The American backbone deficit

Gideon Levy writes:

Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies.

No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today. That’s why this difficult, thankless task has fallen on the shoulders of an ally, as only it has the power to get things started. No agreement will come out of another endless series of futile diplomatic trips or peace plans to which no one intends to adhere. We have tried this enough in the past, and all for naught. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation program for Israel. The entire world, and ultimately Israel too, will applaud Barack Obama if he succeeds.

Expressing offense at “poor timing” and giving Israel’s prime minister the cold shoulder are not enough. This is the time for action, comprehensive and unwavering. America must now decide where it is heading and where it aims to lead Israel, the Middle East and the world. At issue is not just the future of 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, but that of Israel itself. What is required is not merely extending the settlement construction freeze – whether or not it includes the occupied areas of Jerusalem – but applying pressure on Israel to begin withdrawing to its own borders. The means at Washington’s disposal – including assistance on security and economic issues, the campaign against Iran’s nuclear program and diplomatic support of Israel – can all be conditioned on an end to the occupation.

America must now decide whether it’s for us or against us. Will it make do with easing the sting of the insult to the vice president? Will it continue to give in to its powerful Jewish lobby? Will it keep passing itself off as a friend while acting as a foe? Or are we really playing by different rules now? Yes, it’s likely to hurt Israel, and even many Americans, but this is the opportunity. There will be no other.

I’m not holding my breath.

A few days ago, when Hillary Clinton read the riot act to Benjamin Netanyahu, the word was that she was reading from an Obama-approved script. The image was of an angry president being tough while maintaining his facade of cool.

Almost a week later there are signs that the latest manifestation of Obama toughness was yet another mirage. Obama’s characteristically bland assessment that there is no crisis in US-Israeli relations but merely “a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward,” will yet again confirm Benjamin Netanyahu’s understanding that he is dealing with a spineless president.

Can Clinton and Mitchell make up for the backbone deficit? If the latter ends up in Israel in a few days without Netanyahu having made any significant concessions and if the former shows up at the AIPAC conference next week and doesn’t manage to make a few of the participants piss in their pants, then we’ll know the answer is no.

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