Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu on March 22 defiantly declared to the world that: “there will be no freeze on construction in Jerusalem. Everyone knows it.”
An enduring occupation requires a high level of arrogance and a poker face in rationalization of injustice. The international community is well aware that Israel may have reached its limits in “digesting” the occupation demographically. Washington, in particular, is worried about Tel-Aviv’s denial of reality: for every Jew there is an Arab within post 1967 Israel controlled land.
The Israeli government is nervous about a serious shift in the U.S. administration’s attitude towards an extended, worsening and hazardous occupation. The White House expects Israel to freeze illegal building of housing in occupied Palestinian territories and to come to the peace table. But Israel insists that it is not ready to stop building on “liberated” land. Tension between Tel Aviv and Washington is mounting.
The U.S. relationship with Israel has been exceptionally close for years. Many believe this relationship has in fact turned symbiotic; seemingly the interests of the two states are deemed to be identical. Recently, however, the leadership of the U.S. military and national security has voiced concerns over this level of closeness to Tel-Aviv and over Washington’s handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Over the past six decades, Israel has partnered with the U.S., militarily and diplomatically, but the Zionist state has become too alienated from the region. Does Israel expect America to continue indefinitely to tolerate the occupation, offer massive aid, defend the Jewish state in the United Nations and ignore collective punishment of the Palestinians?
For their part, the Arab states have made a bad situation worse by irresponsible treatment of Palestinians, blaming Israel for all their troubles, refusal of much needed reform and counterproductive diplomacy. But Israel’s enduring occupation cannot be rationalized as a necessity for security.
Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has been in doubt about its future. The U.S. has been supporting Israel unconditionally since the 1967 war, a cataclysmic event which bolstered Israel territorially but exposed it to endless risk.
Advocates of Israel interests call upon Obama to be “gentle” and “reassuring” with Israel, but advocates of Palestinian rights expect our president to be firm with a government which regards land annexation as land reclamation, sanctified by divine will. Building settlements on occupied land is illegal under the Geneva Conventions; for Palestinians, annexation is theft of their private properties.
Sentiment against Israel’s defiance of international law has been growing slowly within the U.S., and more so in Europe. In response, Netanyahu has been trying hard to shift world attention from Israel-Palestine to Iran. He has partially succeeded. By reviving the image of Iran as the center of the “axis of evil,” the Israeli occupation has been downplayed. This diplomatic diversion paints Israel’s land-grab as a “tolerable” infraction, when contrasted with Iran’s nuclear threat, purportedly aimed at “vulnerable” Israel. U.S. sanctions on Iran are tightening.
For some unclear and disturbing reason, Israel’s possession of a large stockpile of atomic bombs has been ignored in dealing with Iran’s crisis. The nuclear crisis is regional and not a recent emergency; it started in the early seventies when Israel was permitted in secret by the U.S. to acquire the bomb. For the Middle East, there is a double standard regarding legitimacy of occupying foreign land and the possession of weapons of mass destruction.
The Arab and Muslim worlds see Zionism through their lens. Unconditional U.S. support of Israel has tarnished America’s reputation in the Muslim world. In recent months, some of Israel’s own friends have had second thoughts about the cost of the occupation and defense of settlement policy. Many wonder if Israel is risking its future in holding on to the occupation. U.S. intelligence predicts dire demographic consequences for a state that swells in power and yet shrinks in security.
The occupation of vast Palestinian and Syrian territory, annexation, settlements, a Berlin-wall like fence (deep inside the West Bank), endless check points and collective punishment (against a mixture of civil rebellion, military resistance and fading terrorism), all such measures erode Israel’s democracy. Should Israel become an apartheid-like regime, as is expected in a decade or so, reverse migration of Jews may take place. An alternative could be ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Palestinians. Both scenarios are nightmarish.
True friends of Israel should encourage the Jewish state to end the occupation by seeking peace. Israel’s security will not improve through a new war with Iran.
Likewise, true friends of Palestinians should encourage them to unite around a platform of democracy and human rights. Such supporters should also demand Arab political awakening to provide a climate in which a future Palestinian state could be viable and democratic.
An inclusive and comprehensive regional approach for U.S. foreign policy should be based on treating Israel, Iran and the Arab world as equidistant stakeholders. Only such a balanced policy can help Israel to integrate within the region and relieve the U.S. from the impossible task of securing a state with elastic borders.
Lasting security for Israel can only be achieved through peace with neighbors.