I am not impressed by Secretary of State John Kerry's failed but energetic attempt to broker a deal between Israelis and Palestinians. It's not that I don't think his heart is in the right place. I know from conversations with him when he was in the Senate that he totally "gets" what the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about.
Like Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, with whom I also discussed the issue on multiple occasions, he understands that the obstacle to peace is the Israeli occupation. In fact, I'd say that the views of these three top United States government officials are nearly identical to those of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Like him, they want negotiations with the goal of ending the occupation while guaranteeing the security of both Israelis and Palestinians.
But it doesn't matter what the three of them believe is best for all concerned (not least the United States) because domestic politics prevents them from publicly diverging from the policies of the Israeli government. That was the lesson of the Senate hearings on Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense.
Hagel, unlike Biden and Kerry, had not confined his views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to private meetings. He said publicly that the United States had to start behaving like an honest broker in the Middle East but was constrained by the fact that "the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people" in Congress.
Those remarks would have killed his nomination but for the fact that he fully recanted them. Sen. Chuck Schumer, representing the forces of the status quo, spent 90 minutes with Hagel to "educate" him on Israel and to accept his convenient repentance.
Schumer followed up with a press conference in which he announced that he would now support Hagel who had answered his questions "very well." He said that Hagel "almost had tears in his eyes when he understood. So I believe he will be good." (Apparently tears are essential in these sessions. Obama's nominee for United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, had "tears streaming down her cheeks" when she recanted her previous positions on Israel, not to Schumer but to an Orthodox rabbi who described the scene.) Some 40 leaders of the Jewish community were invited to watch Power recant.
Not surprisingly, Hagel has not said a word remotely critical of the Netanyahu government since assuming the Pentagon post. Nor is Power likely to deviate from the position of her predecessor Susan Rice who viewed defending Israel against all criticism as part of her job description (and who has moved on to National Security Adviser with the strong support of the lobby).
Biden has shown the way. Despite his private misgivings, he has famously said, and more than once, that there must be "no daylight, no daylight" between U.S. and Israeli policies. And, there essentially hasn't been since 2009 when President Obama backed down in his demand for a settlement freeze following intense lobby pressure.
And that means that the United States has forfeited all credibility as a mediator in this conflict. We have chosen sides. We cannot pretend to be an umpire.
Similarly we should stop telling Israel that unless it gives up the occupied territories, it will cease to be a Jewish state as President Clinton said at Shimon Peres' birthday celebration in Jerusalem. That is not America's problem; we should not be in the business of helping any country maintain any form of ethnic identity. Let Israel figure out what it will do once the population under its control is more Palestinian than Jewish. And let Palestinians decide how to respond.
At this point, all Kerry accomplishes with his "re-engagement" is to provide the illusion that there is a peace process which, like everything else the Obama administration does in the region, only benefits Netanyahu. The Palestinians don't buy it anyway. It doesn't even raise false hope. It raises none.
But for Netanyahu the U.S. role provides cover. It demonstrates to the Israeli people that no matter what he does, no matter how many new settlers he brings to the West Bank or Palestinian neighborhoods he seizes, the United States still comes to him, bowing, offering respect and gently asking favors which Netanyahu ignores without consequence.
Although the Israeli peace camp keeps warning that Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land isolates Israel, visits from top U.S. officials show it isn't so. It demonstrates the opposite. And, in so doing, weakens the forces of peace even more. Their dire predictions are repeatedly shown not to be true; Israel can have its cake and eat it too.
It's time to end the charade and that means pulling the plug on the peace process. Doing so will have no effect on the Palestinians who already know that they are on their own. But it will send a clear message to the Israeli people that no one is going to bail them out of problems their government has created for them.
And then, hopefully, a majority of Israelis will divest themselves of this government and its policies. If not, not.
In any case, America should not be in a position where it not only permits the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world to defy us but also to demonstrate that there is no cost to doing so.
It's time for some benign neglect. There is no way that will accomplish less than our current one-sided engagement. After all, what is less than nothing?
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