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Second Term Israel Policy: Same Old, Same Old

President Obama gave his first signal over the weekend that his policies toward Israelis and Palestinians will be the same in his second term as it was in the last three years of the first. He will do Prime Minister Netanyahu's bidding.

Just five days after winning reelection, Obama told Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States will oppose a United Nations General Assembly resolution that would grant Palestine "non-member state" observer status in the world body. "Non-member state observer" status is not much, but it would at least enable the Palestinians to participate in various international commissions, from which they are now banned.

Of course, the Israeli government is opposed to that as it opposes any change in Palestinian status not agreed to by Israel. That is why Israel (and the United States) repeatedly insists that the Palestinians cannot take unilateral actions on anything. Any change in their status must be agreed to in the context of negotiations with Israel.

This sounds sensible until one considers that the reason there are no current negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians is because Israel insists on its right to continue taking its own unilateral actions: expanding settlements and expropriating West Bank land. The Palestinians will not negotiate while Israel is chewing up the land they would ostensibly be negotiating over. Then Israel complains that the Palestinians are, horror of horrors, unilaterally going to the United Nations.

Forgive me for saying something so obvious, but isn't the unilateral act of expropriating land and building settlements on them considerably more egregious than unilaterally taking your case to... the United Nations.

The whole thing is absurd. By definition, nothing about going to the United Nations is unilateral while everything related to building settlements on the land the two sides are supposed to negotiate over is.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu expects the United States to back his position because he assumes that the American Jewish community, through the "pro-Israel" lobby, will make it impossible for Obama to do anything but yield to his will.

He is right about that but only because it is unlikely that Obama will test that proposition. If he did, both Obama and Netanyahu would discover that American Jews are no more likely to follow Netanyahu's lead on the issue of Israeli/Palestinian negotiations than they did on deciding who to vote for. American Jews voted overwhelmingly for Obama despite Netanyahu's clear preference for Governor Romney and the clear evidence that the more hawkish candidate was Romney. Netanyahu is a foreign leader. Saying that American Jews will do his bidding is offensive. And it's wrong.

But Obama will not bother to test this idea because it appears that he believes it is not worth the trouble.

Although he would prevail in the end, he does not want to begin his second term by going to war with a lobby which although not representative of most Jews is loud, powerful and flush with money. Additionally, it has hundreds of cutouts in Congress already worrying about funding for 2014. As for Netanyahu, the man is a loose cannon. It is hard to blame Obama for not wanting to go to the mat with him. Besides, Obama has his hands full preventing him from ensnaring us in a war with Iran.

Nonetheless, I do blame him. Yes, America has its domestic problems to deal with. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict threatens our national interests worldwide. The Muslim world despises us largely because of it. The rest of the world disrespects us because we are so obviously in thrall to a tiny foreign country in order not to displease its influential domestic backers. The Israeli peace camp is on life support because we refuse to give it the help it needs to end the occupation and save its country. As for the Palestinians, we enable their endless suffering at the hands of the Israeli government which maintains its occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza because we are too intimidated to simply say "stop."

In the end, justice will triumph. Two peoples will coexist in two states or one, with full democratic rights for both. But it appears they will have to get there over our opposition. It is pathetic.

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