How U.S. Jews Stymie Peace Talks
Source Dave Anderson
Date 10/09/30/05:53
How U.S. Jews Stymie Peace Talks
by Peter Beinart

MIDEAST TALKS FALL apart, as Israel lets West Bank settlements begin
anew. Peter Beinart on how American Jewish groups tie Obama’s
hands—and work against peace.

This just in, for anyone in the United States who still cares: Israel
has not renewed the partial settlement freeze it imposed ten months
ago. Which means that the direct talks with the Palestinians born this
month may die in the crib. Which raises an interesting question: What
would it take to make American Jewish groups admit that an Israeli
prime minister is not serious about peace?

You could hardly find a better test case than Benjamin Netanyahu.
Until last year, Netanyahu had not just spent his entire political
career opposing a Palestinian state; he had repeatedly compared such a
state to Nazi Germany. He opposed the Oslo peace talks at their
inception, and as prime minister in the late 1990s so consistently
reneged on commitments made by his predecessors that U.S. envoy Dennis
Ross later noted that “neither President Clinton nor Secretary
Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace.”
In 2005, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed dismantling Israeli
settlements in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu resigned from his cabinet in
protest. Netanyahu was still on record as opposing a Palestinian state
in 2009, when he again ran for prime minister. He hewed to this
position when forming his coalition government, even though doing so
helped keep Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima party from joining his
cabinet, thus preventing Netanyahu from assembling the national unity
government he claimed to want in order to confront Iran. Through all
of this, the major American Jewish groups still refused to publicly
entertain the idea that Netanyahu was anything but a champion of

Then, last summer, under intense pressure from the United States,
Netanyahu reversed course. In a speech at Bar Ilan University, he
announced that he now supported a Palestinian state—before adding two
conditions that no previous Israeli prime minister had imposed. The
first was that the Palestinians not merely recognize Israel, but
recognize it as a Jewish state. The second was that all of Jerusalem
remain under Israeli sovereignty, a condition that precluded the
offers that Ehud Barak had made in 2000 and 2001 and Ehud Olmert made
in 2008. As Livni commented after the speech, “Netanyahu doesn’t
really believe that two states, a Jewish state and a Palestinian
state, even a demilitarized one, is an Israeli interest. But…he
understood that at this stage he needs to utter the words ‘two
states.’” America’s Jewish organizations, by contrast, hailed the
speech as a sign of Netanyahu’s commitment to peace.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration pressured Netanyahu to curb the
growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The harder the White
House pushed, the more American Jewish groups objected. “Mr.
President—The Problem Isn’t Settlements,” declared a summer 2009
advertisement by the Anti-Defamation League. But when Netanyahu did
agree to a partial (and, as it would turn out, lightly enforced)
settlement moratorium, AIPAC hailed it as a sign of, you guessed it,
“Israel’s Peace Commitment.”

So let’s get this straight. When Netanyahu agrees to a settlement
moratorium, it’s a sign of his commitment to peace. And now that he
has let the moratorium end? It’s still a sign of his commitment to
peace because, as AIPAC now insists, negotiations must proceed without
preconditions. It’s back to “the problem isn’t settlements.”

But the problem—or at least a crucial problem—is settlements. Creating
a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank could easily require
moving 100,000 settlers—ten times as many as Israel removed in Gaza,
on far more theologically charged land. All those settlers will have
to be financially compensated (at least partially, judging from the
Oslo discussions, with U.S. taxpayer dollars). Many will have to be
violently confronted, a terrifying prospect given that militant
settlers comprise a larger and larger share of the Israeli officer
corps. (Yitzhak Rabin, remember, was assassinated for merely
contemplating the removal of West Bank settlements). And even if all
this can be done without civil war, any land Israel keeps in the West
Bank will likely have to be traded for land within pre-1967 Israel,
and there’s not much land to trade.

Extending the settlement freeze might have prompted some of
Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition partners to quit his government. But
a prime minister genuinely interested in a final status deal would
have said good riddance, and brought in Livni’s Kadima instead, thus
creating a government composed of people who actually support a
Palestinian state. Netanyahu, however, has not done that, just as he
refused to create a centrist government during his first stint as
prime minister. The reason is that he likes governing alongside
racist, pro-settler parties like Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu
and Ovadiah Yosef’s Shas. They give him political cover to do what he
has wanted to do all along: Make a viable Palestinian state

He’s well on his way. Whether or not the Obama administration can
strong-arm Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas into continuing the
negotiations, Netanyahu’s decision has empowered the settlers,
strengthened Hamas and made it more likely that sometime in the next
year or two, the occupied territories will again explode into
violence. But there is one silver lining. By his actions, Netanyahu
has laid bare the criteria that American Jewish organizations actually
use for evaluating the behavior of an Israeli leader. To be labeled a
champion of peace by the American Jewish establishment, it turns out,
a prime minister of Israel only really has to do one thing: be prime
minister of Israel.

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is
associate professor of journalism and political science at City
University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America

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