The recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a personal triumph for him and a disaster for the United States. Since the 1960s, if not before, Israel has sought to bind the United States to her by maintaining that the two countries have identical interests worldwide. In reality, this has never been true, even during the cold war when the Soviets were actively engaged in a number of Arab states, but it is a lie that has been assiduously promoted by Israel’s friends in Washington. The false narrative has been used to justify extraordinary levels of taxpayer-provided aid to Israel as well as unlimited political cover in international organizations like the United Nations, where the US Security Council veto has been regularly deployed to negate possible consequences whenever Israel attacks one of its neighbors.
The Bush Administration used to refer to “narrowing the playing field” to eliminate alternative strategies whenever it was planning something particularly nasty or illegal. Israel’s latest initiatives are cut from the same cloth, the culmination of years of effort to reduce the options for independent action by the United States to such an extent that there would be no wiggle room over issues that Tel Aviv considers to be important. For the past twenty years, for example, Washington has embraced the Israeli definition of terrorism, that all groups hostile to the State of Israel are terrorists and cannot be dealt with except by killing them. That has meant that groups that do not threaten the United States including Hamas and Hezbollah have been declared terrorists even though they started out as resistance groups in Lebanon and Palestine opposing the respective Israeli occupations and have now morphed into political parties. Israel, which actually helped create Hamas as a counter to Fatah, has piled on the confusion by regularly and inaccurately referring to al-Qaeda presence in Gaza and by conflating Hamas with al-Qaeda. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did so several times in his speeches last week. The confusion has apparently worked judging by Congress’s serial standing ovations when Netanyahu piled lie on top of lie on top of lie.
A more nuanced approach to the terrorism issue would be for the United States to step back from entering into new quarrels on behalf of its friends and associates internationally. Director of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano perfectly illustrated the perils of that kind of groupthink when she declared last week that the Pakistan based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is “as dangerous” as al-Qaeda. Lashkar is active in Indian-occupied Kashmir and also was behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but it does not threaten the United States. Napolitano’s singling out of the group was in front of an audience in New Delhi which might well lead one to question why she was over there and what homeland she was protecting. And her remarks could, of course, produce a bad result. They could suggest to LeT’s leaders that some targeting of Americans might be desirable.
Overall, the adoption of an Israeli-influenced counter-terrorism policy was a great success that was cast in concrete by the events of 9/11, which Bibi Netanyahu welcomed, knowing that Washington would be bound even more tightly to Tel Aviv. But there still remained that old nagging peace process to be dealt with. The United States had sent off former Senator George Mitchell to the region in an attempt to promote negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, or at least take a couple of baby steps in that direction. For Israel, peace would require fixed borders and it would also mean that the expansion of the illegal settlements would have to stop and might even be reversed. That was not a good outcome in the view of Netanyahu, who relies on right wing extremist parties for his governing majority.
Completely frustrated by his experience as peace negotiator, George Mitchell resigned shortly before Netanyahu appeared in Washington to attend the AIPAC conference and also to lecture President Obama. Obama’s eagerly awaited speech on the Middle East delivered the night before Netanyahu’s arrival was actually reviewed by the Israeli Prime Minister before it was given, demonstrating clearly whose foot was on whose neck. Netanyahu reportedly responded angrily to any mention of the 1967 borders in a phone conversation with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the speech was delayed for forty minutes while the president and his staff worked in other rewrites demanded by the Israeli Prime Minister. But it was not enough. The Obama suggestion that the old lines between Israel and the West Bank might serve as a basis for negotiations to decide on respective territorial claims became the president’s “macaca” moment. “No to 1967″ emerged as the rallying cry for Netanyahu and his friends in Congress and the media, enabling them to completely humiliate the American president.
At the end of the week in Washington the process was complete. Obama was forced to back away from his comments about the former borders. Netanyahu was able to affirm without any challenge from the Administration that Israel would never return to something “indefensible,” a curious assertion given Israel’s lack of any evident vulnerability when it attacked and defeated three of its neighbors simultaneously from those borders back in June 1967. And all of that was before Tel Aviv had acquired a nuclear arsenal which further tipped the balance of power in its favor.
Netanyahu also stated the following: that the West Bank is not occupied because it is really Judea and Samaria and therefore the patrimony of the Jewish people, that Jerusalem will remain under complete Israeli control, that any Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized and not even control its own airspace, that there would be an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River, that Israel will never talk with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, and that no Palestinian would ever be allowed to return to his former home in Israel. Netanyahu knew full well that he was denying that the Palestinians have any rights at all and even suggesting that they do not exist as a people but rather as some sort of terrorist entity. Netanyahu’s formulation would lead at best to the creation of a helot Arab state that could not possibly engage in any sustainable peace agreement unless compelled by brute force at the point of Israeli bayonets. Shouting and cheering congressmen endorsed every detail of the hateful Israeli program, supporting a foreign leader against their own president. It was a shameful moment.
In return for considerably less than nothing, the Obama Administration committed itself to an “ironclad” guarantee of Israeli security, the precise details of which are apparently to be determined by Netanyahu. It also rejected Palestinian plans to declare statehood at the United Nations in September and implied that it would veto any such attempt. The White House added that it would oppose any steps taken to isolate Israel in any other international fora. Israel’s $3 billion-plus each year from the US taxpayer was also untouched.
So what does it all mean? It means that the Obama Administration has no leverage whatsoever against Netanyahu. It has de facto accepted that there will be no peace process in the Middle East because Israel does not want there to be one. It means that the United States will use its veto at the UN as well as other forms of suasion internationally to make sure that Israel is neither criticized nor isolated, no matter what Netanyahu and his colleagues do. It means that largesse from the US taxpayer will continue, with plans afoot to budget the money out of the annual Pentagon appropriation so it will untouchable in any future debate over foreign aid packages. It also means that the United States is part and parcel to the ongoing system of apartheid practiced by the Israelis. To further punish the Palestinians there is even considerable talk in Congress about cutting US aid in response to the formation of a unity government between Fatah and Hamas.
Taken all together it means that the United States has absolutely no wiggle room in terms of its relationship with Israel. Israel has tied the US Congress and media so tightly to it that President Obama could do little but agree. When Israel attacks Gaza or Iran or Syria, as it surely will, Washington will be the accomplice to the act both factually and in the eyes of the world. Hillary Clinton should resign in shame, but she appears to have no self respect in her, having spent last week again threatening the hapless Pakistanis. Someone should remind her that Secretaries of State once represented Americans around the world in an honorable and forthright fashion. Hillary and her boss have demonstrated clearly that Israel’s all-embracing and constantly expanding “security concerns” trump the United States’ interests every time.