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Israel Ambushed and Betrayed, Or Was It Overdue Comeuppance?

"A shameful anti-Israel ambush", erupted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response to the U.S. abstention at the United Nations that
let resolution 2334 against West Bank settlements pass by a 14-0 vote . "Friends don’t take friends to the Security Council", he added.

Ambush it certainly was not, and his Israel has been no friend to America's efforts toward a two state solution. The Obama administration has been condemning for years every new announcement of Israel's settlement building as a key impediment to there ever being an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Says Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution and ambassador to Israel under Clinton, "The administration has been escalating its rhetoric in opposition to West Bank settlement for more than a year. Israel doesn't seem to be listening".

Settlements are not the only reason for the testy relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. The latter presumably does not like being told what Israel can and cannot do, and must cater to the right wing coalition that keeps him in power. "His passion is with holding power — at any cost", says Tom Friedman. Moreover, Netanyahu has often acted vengefully. Just weeks ago, Obama signed off on a $38 billion 10-year military assistance pledge — the largest aid package America has ever given to another nation. But Netanyahu, who has taken for granted years of America's annual $3 billion for Israel's defense, seems to think the U.S. owes Israel the money. He was miffed. He wanted $45 billion. Despite Obama's ongoing entreaties, three weeks later, he broke Israel's pledge only to expand existing settlements by announcing a new 300 units so deep in the West Bank that they will be closer to Jordan than Israel.

That was nothing new. In 2010 there was the incident of Vice President Biden arriving in Tel Aviv only to be embarrassed by the unexpected announcement of a 1600 unit settlement build out. And again in October 2014 Israel announced approval for construction of 2,610 units in East Jerusalem, just before Obama was to meet with Netanyahu. Another 500 units was announced in November 2014, part of a ring of settlements the Israelis have been building around Jerusalem to its east in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has said that the settlements were one of the reasons for breaking off the 9-month peace negotiations of 2013-14.

In July 2015, an Israeli court ruled that two illegally built apartment blocks should be demolished. So Netanyahu authorized immediate construction of 300 more units in the same settlement and announced planning would begin for 400 more in predominantly Jewish areas of East Jerusalem.

That belligerence fits what Michael Oren, Israel's former ambassador to the U.S., said about Netanyahu in his book, that "my approach ran counter to Netanyahu's personality — part commando, part politico and thoroughly predatory".

It is hard to find an instance when Netanyahu's actions toward the Obama administration have not been offensive. In May 2011, having rejected a peace idea of Obama, he rudely lectured the president about the peace process before a clutch of reporters while sitting in the Oval Office. Obama's dislike of Netanyahu went public that November, when France's President Nicolas Sarkozy was caught on a hot mic calling Netanyahu a "liar" to which Obama replied, "…but I have to deal with him more often than you".

In 2012 Netanyahu clearly favored Mitt Romney for president — fair enough, for they had been consulting co-workers in the U.S. when younger — but he welcomed Romney to Israel, which could not have sit well with Obama.

iran contra

But Netanyahu's going behind Obama's back to persuade Congress to reject the Iran deal between the U.S. and five other countries topped the rest. He was met with "rapturous" applause by all Republicans and most Democrats, the lot of them always mindful of where their campaign funding comes from. Netanyahu wanted a "better deal", the total removal of Iranian centrifuges and related uranium enrichment, a demand that paid no regard to the difficulty the six nations had in coming to any agreement with Iran, a sovereign country that had a strong negotiating hand.

everything yours is mine

But more substantive than the squabbles between the two leaders are the facts on the ground. Whether in officially planned communities or illegal outposts wrested from the Palestinians by the orthodox, who believe that everything to the Jordan River belongs to Greater Israel, some 407,000 Israelis are estimated to be in the West Bank, 100,000 more than when Obama's tenure began, and there are another 375,000 in the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 war.

A government commissioned 2005 survey found that 105 outposts were established in "blatant violation of the law".

That couldn't be allowed to stand. In 2012 Netanyahu commissioned another panel that concluded the West Bank is not actually occupied — before 1967 the territory was never internationally recognized as a territory — so the commission obligingly decreed that the Palestinians have no right to the land they live on.

This past November, the Israeli Parliament gave preliminary approval to the Settlers Bill, a law that would legalize settlements on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. Sponsored by Naftali Bennett's Jewish Home Party, it is in violation of even current Israeli law. Netanyahu is opposed, but he voted for it. Israel's attorney general warned that it would be a struggle to defend the law in court, and that their supreme court would almost certainly strike it down. For that matter, all settlements are in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit a state from transferring its own civilian population into a territory it has occupied.

Israel makes the case that the Palestinians have become intransigent, ignoring any overture. Israel's overtures, however, always come with the precondition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jews. The Palestinians say that would undermine the rights of the sizable Arab population living in Israel, not to mention that such a concession going in would lead to Abbas' downfall — or more likely worse. Some argue that the Israeli precondition is a deliberate barrier to guarantee that no two-state agreement will ever happen. And hadn't Netanyahu declared in March 2015 that no Palestinian state would ever be established on his watch?


It's obvious where this has been going. "Israel is moving quickly to establish facts on the ground that preclude a Palestinian state", said a New York Times editorial back in January, but until Obama's action and Kerry's voice, that has been treated as diplomatically unmentionable. Israel is engaged in a long-term plan to inject its citizens into the West Bank in such numbers to make their removal impossible. That has long since been achieved. The map of the West Bank looks like an outbreak of rubella or Karposi sarcoma.

