Speaking to thousands of attendees at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) gala dinner last night, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered this response to the Obama administration’s request that Israel halt settlement expansion on occupied territory in and around Jerusalem:
The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.
Watch it (Jerusalem comments begin at 8:05):
The AIPAC audience responded to this with two rounds of applause that went on for over a minute.
It’s quite true that Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is an ancient city to which both the Jewish and Palestinian people have legitimate historic claims. But while Jerusalem itself is not a settlement, it is ringed by settlements, such as the now-infamous Ramat Shlomo, built by Israel for the specific purpose of consolidating Israeli control of the city and cutting off future Palestinian access. Arab neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, are also deeply infiltrated by settlements, for the same purpose: To embed Israel in all areas of the city, and to re-engineer its demographic character in order to preclude its division under future negotiations.
How can Israel continue to flout both international law and its own U.S.-brokered agreements at no immediate cost? Listen to that wild applause again.
Interestingly, Netanyahu also offered a veiled rebuke to Gen. David Petraeus, who last week told the Senate Armed Services Committee (pdf) that the Israel-Palestinian conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel,” and that “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples” in the Middle East.
Implicitly rejecting this analysis, Netanyahu insisted that “Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values”:
In the eyes of these fanatics, we are you and you are us. To them, the only difference is that you are big and we are small, you are the Great Satan and we are the Little Satan. This fanaticism’s hatred of Western civilization predates Israel’s establishment by over one thousand years. Militant Islam does not hate the West because of Israel. It hates Israel because of the West, because it sees Israel as an outpost of freedom that prevents them from overrunning the Middle East. When Israel stands against its enemies, it stands against America’s enemies.
The idea that “Israel’s war is America’s war” is a long-time favorite of the neocons. Which is to say that it’s a politically useful fiction that will end up getting lots of Americans killed. Sure, many Islamic extremists who hate Israel hate America too, but casting the various Islamist groups and movements of the Middle East together under the heading “these fanatics,” and asserting that we’re involved in a war of civilizations that “predates Israel’s establishment by over one thousand years,” is not only analytically sloppy, but a pretty transparent attempt to absolve Israel for policies and behaviors that drive extremism and undercut American credibility.