Alon Ben-Meir Headshot

Supporting Netanyahu Imperils Israel

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Regardless of all the protestations by Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu to return to peace negotiations if only the Palestinians would agree, one simple fact cannot be masked: Mr. Netanyahu does not want a two-state solution. He wants only to delay decision-making at all costs. Thus far he has succeeded, and he is likely to continue to succeed with the unwavering support of US Congress and pro-Israel advocates in the United States. But in doing so, Netanyahu and his American backers are jeopardizing Israel's national security.

In a recent tongue-in-cheek YouTube video that now has hundreds of thousands of views online, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reasserted what Prime Minister Netanyahu stated at the Joint session of Congress: the West Bank should not be considered occupied territory. Ayalon claims that Israel has already compromised by not establishing its state on the East Bank of the Jordan River, in what is today Jordan, in addition to the West Bank.

With this kind of position deeply entrenched in the Netanyahu government's policy, getting to a viable, negotiated two-state agreement is a fantasy at best. Meanwhile, members of Congress, like the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), have introduced legislation to cut off funding for the United Nations and any state that votes in favor of a Palestinian state at the U.N., as well as cuts to U.S. bilateral aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Statements by Republican presidential candidates, like Texas Governor Rick Perry, saying President Obama is "throwing Israel under a bus" may be mere campaign rhetoric, but do nothing but further encourage Israeli intransigence. Pro-Israel advocates in the United States have fueled policymakers to take imprudent but politically advantageous positions by supporting Netanyahu seemingly at all costs. Perhaps with the best of intentions to protect Israel's interest in this highly contested US political campaign season, Israel is being used largely by Republicans to seek political advantage. Ironically, it is being done to Israel's detriment. The fact that the Republicans have successfully made support for Israel a major domestic political issue has forced President Obama, who is seeking re-election, to wholly support Netanyahu's unyielding stance as well.

Such unmitigated political support for Netanyahu's government certainly helps to undermine U.S. influence and credibility in the region and beyond. Even more worrisome, however, is that with "friends" like these in Congress and the White House, Israeli rejectionists of Palestinian statehood in Netanyahu's governing coalition are encouraged to continue to advance disparaging policies which threaten Israel's long term national security. Netanyahu and his cohorts may see this as a major victory, but in truth it only serves Netanyahu's self-delusion that Israel will be better off by stalling rather than directly confronting the Palestinian conflict in search of an equitable solution.

To be sure, Israel has legitimate security concerns, perhaps now more than ever. The Israeli experience of withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon--however unilateral and without a clear understanding with the Palestinians and the Lebanese respectively--only to receive rockets in return alarmed the Israeli public with regard to "land for peace principle." That Palestinian Authority controls only the West Bank, leaving many Israelis doubtful that any agreement could be implemented on the ground. Hamas and other extremist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, who have the open support of Iran, still seek Israel's destruction and systematically engage in acts of violence and terrorism.

Certainly the prevailing security conditions in the West Bank are dramatically different from those that existed prior to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza or southern Lebanon. Even so no one should expect Israel to simply withdraw from the West Bank without iron-clad security arrangements built upon and exceeding the already existing Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation.

This raises the question whether Israel is better off today than it was when Netanyahu assumed the premiership nearly three years ago. The answer is clear. Israeli-Egyptian peace is the most precarious it has ever been, Israel's relations with Turkey have appreciably deteriorated; its ties with the Obama administration have been strained. The international community, including many of the EU members, largely identifies Israel as the culprit behind the prolonged stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty engulfing the broader Middle East as a result of the Arab Spring redoubles Israeli anxiety. To suggest that this state of affairs and Israel's growing isolation would have happened regardless of Netanyahu's policy and the continuing occupation is groundless. The occupation continues to nurture anti-Israeli sentiments throughout the international community, and especially in the Arab and the Muslim worlds. Israel can walk the high moral ground and claim its rightful place among the free nations only by ending the occupation.

The burden of proof now rests on Netanyahu's shoulders. His policy to date has been simply "delay." In his speech to the UNGA, he missed yet another golden opportunity not only to make the case that Israel is seeking a genuine peace with security but also identify what Israel will be willing to do to move toward a genuine two-state solution. Instead, he placed Israel on the defensive by justifying the occupation and the settlements, offering no new initiatives or ideas, and most noticeably, no new gestures of good will, like temporary freeze on settlement construction to lure the Palestinian to the negotiating table. Whereas today the Palestinians and the Arab world have a clear strategy: to use the United Nations to enhance their international position by advancing the Arab Peace Initiative, Netanyahu has no plan. Indeed, Netanyahu's policy is to reject any opportunity to pursue peace if it is predicated on and must lead to a two-state solution.

Until his backers in the United States stop mere politicking and recognize their culpability in contributing to Israeli isolation, they continue to delegitimize and further endanger Israel's national security which US officials are presumably trying to safeguard. Meanwhile Netanyahu is placing Israel on a dangerous course that will further increase its isolation and renew violence that will place the security of Israeli citizens and the future of Israel in jeopardy.