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.

Regardless of one's own personal views on Israeli and Jewish rights to the West Bank or the pointlessness of further peace efforts, this new policy will cause tremendous confusion and pose new challenges among Israel's friends and allies in America and elsewhere. Most immediately, by removing the constraints as a military occupier, Netanyahu's panel has also eliminated the legal basis for destroying Palestinian homes and seizing Palestinian land. More indefinitely, this shift opens the gate to unconditional growth of settlements throughout the West Bank -- which no government would allow were it in any way interested in an eventual peace agreement and withdrawal leading to a viable Palestinian state.

If Israel has effectively washed its hands of the peace process, we can no longer credibly pretend otherwise -- credibility being our greatest resource. And yet, those of us who remain committed to supporting Israel, including at the United Nations, need to find a way to do just that -- or find some other pretext or strategy to replace it. For myself, I have no answer as yet, but the first step will involve discarding the well-worn talking points we've been repeating for the past 40 years, and honestly facing this new reality.

1 comment:

  1. The only "pretext" here has been that the Arab puppets, parading as “Palestinians,” were ever interested in a two-state solution. After six decades of fighting for its very survival, it is understandable that Israel may have exhausted its patience with the numerous wars and countless peace facades. More than any war, however, the so-called "peace process" has been the single biggest drag on Israel's progress. To think that the democratically-elected government in Jerusalem wants to move on could be a good thing.