Sunday, November 01, 2009

Adapted from remarks at Boston College, Octover 27, 2009.

Imagine yourself in a position of national leadership in Israel. Would you be worried?

Support for Israel has declined further around the world, thanks in part to Israel's attacks on civilians in Gaza and Lebanon, respectively in 2008-9 and 2006. Israel's claims to occupy a position of moral superiority to the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation are met with growing skepticism. Increasing momentum for boycotts and divestment, threaten to further de-legitimize Israel.

Economic pressures from key trading partners are likely to grow in response to Israel's continuing colonization of the West Bank. For instance, EU rulings deny West Bank producers customs breaks, which affects as much as one third of Israel's exports to Europe.

Strategically, there is reason for concern as well. Not only does Iran's quest for expanding influence in the Middle East explicitly challenge Israeli military superiority but the strategic chessboard has changed. The key alliance with Turkey may be in jeopardy. Strategic re-orientation by Turkey has been underway for several years, as evidenced by Erodgan's comments on the Iranian nuclear program and a cooling of Israeli-Turkish military cooperation.

In the U.S., Israel's crucial supporter, public support for Israel's expansionist goals has declined, and even among U.S. Jews there is a mood of questioning skepticism vis-a-vis the hardline Netanyahu government.

Meantime, Hamas, which now controls Gaza, has gained the support of at least a sizable minority Palestinians. As a result, it now requires a truly credulous person to believe that a bi-lateral deal between Palestinians and Israeli is possible unless Hamas is included, at least tacitly. Hamas has been a beneficiary of Israeli obduracy, which has tended to substantiate its relatively hardline narrative.

Reflect back on the early 1990s, where there was significant optimism among Palestinians, and Hamas enjoyed only weak support. There is clearly a inverse reciprocal relationship between hope and the success of Hamas. In other words, if you want to undercut Hamas? Promote realistic hope.

This is not the time for the U.S. to go weak at the knees in its diplomacy with Israel, as the Secretary of State recently did in Jerusalem when she distanced herself from President Obama's insistence that Israel freeze all settlement. Given Israel's declining strategic advantages and its counterproductive policies, which often blatantly frustrate U.S. interests, this is a moment for emphatic and unyielding tough love.

Gideon Levy: "Israel of 2009 is a spoiled country, arrogant and condescending, convinced that it deserves everything and that it has the power to make a fool of America and the world. The United States has engendered this situation, which endangers the entire Mideast and Israel itself. That is why there needs to be a turning point in the coming year - Washington needs to finally say no to Israel and the occupation. An unambiguous, presidential no."

The clear-eyed Henry Siegman offers important wisdom to President Obama:

"Only a U.S. president with the political courage to risk Israeli displeasure — and criticism from that part of the pro-Israel lobby in America which reflexively supports the policies of the Israeli government of the day, no matter how deeply they offend reason or morality — can cure this pathology.

"If President Obama is serious about his promise to finally end Israel’s 40-year occupation, bring about a two-state solution, assure Israel’s long-range survival as a Jewish and democratic state, and protect vital U.S. national interests in the region, he will have to risk that displeasure. If he delivers on his promise, he will earn Israelis’ eternal gratitude."


Michal said...

Guess there's an error - the fourth paragraph states that Hamas controls WB, whereas it controls Gaza... or am I misreading something?

arn said...

Typo fixed. Thank you Michal.