Some Good Reads on the Israeli Election

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by Jim Lobe

There’s been a lot of useful commentary on Tuesday’s election in Israel, including by Paul Pillar and Mitchell Plitnick on this site. I certainly agree with both analysts that Netanyahu’s victory represents a clarifying moment for those who needed any further clarification. Any notion that Netanyahu will support a two-state solution should be entirely dispelled (although Bibi seems to have already embarked on a subtle propaganda effort—facilitated by the overly credulous reporting of The New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren—to reassure the international community that his eleventh hour campaign pledge never to permit the formation of a Palestinian state was designed merely to win the election and didn’t reflect his real views on the subject). As Avner Gevaryahu of the Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence has noted, “Bibi says something different in English from what he says to his own people in Hebrew.” The Palestinians clearly lack a partner for peace in Netanyahu and the right-wing government he is cobbling together.

This theme was elaborated by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, in an op-ed, “Netanyahu’s Win Is Good for Palestine,” that, significantly, was published in Thursday’s print edition of the Times. The newspaper has published Munayyer’s pieces in the past, but the combination of the op-ed’s appearance in the immediate aftermath of the election and its explicit promotion of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign makes it particularly remarkable as a political statement about what the nation’s most influential daily newspaper thinks about Israel’s prime minister. Here are the concluding paragraphs:

Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election has convincingly proved that trusting Israeli voters with the fate of Palestinian rights is disastrous and immoral. His government will oppose any constructive change, placing Israel on a collision course with the rest of the world. And this collision has never been more necessary.

The election results will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. B.D.S. campaigns will grow, and more countries will move toward imposing sanctions to change Israeli behavior. In the past few years, a major Dutch pension fund divested large sums from Israeli banks active in the West Bank, and hundreds of millions of dollars have been divested from companies, like G4S and SodaStream, that operate in occupied territory.

There won’t be real change on the ground or at the polls without further pressure on Israel. And now, that pressure will increase. For this, we have Mr. Netanyahu to thank.

A similar message was contained in a brief essay, “Bibi’s Victory – All Bad?” published Thursday by Graham Fuller, whose work we frequently repost on LobeLog.

While Munayyer only briefly covered the likely reaction to Netanyahu’s victory in the U.S., that’s the subject of several pieces, beginning with Wednesday’s post by Michael Crowley in politico.com, “Israel’s Shield No More?” Indeed, this article was probably the most talked-about in Washington’s Mideast policy circles Thursday due to the highly critical quotes Crowley obtained from unnamed senior Obama officials. Those sources suggested that the administration may be less inclined to protect Israel from censure at the United Nations than it has been in the past and more inclined to mute its opposition to economic sanctions that some of its key European allies have wanted to impose against Israel’s settlement policies.

“We are signalling that if the Israeli government’s position is no longer to pursue a Palestinian state, we’re going to have to broaden the spectrum of options we pursue going forward,” one official told Crowley. Indeed, the White House Thursday used the word “reassess” to describe what Obama told Netanyahu in his “congratulatory” phone call about Washington’s future approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in light of Bibi’s repudiation of a two-state solution on election eve.

Crowley’s story also noted the recent promotion of Robert Malley to the post of White House coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf. Malley was forced to resign from Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 due to pressure from the Israel lobby, which had objected, among other things, to his advocacy of engaging Hamas when he served as Middle East and North Africa program director at the International Crisis Group. Malley, who served under Bill Clinton, became a bête noire to the lobby after publishing a series of articles in The New York Review of Books on the 2000 Camp David Summit, in which he participated, that challenged Clinton’s assertion that PLO chief Yassir Arafat bore responsibility for the failure of the summit and argued that the negotiating tactics of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak bore a major share of blame. Malley’s new position clearly makes the lobby very nervous. In that connection, it is especially interesting that the White House is sending its chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to speak to the annual convention of J Street, AIPAC’s upstart pro-peace Zionist nemesis, in the coming days. McDonough outranks Susan Rice, who was the administration’s top official to address the 16,000 attendees at AIPAC’s annual policy conference earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Peter Beinart, a liberal Zionist who over the past decade has become increasingly exasperated and panicked by the direction of Israeli politics, has published a couple of penetrating analyses on the implications of the elections for both the U.S. Jewish community and U.S. policy on the Haaretz website (which, unfortunately, is fully accessible to subscribers only). In the first, he argues that Netanyahu’s victory means that, “for now at least, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin.” For his entire adult life, he goes on,

American Jewish leaders have been telling Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait until Israel gains a respite from terror, they said; then its silent, two-state majority will roar. Give Israelis constant reassurance; never pressure them.

