As Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress, Israel was finishing plans to add 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. As the prime minister lectured President Obama about a proposal to start peace talks with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders, new settlements are starting and others expanding in the West Bank. As the United States gives billions of tax dollars to Israel, Jewish donors here in this country are threatening to withhold funds for the President's re-election campaign if he doesn't soften his stance towards Israel. As the song goes, with friends like these.....
Since the war in 1967, a war that Israel did not start, the Israelis have occupied the West Bank and built thousands of illegal settlements. This was not an accident. Israel knew the only way they could hold on to this territory was to populate it and make it a de-facto part of their nation. When Netanyahu says the pre-1967 borders are indefensible, what he doesn't say is this has been part of the plan from the beginning. Other than the Israelis, no one in the international community believes the settlements are legal. Even American presidents have agreed with that characterization. They are a deliberate design to annex the West Bank and have it subsumed by Israel. The billions of dollars America has given to Israel were used to offset the expense of building these settlements and to find the Israeli military to enforce their continued existence.
Israel is in a tough spot. As the revolutions of the Arab Spring continue, they face new leadership in Tunis, Egypt, Yemen, and possibly Bahrain, Libya and elsewhere, who are not interested in maintaining the status quo. Egypt brokered a deal between the PLO and Hamas on the governing of the West Bank and Gaza. They say they will open the border with Gaza to allow trade and commerce to resume. Israel faces a demographic time bomb and within a few years could have a Jewish minority ruling over an Arab majority in a new form of apartheid. In September, the United Nations will vote on whether to recognize Palestine as an independent nation. Unless the United States vetoes the proposal, it is expected to pass. (Some think Obama's recent speech calling for a return to the pre-1967 borders as a starting point was an intended to assuage European nations and give them a reason to vote against the UN resolution) Yet, in front of Congress, Netanyahu raised every boogey man and threat scenarios to create a picture of a besieged Israel threatened with destruction daring American politicians to waver in their support and face electoral doom.
According to Netanyahu, Israel must maintain the strongest military in the region, built on American tax dollars and using weapons given to them for virtually nothing, while the Palestinians must be de-militarized. Israel must keep the land annexed in the West Bank while Palestinians live within the claustrophobic boundaries Israel allows. Israel must maintain control of the air; while Palestine asks permission to have their own airport and Israel must be free to cross into Palestine at any time for security reasons as it builds a wall to prevent Palestinians from encroaching on Israeli territory. This asymmetry is the basis for any peace talks so far as Israel is concerned. Therefore, no peace talks can resume and Palestine will be recognized as an independent state and Israel's security will be weakened and imperiled.
On the other side, this is what must happen. The Palestinian authority must recognize Israel's right to exist and that means convincing Hamas to agree as well. There cannot be negotiations if one party doesn't acknowledge the legitimacy of the other. Palestinians displaced by the wars on Israel will not be able to return. That ship has sailed. Palestinians must halt rocket and other attacks on Israel and show they can control the security in their land. Jerusalem has to become an international city under the auspices of the U.N. open to all faiths and not the private refuge of Jews, Muslims or Christians.
In his speech to Congress, Netanyahu had the chutzpah to threaten American politicians who support the rights of the Palestinians. They are selling Israel out and are soft on terrorism. He drew a political line in the sand daring any member of Congress to cross it. Any wavering on supporting Israel is appeasement and will lead to Israel's destruction. Any talk of negotiations is code for weakening Israel and you do so at your own political peril.
President Obama has staked out a clear position. Peace talks start with the pre-1967 borders as a basis of discussion. Land swaps will be part of any talks, but at the end of the day, settlements will have to go and the buffer, which is the West Bank, must change. The President and American taxpayers need to tell Mr. Netanyahu if he disagrees fine, but he does so sacrificing all American foreign and military aid. Obama has to let American Jewish donors know he will not be intimidated nor will he sacrifice American national security to protect an Israel not interested in peace.
We now reach the crux of the problem for the president. America's national security and its ability to fight terrorism hinge on a settlement between Israel and Palestine. Right now Israel is the tail wagging the American dog. American support for dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other nations in the region was based on maintaining the status quo with Israel. Our national security is compromised as long as this current standoff continues. Over 5,000 Americans died and hundreds of thousands wounded in Iraq because President Bush's national security team, Cheney...Wolfowitz...Pearl...Feith...Rumsfeld...Libby..Hadley...Bolton et. al. were signatories and supporters of the Project for a New American Century which had as its centerpiece policy invading Iraq to eliminate Saddam Hussein because he was a threat to Israel.
I have no illusions any American politician will threaten to cut off aid to Israel. President Obama will court Jewish donors and will soften if not abandon any real attempts to pressure Israel. The status quo will remain. However, the U.N. will vote to recognize Palestine. (What will the US do?) New leadership in many Arab nations will be less supportive of the current situation. The Arab population in the occupied territories will continue to grow and our national security will continue under threat. A two-state solution is the only answer. There must be a solution guaranteeing Israel's security and recognizing the rights of the Palestinians. However this cannot happen as long as Netanyahu leads Israel and American politicians are scared to take him on.