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“Tough love” for Israel will be tough on the pro-Israel peace camp

A new Zogby International poll shows that 71 percent of Obama backers think the United States should “get tough with Israel” in order to stop settlement expansion, while 26 percent of McCain supporters feel that way. 80 percent of likely Obama voters also agreed with the statement, “It’s time for the United States to get tough with Israel,” in contrast to most McCain supporters.

No doubt many Israelis and their right wing American backers are mortified by the fact that Obama’s base wants him to do something about the settlement enterprise and to impose costs on Israel if it does nothing. No doubt the far left and other attackers of all things Israeli will rejoice at these poll numbers.

In contrast, while I am in the camp that wants Obama to have the political wiggle room to take a fair, evenhanded approach to the conflict, I hope that Netanyahu will NOT put Obama in a position where the President is forced to “get tough” with Israel. Like others on the pro-Israel left, I believe there is no chance to unravel the Gordian knot of the Israel-Palestinian conflict without bold American diplomacy, and the U.S. must insist that the settlements project comes to a dead-stop even as it presses for an end to Palestinian violence and incitement.

But that doesn’t mean that I and my fellow travellers in Americans for Peace Now, J Street, Israel Policy Forum, Ameinu and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom will be happy if the U.S. is forced to exercise tough love. If a bitter public confrontation has to happen, so be it. But it will hurt, in the same way that it hurts to argue bitterly with a recalcitrant family member.

Israeli pundits on the right do not seem to understand this. Nor do they understand what the pro-Israel peace camp in the U.S. is advocating. They seem to believe we would be delighted by a confrontation and are rooting for it because of our hostility to the very idea of Israel, and our ardent desire for it to make one-sided concessions. A column in the Jerusalem Post on this topic by Lenny Ben-David was entitled, “Rapture over the Rupture.” A diatribe from Isi Liebler calls us “fake Zionists “and expresses outrage at “the favorable media exposure provided to fringe groups…, whose prime objective is to ‘balance’ AIPAC activities by lobbying the Obama administration to force Israel to make further unilateral concessions.”

The Jewish right finds it inconceivable for us to believe what we believe and still worry about Israel’s security and well-being. In fact, we are taking our cues from experienced Israeli diplomats and other international experts who understand it is fruitless for a well-armed, occupying power to negotiate the terms of a viable settlement with an almost defenseless occupied people, unless a third party mediates and presses both sides to take politically unpopular steps they otherwise might not take.

In my book, a whole chapter is devoted to interviews with a broad range of Israelis who favor various forms of interventionist American diplomacy, including former diplomats and officials like Shlomo Ben-Ami, David Kimche, Daniel Levy and Ephraim Sneh. None of them want the U.S. to sell Israel down the river by compromising its core security requirements or forcing it to make unilateral concessions; all of them want America to stop both sides from taking steps that will destroy the possibility of a two state solution, and to come up with creative proposals to bridge the gaps between them.

But even if Israelis feel that way, we are not permitted to, according to the Israel-must-be-left-alone crowd. Moreover, the fact that we are Americans who believe it is in our own nation’s interests to bolster the forces of moderation in the Middle East is an inconvenient truth they don’t even mention.

While the Jewish right denounces people in my camp for turning our backs on Israel, much of the international left despises us for having emotional ties to Israel and/or Israeli Jews. Believing that Israel is an Evil Empire with no redeeming characteristics, they can only abide Jews who reflexively find everything about it to be contemptible. Any other sentiment is considered “Jewish particularism,” a synonym for vile and unjustified tribalism. Essentially, they object to our desire to belong to something that is larger than ourselves and smaller than the entire human race.

Sorry, universalists, tough love for Israel will be tough for me to bear, because my identity as a Jew is bound up with Israel and I am emotionally and spiritually connected to it. Sorry, supporters of the status quo, if I endorsed Israeli behaviour or policies that I believed were deplorable and misguided, if I stopped trying to help progressive Israelis who are trying to fix what is broken in the Jewish state, that would be turning my back on Israel.

If my camp’s sentiments and ideas are mercilessly bashed by both the Jewish right and the far left, it is a good sign that the sentiments are justifiable and the ideas have merit.

21 thoughts on ““Tough love” for Israel will be tough on the pro-Israel peace camp

  1. Dan, you and your boys have been pushing for this for years. Now you have a president who learned at the knee of Rashid Khalidi, and attended a church that was problematic to say the least. A president that was endorsed by Hamas and doesn’t see an Iranian bomb has anything to worry about. A president that wants Israel to disarm. If there is a second holocaust I know I tried to do the right thing. What would you say about your self and your fellow travelers. Including Richard ( Samir Kuntar is my hero ) Silverstein.

  2. Anyone seeking exclusive anything, is wrong on this.

    The incremental one-way land expropriation of settlement expansion is that.

    Ironically, Adam Horowitz on Mondoweiss, today posted a story of Arabs buying and leasing homes in otherwise Israeli “settlements” in East Jerusalem, legally, making them integrated neighborhoods.

    He seemed to want to spin that as a fundamental compromise on the Palestinians part, but I see it as a fulfillment, an affirmation of cosmopolitan democracy, NOT as national Palestinian victory or national Israeli.

  3. Just read this while sitting in an airport. Well done, Dan. Walked through the raindrops, once again.

    I wonder, though, how many American Jews will be able to –or willing to- take these nuanced positions when push comes to shove. Telling a pollster that you believe something does not mean you will believe it if events force you to confront your beliefs. If there is a confrontation between Obama and Bibi, I bet the loudest voices by far will be from the righties and, despite what you say in your worthy book, the voices from the pro-Israel left will not be loud enough.

  4. There will be no settlement freeze no matter what Obama, Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the gang want. Such as freeze would end up going the way of the 1939 British White Paper that also tried to implement a freeze. The Arabs as part of negotiations can ask for anything they want, including getting rid of the settlements. Since they have no intention of reaching such an agreement, they want it implemented unilatilerally and they want the Americans to do it for them, without them having to make any compromises on their part. It won’t happen.

    A recent poll shows only 30% of Israelis belive Obama’s policies are in Israel’s interests. Thus, if he wants to go over the elected government’s head and demand the Israeli public dump the current gov’t, as Clinton did in 1999, he doesn’t have the credibililty. The Left in Israel is discredited, (3 bloody wars coming within 10 years as a result of the ‘peace process’ and failed unilateral gestures like the one-sided flight from Lebanon and Gaza leave an impression on people) and Teddy is also correct, making a fight with America’s chief ally in the Middle East, while trying to appease enemies of the US like Syria and Iran may not go down well with many Americans, including those who voted for Obama. Then, of course, there is North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan waiting in the wings with possible problems for Obama. We’ll see.

  5. What exactly is this “Palestinian incitement” Fleshler speaks of? Is that where the Gazan Air Force ruthlessly bombards Tel Aviv for 2 straight weeks, killing over a thousand people–police officers, welders, bakers, grandmothers, babies–thus backing the Israelis against the wall and forcing them to initiate the third Ziofada?

  6. It depends on the form of the “tough love”.

    If the tough love is simply, “stop settlement expansion entirely”, that would be a good. Or, “remove at least two net roadblocks a week”, or “accept review of use of US granted weaponry”, those aren’t horrid impositions.

    If the tough love is “apologize for living”, or “accept the unconditional right of return to Israel proper for all claimed descendants of anyone (without any legal tests), and pay for it”, that would be a bit much.

  7. I have repeatedly told you that the Palestinians have no intention of reaching any peace agreement with Israel. Well, here is confirmation from their top people:

    I now quote part of the article:
    Abbas was interviewed the day before his Thursday meeting with the US president, during which Obama reiterated his calls on Israel “to stop the settlements, to make sure that we are stopping the building of outposts, to work with the Palestinian Authority in order to alleviate some of the pressures that the Palestinian people are under in terms of travel and commerce.”

    Setting out what the newspaper called “a hardline position,” the Palestinian leader conditioned a resumption of talks with Israel on Netanyahu’s agreement to a halt in all settlement building and formal Israeli government acceptance of Palestinian statehood.

    Abbas added that he would not even assist Obama’s special envoy, George Mitchell, in trying to encourage Arab states to begin warming relations with Israel until Israel accepted these conditions.

    “We can’t talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognizes the two-state solution,” Abbas was quoted as saying. “Until then, we can’t talk to anyone.”

    However, the Washington Post went on, “Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze – if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while US pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office.

    “‘It will take a couple of years,’ one official breezily predicted.”

    Abbas “rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession – such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees,” the article continued.

    Abbas intends to remain passive, he told the paper.

    “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements… Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality… The people are living a normal life.”

    Note particularly the last part. I have stated this before…the Palestinian Authority is doing fine, they have plenty of money pouring in so why should they make any concession?
    Now, if you want to get excited at the thought that Netanyahu will be “dumped” in the near future, I can only remind you that for the last 10 years, there were governments in power in Israel that accepted the “2-state” solution, yet no agreement was reached. I didn’t see in the last Israeli election campaign Tzippi Livni appear with Abbas with them saying “vote for Tzippi because we are on the verge of an agreement”.

  8. Palestinian leadership is insufferable.

    I don’t know if Netanyahu’s approach is the right one. I hope his coalition is about creating a better reality instead of reacting to the smoke & mirror games of the Palestinians.

    As for the entire Arab world not wanting peace…not convinced of that. Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes we distort reality to make it fit our preconceived notions. It becomes an optical illusion and a self-fulfilling prophesy.

    We are all guilty of that from time to time.

  9. Dan, you got what you wanted, a president that is going to sell out Israel and take the side of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. I honestly don’t know how you, Phil, and Richard ( I love guys that kill Jewish girls ) live with yourselves, enlighten me.

  10. That’s over the top, Bill. Have you lost faith in cogent arguments (I have heard some from you)? Has your side given up trying to defend people who are trying to hold Israel hostage by insisting that not one tiny trailer in the West Bank must ever be dismantled? Oh yeah, and beat up Palestinians and trash their houses whenever they are unhappy about anything. How can you live with yourself? Enlighten me.

  11. Dan,
    It’s you ‘progressives’ who are responsible for the disorder involving the “outposts”. It was you ‘progressives’ who cheered Sharon on when he repeately lied and broke his promises not to destroy Gush Katif and when he decided to go ahead with it after he called a Likud Party referendum whose results he swore to honor and then lost. He then refused to get a public mandate by calling new elections or a national referendum. You all said how great he was for sticking it to his former supporters. Now you are paying for it. We on the Right have lost faith with the government. Recall that Netanyahu supported Sharon’s betrayal. He has very little credibility. And his Defense Minsiter Barak was the man who in 1999 stood up on Jerusalem Day, said how important Jerusalem was to the Jewish people and how he would never divide it, and then a few weeks later he offered it, lock, stock and barrel to Arafat, including Judaism’s holiest place, the Temple Mount.
    A democratic government has to keep faith with its people. If they don’t then you are in a dangerous situation. And Netnyahu’s and Barak’s claim they are “upholding the law” regarding outposts that are really not “illegal” but “semi-legal” at this time, is nothing more than a bad joke…Arabs build illegally all over the country, those two men themselves have enriched themselves in all sorts of doubtful ways.
    So now you ‘progressives’ are reaping what you have sown.
    However I should emphasize any violence against non-involved Arabs should be totally prohibited.

  12. Bill and Yakov,
    In your desparation (which is not warranted), don’t ACT desparately.

    Consider how you co-create the world that you live in, including how you treat other Jews, and how you treat non-Jews.

    Remember the covenant. It is a conditional statement. “IF you keep my commandments…”.

    The vast majority of Arabs and Palestinians are “non-involved”.

    Don’t urge us into war over the “temple mount”. We are Jewish for our prayer and way of life, our community, NOT over a material place.

  13. Richard,

    Agreed. Regarding the Temple Mount, no one is trying to prevent the Muslims from praying there. All their complaints that we are trying to drive them off of there is lies. We couldn’t rebuild the Holy Temple there, under current conditions, even if there was total agreement among the Jewish people to do so. However, Jews have a right to pray there also. It is the holiest place in the world for us and no one has a right to keep us away from there.

    You are incorrect, though, if you mean that Judaism is only “prayer and a way of life and community”. Eretz Israel is a key ingredient. Sure, the Jewish people have survived (barely) in the Exile, but this is a very negative condition. Read the TANACH to see how Eretz Israel is viewed in a religious context.

  14. Dan, in Obama land all building in any land from the six day war is verboten, everything. So, Jerusalem is history, Efrat, Maale Adunim. All needs to be cleansed of Jews. He is going to turn on Israel in the UN and sing a happy tune has Iran build nuclear tipped missiles. And yes Richard Silverstein takes great pleasure in the deaths of little Jewish girls. witness his attitude towards Samir( head crusher) Kuntar.

  15. re: that MYT article. What a mess. Seems like a huge part of the problem is there is no legal arbitrator to determine property rights here.

    Netanyahu has a point, putting a freeze on building within the parameters of a settlement sounds like stupid red tape.

    On the other hand, can someone remind me why those settlers are on land that was supposedly slated for a Palestinian state?

    Be forewarned: This is going to sound condescending because I don’t have a high regard for the Palestinian collective. They are beyond dysfunctional, imo.

    I see it like this: that land is similar to a trust fund for when Palestinians come of age. Since when are others allowed to eat into an underaged person’s trust fund to serve their own interests?

    That’s my simplified analysis of what is happening.

    I see the settlers taking advantage of a Palestinian trust fund that belongs to the Palestinians when they finally grow up.

    The law should not allow this!

    If Israel wanted that land, they should’ve driven the Pals out in 67 or in the 70s. I know that sounds cold blooded & extreme…but you can’t do things halfway and expect to have cooperative enemies.

  16. Your analysis is juvenile and quite frankly, very dismissive of all accounts of history here. (Since when does one have to qualify for a state, ie “maturity” to lead. I don’t recall anyone ever in history being dangled this precondition for a state, especially Kosovo.) It is very selective, very counterproductive and very, very elusive. What you want is for (a) the Palestinians to “mold” themselves into something that suits the stronger powers, as if stronger powers are dictating order around here and (b) to capitulate and to further ignore how they want to govern themselves in the first place, how they want to reach this “settlement” in the first place and also how they want to live. It’s smacks of ignoblility.

    I didn’t know Y.Ben-David was for a one-state solution… “There will be no settlement freeze no matter what Obama, Rahm Emanuel and the rest of the gang want.” Let your struggle begin with equality and domination. PS STOP quoting Mahmoud Abbas as if he has some say on what Palestinians want (that’s equivalent to saying that Lieberman has total say on what Israelis want when you know that is not true). This is the guy that is so discredited that he is ridiculed in the Arab world; he leads the oxymoronic Palestinian Authority (what “authority” do they speak of here?) and even his term as “President” ran out in January, along with his Parliament which was illegal in every aspect of the “law”. If you want this guy to represent the Palestinians (which Washington and Tel Aviv seems fine on doing) then you are grasping at straws.

    Dan, while it must be said that your writings are very welcome and have good nuanced view on things Israeli-American Jewish community, I would say you should not revel in being condemned by both camps here (it’s easy to do that as even Human Rights Watch attempt this line to prove their “impartiality”). I don’t want to get into this much further BUT I have little doubts that if the aggressor were not one you identify with so well, then you would have the unequivocal criticisms and calls for retoolings just like we had during the days of Apartheid. It is perhaps that many are more willing to “identify” themselves with the ones in power and not the ones who are oppressed here that has me in the tight bind, as while I do not dismiss your concerns about the Israelis and the Jewish community, it seems that that stigma had little bearings when groups were/are calling for change in other places of conflict, ESPECIALLY when they pertain certain Oriental features such as the Chinese, the Sudanese, the Serbs, etc. That’s not to say that you are an apologist and by no means you are, it’s just maybe that the lines aren’t as blurry as we may think it is.

  17. Joshua, you are making it too complicated. You can’t change what people feel, or at least you can’t argue with what they feel. All feelings of connection are irrational, we all create our own realities, and the reality is that there are Jews who bitterly oppose the occupation and Israeli behavior who still feel connected to the Jewish state. They are often misunderstood.

  18. Joshua–you appear to believe in the Palestinians more than they believe in themselves. More than other Arabs, in fact, believe in them.

    Kinda like the wife of an abusive, aimless alcoholic who thinks “he would be the greatest writer on earth if only…”

    I guess we all are rather juvenile in our own way.

    I don’t know if the Israelis are playing the same foxy games as the Arabs…but without a doubt the Arabs are playing a foxy game.

    It’s one big clown show over there.

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