…Israel has been disproving that theory throughout the Netanyahu era. Now, with this election, Israel has killed it.

…The American Jewish establishment will never admit that its theory of change has been discredited. It will go on insisting, no matter how laughable that insistence becomes, that Israel is serious about creating a Palestinian state. [In fact, the headline of The Israel Project’s daily bulletin Thursday read: “Netanyahu reaffirms his commitment to the two-state solution”] The establishment’s disconnection from reality will gradually make it irrelevant. Already, the trend is clear: AIPAC, which claims Israel will end the occupation, is being supplanted by Sheldon Adelson, who celebrates Israel for entrenching the occupation. Adelson is taking over the institutions of American Jewish life only because of his money. He’s taking over because he looks reality in the eye.

The rest of the op-ed is an exhortation for Diaspora Jews to do the same and fully recognize that Israel “is headed toward moral disaster.” Although Beinart still rejects BDS because he believes its logic leads to a “single binational state” that would likely lead to civil war, he calls for a strategy of external pressure on Israel to change direction.

Our principle should be this: Support any pressure that is nonviolent and consistent with Israel’s right to exist. “That means backing Palestinian bids at the United Nations. It means labelling and boycotting settlement goods. It means joining and amplifying nonviolent Palestinian protest in the West Bank …It means pushing the Obama administration to present its own peace plan, and to punish—yes, punish—the Israeli government for rejecting it.

In a second piece for Haaretz Thursday, Beinart elaborates on the various options the administration may be considering in applying pressure. As in Crowley’s article, Beinart quotes unnamed senior officials as expressing “new levels of fury” over Bibi’s comments during the campaign, including his opposition to a Palestinian state; his racist fear-mongering about “Arab voters coming out in droves;” and his boast during the campaign that he built settlements in Har Homa as “a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem,” thus confirming to Hebrew-speakers that his settlement policy was deliberately aimed at sabotaging U.S. peace efforts. The result, according to one official who spoke with Beinart, forces the administration to “reassess our options”— the same message reportedly conveyed directly to Netanyahu in the phone call.

[T]he mood at the highest levels of the Obama administration is that something fundamental has changed. The political restraints preventing them from punishing Bibi have loosened. They worry that another Gaza War is possible, even likely, perhaps soon. They think there’s a real chance of Abbas allowing violence to rise from the West Bank. And they fear that the two state solution is now truly dead. They’ve even begun musing about what might come after.

One administration official suggested to Beinart that removing Ron Dermer as Israel’s (Republican) ambassador here may help, “most of the discussion is about policy.” That discussion, according to Beinart, includes permitting the Palestinian Authority (PA) to collapse due to Israel’s withholding of tax revenue (a situation that the IMF Wednesday warned has become an “existential” threat to the PA’s survival). Obama officials, however, believe that “Netanyahu would have to be insane” to permit that to happen.

Echoing Crowley, Beinart reported that a second option would be to break with a couple of decades of protecting Israel at the UN by refraining from vetoing or threatening to veto any UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements, thus “showing Bibi he can’t take American support for granted.”

A third option would be for Washington “to support a UN resolution outlining the parameters of [a] final two state deal,” an initiative that has been the subject of negotiation at Turtle Bay for a number of months late last year but was put on hold pending the Israeli elections.

Even a draft more attentive to Israeli concerns would likely enrage Netanyahu, who does not want the UN to outline any two state parameters at all. But the White House is thinking beyond Netanyahu, and such a resolution might give Obama a legacy that bears fruit down the road. Besides, at this point, Bibi’s objections don’t carry much weight.

Of course, this is precisely the approach that J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and a group of eminences headed by the former head of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Henry Siegman, have been urging Obama to take since he became president.

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Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

2 Comments

  1. At least now, the facade is off. Time to cut Israel loose, let it go its own way, come what ever happens. This “oh that was just rhetoric excuse”, is tiring, to say the least. Walking back after the fact, is as phony as “we’re the chosen few”, is to the rest of humanity. We’ve heard from many of the pundits, but it seems silence reigns supreme from the GOP. I wonder, how they and the nation feel about being identified with Netanyahoo now?

  2. Over on this side of the pond Bibi’s victory is being constantly described in terms as “stunning” and “decisive”, etc. But a closer look at the numbers reveals not much of a change at all, with Bibi winning 30 out of 120 seats, down 1 seat from the last Knesset. Granted he was down in the polls but thanks to a last second surge he just barely maintaining the same vote percentage and barely managing to hold onto to what he already had.

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