What's the right thing to do when a long-time friend becomes more trouble than you can tolerate?
What do you do when that friend returns your friendship only so long as you support everything he does, even the things you've repeatedly asked him not to do?
And, what's the right thing to do with a friend, like the one described, whose behavior and your support of it, poisons your relations with scores of other friends and potential friends?
This is the very question President Barack Obama is struggling with this month. And, if he gets it right, he will be the first post-war president ever to do so.
That friend, by the way, if you have not already guessed, is Israel.
Repeatedly we, and almost every other country on earth, have asked, even pleaded, with Israel to stop building settlements on Palestinian land and to stop expanding those already built.
And just as repeatedly one Israeli government after another have thumbed their nose at those pleadings.
Now, don't get me wrong. I've always supported Israel and Israel's right to exist, and still do. What I have never supported though is Israel right to use 5000-year old biblical title reports to expand beyond its 1967 borders in order to lay claim to real estate that does not belong to them.
Yet this naked thievery continues apace. Yes, I said thievery – a strong word indeed, and one that is certain to outrage my Jewish and Israeli friends. But, just as Americans had to accept the hard truth that "enhance interrogation techniques" really meant toture, I can no longer pretend that what Isreal calls "settlements" are anything but thievery.
Believe me, I understand all the arguments Israelis use to justify the unjustifiable; the holocaust, never again, hostile neighbors, terrorism, etc. But the strategic situation has changed remarkably since Israel's formative years. Israel is a nuclear-armed nation with the strongest and most efficient military in the region – as it has demonstrated to its hostile neighbor's chagrin more than once.
Should Israel's survival ever be really threatened she could wipe that threat away – once and for all – with the push of a button. Even Israel's most ardent foes have no illusions about that. Should they ever genuinely threaten Israel's existence, there'd be a holocaust, and this time it would not be the Jews on the receiving end.
As the years have passed it's become harder and harder to accept Israel's stated justifications for it's expansionist policies as anything other than cynical obfuscations. By expanding West Bank settlements and creating new ones Israel has been, piece by piece, preemptively dismembering any would-be Palestinian state.
And, by expanding these settlements Israel is also hoping they can push into the next century a loudly ticking demographic time bomb. Palestinian birth rates far outstrip the much slower Jewish population growth. Even within Israel's original borders, Israeli Arab voters will, at some point down the road, outnumber Jewish voters. What then? Disenfranchise any citizen with Israel who is not Jewish? Deport all non Jews? Create an system of apartheid for only true democracy in the Middle East?
None of those solutions are realistic or acceptable in modern times. So, by expanding settlements and establishing new ones, Israel hopes Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and elsewhere can at least for the a while, hold off the day when Israeli Arabs become Israel's new voting majority.
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Look, here's the bottom line. In the weeks ahead President Obama needs to make it perfectly clear that America's friendship with Israel is about to be rebalanced. We will still support Israel, but no longer on long-standing,“Israel, right or wrong,” status quo. Like America, Israel faces very real dangers from very real foes. And both nations will continue facing those dangers for the foreseeable future. But that fact is not a greenlight to break the law or commit human rights offenses under cover of national security. We just got done learning that hard lesson here in America and nows the time to communicate it to our friends in the Middle East, including Isreal.
Now it's time to lay down the law for the other hooligan in this never-ending pissing match. Israel needs to:
- Stop all settlement construction and expansion. Dead stop. Not another nail, not another brick.
- Except for the large settlements right on or within stones throw of the West Bank/Israel border, Israel must begin dismantling of all settlements deeper within West Bank territories. Sure that's going to mean uprooting tens of thousands of Jewish “settlers,” but the wages of sin are rarely pleasant.
- As for those settlements straddling that border, they can stay in Israeli hands, but only if Israel provides Palestinians an acre for acre swap for those lands. These in-kind lands must be adjacent to Palestinian lands on the West Bank border or Gaza.
- Israel must begin serious negotiations with Palestinians on the final status of the historically blood soaked “holy city” of Jerusalem. That final status must include a genuine possibility of Arab control of a portion of the traditionally Arab sector of Jerusalem.
To make matters even more complicated Israel's new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, can best be described as Dick Cheney in yamaka. His power is derived through creating and maintaining fear – fear of Arabs, fear of terrorism. Now no one in their right mind would suggest that Israel is not Target One for every Middle Eastern terrorist, the USA being Target Two.
But neither the US or Israel face anything even close to an strategic threat from terrorism. Neither country is going to be defeated, occupied and taken over by al Qaida, et al. It just ain't gonna happen – ever. But like Dick Cheney, Netanyahu would have Israelis and the rest of the world believe that that's precisely the threat his nation faces. It worked for Cheney – if not for his nation. Because, when belligerency is peddled as the only alternative to death and destruction, belligerency becomes, not just policy, but policy married to patriotism. The last remaining element needed to create a full-blown disaster is an ambitious demagogue. (H. L. Mencken defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.")
Anyway, by now it should be clear to any sane person that, when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis there's never been a shortage of either demagogues or idiots to follow them. It's long past time for the rest of the world to draw red lines in the sand.
But this time it's gotta be TWO lines, not just one. There' has to be one clear line for Hamas and their ilk, and, for the first time, another clear line for Israel.
Because when a friend becomes self-destructive and more trouble than he's worth, there's really only two choices; desert your friend, or organize an intervention. Real friends intervene.
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