Annexation is the ambition of the increasingly strident right wing that thinks the entirety of Greater Israel belongs to the Jews because

Click image to expand. Splotches mark settlements and
outposts in the West Bank in this Israel-created 2012 map.

they once lived there thousands of years ago. Takeover is the plan espoused by the right wing, such as Bennett who has proposed that Israel simply annex 40% — he now speaks of 60% — of the West Bank and create a few autonomous zones to placate Palestinians. He exulted on the morning after Trump's election, "The era of a Palestinian state is over".

For its part, the Palestinians under President Mahmoud Abbas have grown increasingly intransigent toward any peace proposals, having concluded that Israel will never arrive at an acceptable deal. After the peace talks broke down in April 2014, the feuding Fatah Party of the West Bank joined with the Hamas organization in Gaza, the latter designated a terrorist group by the U.S., to form a unified government for the Palestinians. Netanyahu accused Abbas of saying "yes to terrorism and no to peace" and said Israel will never negotiate with a government backed by Hamas. Israel retaliated by announcing plans for hundreds for housing units in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Beginning with its successful application for "observer status" at the United Nations in 2012 (the U.S. voted against), the Palestinians have turned away from any "peace process" and chosen a diplomatic salient. In 2014 they applied to join 15 international treaties, with plans to apply for 40 more, so as to be treated as a de facto independent state. They've now joined the International Criminal Court in the Hague, where they intend to press for a ruling that the Israeli settlements constitute a war crime.

demographic destiny

With no two-state solution, Israel faces an intractable dilemma should Israel's right wing prevail on its march to ultimately annex all of the West Bank. Israel will be absorbing the West Bank's 2.8 million Palestinians, adding to the 1.7 million Arabs that constitute 21% of Israel proper's population. The combined 4.5 million could someday exceed Israel's 6.3 million Jews if the higher Arab birthrate continues. If Israel chooses to continue as a true democracy, with Jews and Arabs treated alike under its laws, meaning that all Arabs would have the vote, Jewish control of their homeland would be lost. Clearly, that is a path that will not be allowed to happen, meaning the two states will instead be two peoples treated apart — an apartheid with separate laws for each and the end of true democracy. Israel already has 50 laws on the books that prejudice its own Arab citizens. In the West Bank, Palestinians are subject to military courts, where they are almost always convicted, whereas Israeli settlers fall under Israel's judicial system with its greater rights and protections. And annexation will cause a perpetually simmering insurrection of guerilla attacks. Nothing is so enduringly enraging as the loss of of the territory one calls home.

misplaced loyalty

One would think the U.S. had disgraced itself judging from the American response to the abstention. As a nation don't we favor a people's self-determination? How can we support a country that has occupied that people's land for an incredible 50 years? Yet members of both our political parties were sharply critical of Secretary of State John Kerry for unforgivably speaking the truth about where Israel is headed.

"The status quo is leading toward one state and perpetual occupation…If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won't ever really be at peace…We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing and say nothing when we see the hope of peace slipping away."

In his speech, Kerry was careful to confirm America's steadfast commitment to Israel's security, and to castigate the Palestinians' obstructive leadership and violence against Israelis, but U.S. censure was overdue:

"Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change. Friends need to tell each other the hard truths".

That the two-state solution is as good as dead had not yet registered at The Wall Street Journal where the reaction was that Kerry's words "could further inflame the fraught relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians" and lead to "an unraveling of the push for a two-state solution". Unlike Kerry's, the Journal's view is that we somehow owe Israel endless deference no matter its conduct. "U.S. Escalates Tensions With Israel" was its front page headline, and the editorial pages read more like an Israeli newspaper, with the headlines "Obama's Anti-Israel Tantrum", "Kerry's Rage Against Israel", "The War on Israel Never Ends".

The Times reported the outcry of "lawmakers in both parties" but took a measured approach on its editorial page. But its conservative columnist, David Brooks, found the U.N. abstention "completely indefensible policy". He finds that while "settlements are an obstacle to peace and the two state solution…they are about the fifth or sixth most important obstacle". Mr. Brooks needs to see that map of the West Bank.

anything goes

Obama and Kerry have delivered their parting shot, if only symbolic, since the U.N. has no enforcement powers, but at least the administration has gone on record to say it has had enough. Donald Trump has loudly signaled that Israel will hear no such rebukes. "Things will be different after Jan. 20th", he tweeted. He has tapped David Friedman to be ambassador to Israel, a New York City bankruptcy lawyer who has called members of a liberal Jewish organization "kapos", the word for those in the concentration camps who cooperated with the Nazis; has accused Obama of "blatant anti-Semitism"; is against the two-state solution; wants Israel to expand settlements; and contributes to them. What clearer signal could Trump have sent to announce his acceptance of total annexation?

"We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect", the President-elect has tweeted. Trump is in Netanyahu's pocket, even wants him to come to his inauguration. Netanyahu knows it and tweeted, “President-elect Trump, thank you for your warm friendship and your clear-cut support for Israel!”. Despite eight years of U.S. vetoes in the U.N. to protect Israel — Obama is the only American president with a 100% record of having his ambassador to the U.N. vote against every resolution condemning Israel, says the Jerusalem Post — despite a huge effort to broker a peace deal, despite supplemental Iron Dome funding to fend off Hamas rockets, despite the biggest foreign aid package in U.S. history, Trump says Israel is "being treated very, very unfairly". Exhibiting his stunning ignorance of the futile attempts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian problem, the coming president said that the U.N. loss "will make it harder to negotiate peace" but "we will get it done anyway."

1 Comment for “Israel Ambushed and Betrayed, Or Was It Overdue Comeuppance?”

  1. Tony White

    Excellent, well documented piece on a complex as well as controversial topic. Unfortunately, the incoming administration may undermine this long overdue action by President Obama and the clarification of American principles by John Kerry.

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