U.S. tough love is the kind Israel needs
Washington must not just prolong the settlement freeze but pressure Israel to withdraw to its own borders.
Israel - addicted to the occupation, and showing symptoms of overdose and accumulated damage - has finally found a savior to rescue it from its plight. Israel's redeemer hasn't just stood idly by for 40 years, but has even facilitated the habit. However, it seems that change may at last be in the air.
It's still too early to celebrate sobriety, and successful rehabilitation is by no means certain. This is a long, painful process, and the addict and its savior have yet to show adequate determination. The user is still dependent, kicking and screaming so much that the friend is likely to surrender in despair, to simply give in to pressure, having lost both interest and patience in the rehabilitation. But the measures taken by the Obama administration over the past few days prove that change is possible. Now the loyal friend must be encouraged not to give up, not to quit until the junkie is clean.
"Now they're coming?" Aluf Benn wrote of the Americans last week. Indeed, they could and should have come earlier. That applies not just to all the previous administrations, none of which did enough to end the occupation, but also to the Obama administration itself. So promising at first, the administration began on the left foot - that is, the right foot, at the heel of the Jewish and Israeli right, which continues to believe that an alliance with Israel is an alliance with the occupation, that friendship between two nations means giving Israel carte blanche to cause as much trouble as it likes. Those same people believe friendship means continuing the flow of massive aid without conditions, that it means not only funding the occupation but also cleaning up after its perpetrators by providing firm diplomatic support, and that friendship must be blind and automatic - to the point that it seems like Israel is the superpower and America is under its protection.
The facts are clear: Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn't just endanger Israel's future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel's most dangerous enemies.
No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today. That's why this difficult, thankless task has fallen on the shoulders of an ally, as only it has the power to get things started. No agreement will come out of another endless series of futile diplomatic trips or peace plans to which no one intends to adhere. We have tried this enough in the past, and all for naught. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation program for Israel. The entire world, and ultimately Israel too, will applaud Barack Obama if he succeeds.
Expressing offense at "poor timing" and giving Israel's prime minister the cold shoulder are not enough. This is the time for action, comprehensive and unwavering. America must now decide where it is heading and where it aims to lead Israel, the Middle East and the world. At issue is not just the future of 1,600 homes in Ramat Shlomo, but that of Israel itself. What is required is not merely extending the settlement construction freeze - whether or not it includes the occupied areas of Jerusalem - but applying pressure on Israel to begin withdrawing to its own borders. The means at Washington's disposal - including assistance on security and economic issues, the campaign against Iran's nuclear program and diplomatic support of Israel - can all be conditioned on an end to the occupation.
America must now decide whether it's for us or against us. Will it make do with easing the sting of the insult to the vice president? Will it continue to give in to its powerful Jewish lobby? Will it keep passing itself off as a friend while acting as a foe? Or are we really playing by different rules now? Yes, it's likely to hurt Israel, and even many Americans, but this is the opportunity. There will be no other.