July 10, 2012

Shift on "occupation" compels new pro-Israel strategy

More than at any time in this generation, Israel's friends will need to muster candor, creativity, and coordination. 

For true pro-Israel advocates, the Oslo process was a godsend. That is, for those of us who were then still intent on promoting and defending Israel's international standing, rather than imposing our own ideological stamp on Israel's domestic politics. Israeli policies were much easier to explain to those "undecideds" in America and elsewhere: Israel was taking clear and significant steps to resolve the status of the West Bank and Gaza, and of Palestinians everywhere.

Since the late-1990s, we have returned to pointing out the less obvious ways in which Israel remained committed to "doing the right thing," as well as justifying or downplaying actions that are less universally palatable (home demolitions and expulsions, military crackdowns, land expropriation, settlement "natural growth"). Now, perhaps for the first time since the 1982-84 Lebanon War, we face a situation that cannot be explained away by necessity or lack of alternatives, while the dangers facing Israel -- and the need for international support and legitimacy -- are not going away.

The ambivalent status of Israel's presence in the West Bank has now been officially denied by an expert panel appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Past governments have cited extenuating circumstances, or applied very broad definitions of Jerusalem's city limits. But never before has the Government of Israel simply announced that there is no occupation, and that there never was.