By Eric Alterman
The title of this column is not intended to be purposely provocative. I mean it. Leave aside whatever motivation Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition may have for their actions. Let’s just focus on real world consequences.
In March, Israel’s government deliberately alienated its most important friend, patron and strategic asset, the United States government, by announcing the building of 1,600 new apartments for ultra-Orthodox Jews in Arab East Jerusalem just hours after Vice President Joseph Biden arrived for an official visit. Biden had told the Knesset there was “no space” between the two nations. Lest anyone think this move was accidental, it came a day after the government approved 112 new homes in Beitar Illit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the occupied West Bank, despite having agreed in November to curb settlement growth under its (unfulfilled) obligations to the George W. Bush administration’s road map. Israel’s action was quite obviously intended as “dafka, the proverbial stab in the back,” in the words of a Forward editorial. If it had been intended to infuriate every friend of Israel in the U.S. government, it could not have been much better planned.
Recall that just before these incidents, the Mossad apparently assassinated Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official, in Dubai, one of the most pro-Western and moderate places in the Arab world, using stolen British and French passports. Dubai officials and Israel’s Western European allies were infuriated. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the incident “intolerable” and expelled an Israeli diplomat. “The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend only adds insult to injury,” he added. Again, this was part of a destructive diplomatic pattern undertaken by the Netanyahu government. In January, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon deliberately seated Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, then the Turkish ambassador to Israel, in a low chair and removed the Turkish flag from a meeting in response to a Turkish television drama unfriendly to the Mossad. This only delivered a gratuitous insult to what is perhaps Israel’s strongest ally in the Muslim world. Ayalon was forced to apologize, but Celikkol left his post early. The list goes on and on.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who heads Israel’s friendliest border state, recently told The Wall Street Journal that Netanyahu’s policy of building homes for Jewish families in East Jerusalem has pushed Jordanian-Israeli relations into a downward spiral. “Unfortunately, for the first time since my father made peace with Israel [in 1994], our relationship is at an all bottom low,” Abdullah said. “I think the long-term future of Israel is in jeopardy unless we solve our problems.”
So where will all this lead?
First, it renders any likely cooperation from these nations extremely more difficult regarding the very real threat to Israel from Iran. What’s more, it endangers U.S. and allied troops around the world, according to General David Petraeus, the United States Central Command head. Petraeus recently told Congress that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the “root causes of instability” in the region and endangered U.S. goals in Iraq, Afghanistan and his area of responsibility. “The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said. “Arab anger,” he continued, “over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the area of responsibility and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.”
Second, Israel is purposely destroying the building blocks of a potential peace agreement just as the Palestinian Authority is finally being led by a pragmatic, Western-oriented leader committed to a negotiated two-state solution. “By expanding settlements instead of separating from the Palestinians while we still can, we Israelis are dooming ourselves to lose the Jewish and democratic state that has been won with so much sacrifice,” wrote Uri Dromi, spokesman for the Rabin and Peres governments from 1992 to 1996, in the International Herald Tribune. Indeed, as the prominent Fatah statesman and former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath told London’s Independent, the government’s actions have sabotaged the peace process: “The speed at which Jerusalem is being Judaized and de-Arabized has surpassed any period in the history of the peace process and is so alarming that we cannot possibly continue giving cover to Mr. Netanyahu that we are still negotiating while he is doing this.”
Before he left office, the formerly hawkish ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned his nation, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?” To preserve itself as a Jewish state, he insisted, Israel needed to give up “almost all the territories, if not all,” including the Arab parts of East Jerusalem. More recently, ex-Prime Minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak added: “The simple truth is, if there is one state” including Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, “it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. … if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
And yet, this is exactly the path upon which Netanyahu has embarked. Call it what you will, but in light of the above, “suicide,” for a Jewish, democratic Israel, is, sadly, not too strong a word.
Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and City University of New York’s graduate school. His latest book is Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America.