have developed a strong sense of martyrdom. They maintain that the whole world is against them. They claim that they are being stabbed in the back by their progressive countrymen. And as a result, they are in no mood to compromise and to work with their political adversaries. It is the universalization of the Tea Party mentality.

In both Turkey and Israel, after years of denial and lengthy speeches, the political left and the center finally came to the bitter realization that the right created such a strong reality on the ground that nothing they can do will be enough to reverse it. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to state that in Turkey the Islamist and in Israel the settlers and the extremists control the future and in both countries the left and center share the same deer-in-a-headlight frozen desperation.

I discussed Turkey's future in a recent post. This post is about what the future holds for Israel.

In Israel, no one believes that settlers can be removed from even some of the lands they occupied. There is no such force. Even the IDF is incapable of doing that. Perhaps consequently, a whopping 87 percent of Israelis believe that nothing will come out of the current peace talks.

It is true that the current coalition government is simply incapable of negotiating and concluding a peace deal. One of Netanyahu's larger partners, Naftali Bennett's HaBayit HaYehudi is dead set against any accord with the Palestinians. In fact, recently, the blustery conservative politician threatened to quit if Palestinian prisoners were freed.

If Netanyahu wants to remain PM, he has no real options to replace Bennett's party. There are a few Orthodox parties that would be happy to join the coalition but Netanyahu's largest partner, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid used his veto against this move. And the Labour Party is in no mood to help Netanyahu climb out of the hole he dug himself into.

In that sense, Netanyahu is a lame duck PM who is left with stalling as his survival strategy.

Someone else in his position might have called early elections or use the American pressure to bargain with some of his current or prospective coalition partners. Not him. Instead, he opted to alienate and anger Israel's biggest and best ally, the US.

Goading the Obama Administration

First, he appointed Ron Dremer as Israel's ambassador. Ron who, you might ask. Well, he was the guy who arranged for Netanyahu to host a fund raising dinner in Jerusalem for Mitt Romney in July 2012.
This was like giving President Barack Obama the finger. Later, Dermer traveled to the United States to help the casino mogul Sheldon Adelson goad as many Jews as possible into voting for Romney. That didn't pan out. Adelson’s gamble, into which Netanyahu, Dermer and Israel were dragged almost against their will, proved to be a bust. Subsequently, the already problematic relations were further shaken up. It was then that Netanyahu decided to dispatch Dermer to Washington as his ambassador.
A few months ago, Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon tried to pull a Sharon and publicly ridiculed Kerry. (His "Messianic fervor" remark earned his government a strong rebuke from Washington and Israel had to apologize.)

When John Kerry realized that his shuttle diplomacy was going nowhere he expressed his displeasure rather bluntly. Instead of taking the American frustration seriously, Netanyahu upped the ante.
On April 13, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz ran a headline stating that the Obama administration was furious at Israel for not siding with the United States at the United Nations during one of the administration’s most important diplomatic initiatives on Russian interference in Ukraine. Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador, was absent from the vote. The official excuse was a strike at Israel’s Foreign Ministry. This wasn’t the only vote in which Israel did not participate during that time, but below the surface, the issue has become a bona fide crisis. Having enjoyed an automatic US veto for many years — a veto that occasionally gives Obama a serious ulcer and is cast (reluctantly) due to a commitment to historical relations — Israel could have, as a declarative statement, stood by the United States during this difficult time. Instead, it opted to sit on the bench and clutch on to a diplomatic strike as a pretext.
Moreover, when the Administration communicated their anger to the Israeli government, Maj. Gen Amos Gilad from the Ministery of Defense said this: "The US is involved in its own way, but our [Israel's] security interests should not be defined as identical to that of any one else, even the US."

As an Israeli commentator put it:
In other words, there are times when Israel is closer to the Russian side than to the US side — an utter folly that could prove to be a historic mistake.
You might speculate that Netanyahu chose to go after the Obama Administration because he knew that AIPAC and Israel's solid support in Congress would provide him cover. If this was true at some point, it is no longer valid.

AIPAC, once the unwavering supporter of everything-Likud, has been putting some distance between itself and the Netanyahu government. After losing two bruising battles in Congress upon Netanyahu's insistence (the appointment of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of State and the imposition of additional sanctions after Iran signed the nuclear deal), AIPAC decided to pull back.
Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke about this with the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, telling The Daily Beast afterward, “AIPAC and Israel are in different places on this issue.”
As you can imagine, this is huge: First, AIPAC never loses a battle in Congress. Second, it never acknowledges any distance between itself and Israel.

In case you wonder if this is the work of a Democratic President and a his Senate majority, it goes beyond that. When Netanyahu tried to use AIPAC to lobby against the Iran nuclear deal, Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, a true hawk when it comes to Israel, simply stated that Israel would have to "choke down" the deal, meaning they had no choice but accept it.

The reason for this major shift in AIPAC and others is partly what one Israeli journalist called "Netanyahu's World Jewry Dilemma."
My heart goes out to Mark Halperin of New York, Brigitte Cohen of Marseilles and Frank Lipschitz of Berlin (all the names are fictional). The three, like other activists in their Jewish communities, are enthusiastic Israel supporters. All three believe that the two-state solution is the sole key to ensuring the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel. What are they telling their congressman, the students in their class or the neighbor across the way when asked these days where Israel’s government is heading?
His answer is that:
There are few things that world Jewry despises more than the dilemma of loyalty to two homelands. Behind the thousands of enthusiastic activists who greet Israeli leaders at Jewish conferences hides a growing Jewish majority that prefers to stay home. When Israel’s interests contradict the essential interests of their countries of residence, and don’t fit in with their values, it gets harder and harder for Halperin, Cohen and Lipschitz to act according to the principle that has for years guided world Jewry: Right or wrong, we are always on Israel’s side.[my emphasis]
Why the Jews in Diaspora are upset with Netanyahu's foot dragging?

The answer is that they are aware that Netanyahu's actions are preventing a Two-State solution and they dislike what a de facto One-State solution would do to Israel and to Israeli society.

Let me explain what I mean in the second part of this post.

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