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Monday, May 23, 2011

Backlash Against Netanyahu

The foreign policy center in America is rightly criticizing Netanyahu’s misguided reaction to Obama and the increased diplomatic isolation of Israel that is will create worldwide.

Last week, Obama threw Netanyahu a lifeline. He outlined the parameters that should guide Israeli-Palestinian negotiations: the 1967 border, plus land swaps. Obama’s strategy was clear: He promised to veto the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the U.N. Security Council, but also hoped that by getting the Israeli government to endorse a contiguous Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, he could persuade the Palestinians to abandon their United Nations strategy in favor of a return to negotiations. And even if the Palestinians wouldn’t budge, Israel’s acceptance of Obama’s guidelines would make it easier to persuade European governments to oppose the Palestinians at the U.N.
Netanyahu’s response was, on its face, bizarre. The 1967 borders, he shot back, were “indefensible.” But Obama had not demanded a return to 1967 borders; he had very explicitly endorsed the 1967 borders with land swaps, which is essentially what Bill Clinton endorsed in late 2000 and Ehud Olmert endorsed in 2008. (In fact, Clinton and Olmert went further than Obama: Both endorsed a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and in different ways, signaled an openness to the return of small numbers of Palestinian refugees to Israel)…It makes you wonder whether Netanyahu has any grasp of the world in which he is living.

Right after Obama made his big speech, it was welcomed in most of the world and by most major U.S. Jewish organizations. The immediate critics were Mitt "throw Israel under the bus" Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Binyamin Netanyahu. Explain to me the universe in which this is a wise strategic choice for a nation highly dependent on stable relations with the United States -- and on ultimately making an agreement in the region that allows it to survive as a Jewish democratic state.

Think of this contrast: when China's Hu Jintao came to Washington for a state visit, each of the countries had profound disagreements with the other. (Chinese leaders hate the U.S. policy of continued arms sales to Taiwan, much more so than Netanyahu could sanely disagree with any part of Obama's speech.) Neither China nor America is remotely as dependent on the other as Israel is on the United States. Yet Obama and Hu were careful to be as respectful as possible, especially in public, while addressing the disagreements. High-handed and openly contemptuous behavior like Netanyahu's would have seemed hostile and idiotic from either side. As it is from him.

The real service Netanyahu may have done is allowing easier U.S. discussion of the difference between Israel's long-term interests and his own.

Jonathan Chait:  what Netanyahu wants is driven far more by his attempts to hold together a right-wing political coalition than any plausible vision for Israel's future.

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