Israeli-American relations have apparently hit a new low, with unnamed but senior members of the Obama administration referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “coward” and “chickens**t” in interviews with Atlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg, a journalist with good access to both governments.
“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickens**t the Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
Israeli officials have reacted to the story by demanding that those who were quoted be identified and fired, and that an apology be issued. The Obama White House has done none of that, merely noting that such statements by U.S. officials are “inappropriate and counterproductive.”
These increasingly bitter exchanges between the Obama and Netanyahu governments were touched off by announcement of yet another round of settlement expansions, including into historically Arab areas of East Jerusalem and deep into the West Bank, in areas that would form the core of any Palestinian state. They continue a long string of such announcements. Every such expansion amounts to a repudiation of a two-state solution to the dispute between Israel and Palestine. Every such expansion amounts to a public rejection of official U.S. policy going back as far as the Nixon administration.
It’s time that such announcements had consequences. In recent months, Netanyahu has taken to public whining that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, with fewer and fewer friends. Well, if you repeatedly act in total disregard of international opinion and international law, and against the ardent advice of your closest and just about only remaining ally, yes, you will become more isolated. Among human beings as among nations, that’s how such things work.
And at least some prominent Israeli leaders understand that dynamic. Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni this week condemned the expansion plans as “irresponsible from both a diplomatic and security standpoint.” Yair Lapid, minister of finance in Netanyahu’s coalition government, has even refused to fund the most recent round of expansions. “There is a time and a place for everything and this is not the right time; you heard what the Americans said about us,” he reportedly said in a Cabinet meeting. “I don’t remember us making a decision to destroy our relations with the Americans.”
I have supported Israel my entire adult life and have admired it for much of that time. That admiration has all but disappeared, eroded by the decision of Israeli politicians to abandon the shared values that once united our two countries in favor of policies that allow them to take land that is not theirs and to deny the basic human rights of those who rely upon that land. As I’ve noted before, they risk repeating the story of Genesis, in which the inability to withstand temptation results in ultimate eviction.
No, seizure of Palestinian property and creation of settlements in areas long designated as part of a future Palestine are not terrorist attacks. They don’t kill anybody, not directly. But in terms of impact on the long-term prospects for peace, such actions are just as destructive and in their own way, immoral. By appropriating land and water, you appropriate the future and ensure violence.
And it does not enhance the security of Israel; it endangers it. Whether certain elements of the current government chose to recognize it or not, Israel cannot survive on its own, not in the long run. It needs friends, and to have a friend, you must be a friend.