The recent announcement by Israel that it will expand settlements in East Jerusalem may be the straw that breaks the impasse in the Middle East. It appears to be igniting yet another intifada, fueling anti-Americanism across the Middle East and countering President Obama's whole effort to reconcile with the Muslim world.
Israel and America are hardly about to part ways, but the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has now pitted the interests of his right wing political coalition against US national interests. How can the Obama White House stand for that? I spoke about these issue with Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America's most prominent strategic thinkers, who was national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Nathan Gardels: Let's go back to basics. It is clear that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict stands at the center of what motivates so much terrorism against the United States. In this context, the Netanyahu government's insistence on expanding settlements -- despite President Obama's high-profile promise to stop them in his Cairo speech -- does more than undermine U.S. credibility. Isn't it, fundamentally, against U.S. strategic interests?
If the U.S. backs down in its demand, fueling the "third intifada" now under way in the Palestinian territories, won't that be a gift to the terrorist recruiters as well as to Iran's regime, thus further threatening U.S. interests in the whole Middle East?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Absolutely. It threatens the lives of American soldiers stationed in the Middle East and fighting in Afghanistan because it intensifies support for Muslim extremism.
Gardels: Because such an intifada threatens U.S. strategic interests -- and thus deepens the rift between U.S. and Israel -- doesn't that harm Israel as well?
Brzezinski: Ehud Barak, Netanyahu's defense minister and former prime minister, said it better (on Jan. 26) than I can: Unless there is a two-state solution, "any other situation -- and not an Iranian bomb or any other external threat -- is the most serious threat to Israel's future."
Yet a two-state solution becomes impossible as the settlements proliferate on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Barak also said (on Feb. 2) that if there is no two-state solution Israel "is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
Gardels: As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz editorialized earlier this week: "Israel is not America's strategic asset, but America is the source of Israel's strength, and it is essential to rein in the lunacy that threatens to shatter the link between the two countries. . . . The government headed by Netanyahu is now emerging as a strategic threat [to Israel]."
Brzezinski: I agree with Haaretz. And that is why the issue is not between America and Israel but between America and an extreme right-wing government in Israel whose prime minister proclaims that he accepts a two-state solution while striving to make it impossible to achieve.
Gardels: What should the Israelis do?
Brzezinski: Israel needs a government of national unity, and not one beholden to the extreme right. It is as if Hamas dominated the Palestinian side.
Gardels: What is the role of the Quartet group -- Europe, Russia, the UN and the U.S. -- meeting in Moscow (March 19), in moving forward?
Brzezinski: The Quartet should put on the table what the entire international community would endorse: the basic outlines of a peace of reconciliation, the only kind of peace likely to endure.
The principles of any movement toward reconciliation are clear: no right of return for Palestinians; two capitals in East and West Jerusalem; return to the 1967 lines with one-to-one swaps of territories in adjusting those lines; a demilitarized Palestinian state with either U.S. or NATO forces on the Jordan River to guarantee Israel's strategic security.
(c) 2010 GLOBAL VIEWPOINT NETWORK/TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES