No more make-believe in the Middle East
Bibi's policies may be misguided, but at least he doesn't pretend to be a peacemaker. Such intellectual honesty could prove salutary.
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Ditto, too, for the talk in the late 1990s – by Bibi no less! – about weaning Israel from the billions in US aid it gets each year. The Israelis assured progress and the US pretended to believe them. For cash-strapped American taxpayers, the 10-year agreement signed in 2007 for $30 billion in military assistance to Israel, plus another billion or so a year in assorted other US-funded programs, amounts to a lot of pretending.Skip to next paragraph
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Palestinians, unlike Americans, are under no illusion about change under a Netanyahu government; hence the lack of public outcry over the Netanyahu-Avigdor Lieberman alliance. Despite the regular meetings that the US insisted take place since 2002 between Israeli prime ministers and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Abbas never won a single substantive, realized concession. Israel and the US pretended that meetings equaled progress, but, each time, Abbas returned to Ramallah weakened, the object of increasing scorn not only from Hamas, but from his own Fatah supporters.
From the field, the relationship was always reminiscent of the scene from the 1967 comedy "A Guide for the Married Man," where a man and his mistress, caught in flagrante by the wife, simply deny, deny, deny until they have calmly dressed and the mistress has departed, leaving the wife wondering whether to believe her eyes.
Once he became prime minister in the 1990s, even firebrand Netanyahu played the "we pretend, you pretend" game, signing on to the 1998 Wye River Memorandum, which, among other things, provided billions in US funding for Israel's redeployment out of the West Bank and Gaza.
Now, though, Netanyahu appears to have ended the charade, although perhaps only until political expediency warrants another metamorphosis. His policies may be misguided, but his intellectual honesty may prove salutary. The Israeli right and its American supporters have a hard time claiming Israeli moderation and reasonableness when Netanyahu and his ministers openly oppose a two-state arrangement; affirm the blockade of Gaza, preventing reconstruction there; tout settlement expansion; brag of undermining US efforts to talk with Iran; and threaten an attack on Iran – across US-controlled Iraqi airspace – that could jeopardize US troops and interests throughout the region.
In lifting the veil on Israeli policy and the criticism-stifling fiction of US-Israeli mutual interest, Netanyahu leaves the US open, finally, to voice and pursue its own positions and interests.
Finally, Washington can say, clearly and forcefully, that Israel's occupation harms US interests; that an attack on Iran is unacceptable and will get no US support, even in the UN Security Council; that settlement construction must stop and barriers be removed; that meetings are no substitute for progress; that Palestinians must be granted the opportunity – a real one – to form a viable state; and that the time has come for one of the world's wealthiest countries to be weaned off American largess.
Norman H. Olsen is a former senior United States Foreign Service officer. He served at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv from 1991 to 1995, and from 2002 to 2007, including four years as chief of the political section.