Bibi Netanyahu’s Victory

To further the weekend pushback against the idea that Bibi Netanyahu is somehow blundering by showing Barack Obama the back of his hand, read this article in the Hill:

“It would undermine Israel’s strategic depth, increasing its vulnerability to both military invasions and the sorts of rocket and missile attacks that Hamas carries out in Gaza,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Friday in a statement. “Doubling down on failed policies will not lead to the changes we need. It’s time for the Obama administration to change course.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) delivered a similar message, arguing that reverting the borders would only embolden Hamas to launch more attacks. […]

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) echoed that sentiment, saying the 1967 borders “were simply not defensible, and Israel must not be made to return to them.”

It’s noteworthy that these attacks not only involve misrepresenting what Obama said, but that many of them are coming from members of Barack Obama’s party. So in sum what we saw this week is that the President of the United States made it clear that he disagrees with the regional policy of the Israeli government, but despite that disagreement intends to keep Israel as the number one recipient of US foreign aid and that he also intends to put America’s diplomatic clout at Israel’s disposal in the coming controversy over a Palestinian declaration of statehood. Meanwhile, despite Obama’s lack of desire to shift US policy, he’s subject to opportunistic political attacks from members of the opposition party, attacks which are echoed rather than rebutted by members of his own political coalition. Meanwhile, despite an overhyped trend toward younger Jewish American adopting more sympathetic views toward Palestinians, the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian cause is deeply and increasingly unpopular in the United States:


The upshot is that with a series of bold strokes following Barack Obama’s inauguration, Netanyahu has debunked the Barak/Sharon/Olmert/Livni centrist conventional wisdom that has previously dominated Israeli politics. It turns out that it’s not true that Israel needs to be willing to make tactical concessions to the Palestinians or even be polite to the White House in order to retain American support. Israel has a basically free hand to behave as it wishes, taking the pieces of the West Bank it wants. And note that the populist nationalist parties gaining steam in Europe are, as an extension of their anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim views, much more strongly pro-Israel than mainstream European parties.

If liberal American Jews think this strategy is morally wrong (I do!) or that it’s a strategic mistake for the United States to go along with it (me too!), that it involves denying sufficient weight to the objective humanity of Palestinians, then we ought to say that. Simply assuming that it can’t work is, I think, a slightly naive read of the situation.