Israel: Doing No Right, Doing No Wrong

05/15/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


People who believe strongly in Israel often have the impression that others prefer believing Israel can do no right. Indeed, judging by recent statements from both the White House and much of the media, Israel-bashing can come a little too easily.

Take the argument that Israel really doesn't want peace and secretly plans holding on to Palestinian territories forever. Really? During the Camp David talks of 2000, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to an American brokered deal that would have established a Palestinian state in all of the Gaza Strip, on 95 per cent of the West Bank , a Palestinian capital in Arab areas of Jerusalem and Palestinian control over the Holy City's primary Muslim shrines.

Yasser Arafat dragged his feet, finally turned that generous offer down and launched a second bloody intifada instead.

In 2005, the Israeli government dismantled all Jewish settlements in Gaza, uprooted all Israeli settlers there, and withdrew its army from Gaza. In exchange, Israel received a four year long torrent of Palestinian rockets.

In fact, the entire argument that Israeli settlements are the primary block to peace between Arabs and Jews is a huge fraud. The Arab world bitterly opposed peace with the Jewish state long before there were ever any Jewish settlements in either the West Bank or Gaza. What the Arab world opposes is the existence of a legitimate Jewish state.

Nonetheless, while obviously it is wrong to use Israel as a whipping boy that can do no right, it is also strategically incorrect to assume that Israel can do no wrong. In fact, occasionally Israel reveals a shocking expertise at making enormous, avoidable strategic mistakes.

The current dust-up with the Obama administration is one of them.

I lived for 13 years in a divided Jerusalem, a city where Jews -- Israeli, American or any kind -- were forbidden by Arabs from entering the Arab controlled section of the city or visiting Jewish holy places. I would never want to see Jerusalem divided in that way again. I also believe that Israel has a logical right to build 1600 new apartments (they are apartment units, NOT settlements) for its people in a section of the city that is so close to "official" Israeli Jerusalem that it is bound to eventually be part of any deal between Palestinians and Israelis should it ever come.

But a peace making visit to the Holy Land by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, traditionally one of Israel's staunchest supporters in Washington, is hardly the time for Israel to announce such a plan.

Whether the announcement was a ploy by one of Israeli Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu's extreme right wing religious coalition partners to embarrass him and nix peace talks, or it was a faulty Netanyahu ploy to throw a bone to his right wing followers, or something else, it was very embarrassing to Biden and gave the Palestinians an excuse to back away from peace talks -- even the indirect ones the U.S. is trying desperately to broker.

It also gave the Obama administration -- which has a predilection to see Israel as an annoyance -- an excuse to react with over-enthusiastic indignation. Savage White House blasts of Israel will not strengthen the hopes for peace but merely embolden those who don't want it in the first place (where is the Obama pressure on Palestinians to cut the nonsense and finally sit down for direct peace talks -- not indirect ones?)

There's an old Israeli joke from the days when the newborn state was struggling for economic strength. At a closed door cabinet meeting, someone suggests that the solution is for Israel to declare war on the U.S.

"Are you mishuganeh (crazy)" the assembly shouts! "The Americans would defeat us in an hour!"

"Of course," says the proposer. "But look what happened to Germany and Japan! The US defeated them, then spent millions building up their economies".

"Yeah," counters another, "but what happens if we win?"