There’s an awful lot to agree with in Tom Friedman’s column this weekend about Israel’s growing isolation and the Netanyahu government’s inability to find a way clear, but he perpetuates the unfortunate trend of American liberals (usually Jewish ones) sort of playing dumb about what’s going on. The method here is to feign incredulity that Netanyahu could be so foolish and to say we don’t understand why he’s being so darn pig-headed.
It’s fairly clear, though, that Netanyahu isn’t “failing to put forth a strategy” or suffering from a lack of “subtle diplomacy.” Netanyahu came to the United States recently and delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress in which he described his strategic objectives as including perpetual military control over the Jordan Valley, perpetual Israeli control over East Jerusalem, and the non-emergence of a genuinely sovereign Palestinian polity on whatever scraps of the West Bank remain for Palestinian residents once Jewish settlers have grabbed all the bits they want. This is an immoral strategic objective to pursue, in my opinion. I would also add that it’s a foolish strategic objective to pursue. But it’s clearly Netanyahu’s objective, and he’s pursued it quite doggedly and quite effectively for a long time now. He pursued it successfully as Prime Minister in the 1990s. He continued to pursue it as a member of Arial Sharon’s cabinet. When Sharon looked like he might abandon this objective, Netanyahu broke from Sharon. That was a risky move, but he made the risk pay off by returning to power some years later a Prime Minister. And now back in the highest office in the land he’s pursuing it again, and he seems to be pursuing it successfully.
It’s true that regional isolation is one of the costs of this policy, but that simply underscores the extent to which there’s a real strategic commitment here and a price Netanyahu is willing to pay.