Future of Mideast is a domestic American issue
An Israeli PM has no option of saying no to the United States once Washington has dug in its heels.
Benjamin Netanyahu can keep pretending it's just rain and Interior Minister Eli Yishai can continue berating the Obama administration for its "unacceptable" policies. National Union MK Michael Ben-Ari can keep shouting hysterically about our soldiers, and the settlers can keep putting us all in danger. But the issue has been settled in Washington.
Peace lies with them - U.S. decision-makers, led by Barack Obama. In other words, the future of the Middle East is a domestic American issue. Since Henry Kissinger determined that foreign policy is merely an extension of domestic policy, his maxim has never had such tremendous potential impact.
Washington will decide the fate of the West Bank settlements, and we can only hope it insists on their evacuation. Obama standing firm beside the revolutionary Mideast policy he has begun will light the torch of hope here, too. The battle of the titans, Netanyahu and Obama, is little more than a farce - let us recall the fable of the elephant and the bee, or the frog and the ox. Not all creatures can become as great as they think.
Let's also be realistic: An Israeli prime minister has no option of saying no to America once Washington has dug in its heels. Netanyahu knows this better than anyone, and the time has come to explain as much to his "patriotic" coalition allies.
Israel's only real existential danger is losing U.S. support. Yes, there is no Israel without America - not only the $3 billion annual defense aid (without which the IDF would be a shadow of itself), or the market for one-third of Israeli exports, but also international support. Israel, which has become a leper in many circles, is lost without Washington's sponsorship. There is no alternative superpower - having Micronesia alone on our side at the UN will not get us very far.
A green light from America on changing the regional status quo will also encourage a bumbling Europe to begin taking practical steps. Never have so many eyes looked to one man, who will today lay out the principles of his Middle East doctrine in Cairo.
The American president has the power to end the Israeli occupation within months. The conquest of the "Third Kingdom of Israel" following the 1956 Sinai Campaign collapsed within weeks. We could return to that situation, despite the stumbling blocks of the settlements, with a clear timetable for evacuation, severe sanctions for noncompliance and generous assistance for those staying the course. The tailwinds Obama is enjoying have already changed the prevailing tone toward Israel, even among its traditional "supporters" - those who so blindly and irresponsibly endorsed its occupation and wars.
The tools in Obama's kit are varied: A congressional delegation visiting here recently entertained the idea, in private conversations at least, that the U.S. prohibit Israel from using American weapons in the West Bank; someone suggested levying strict limitations on Israelis entering America. But perhaps it would be enough to simply retract the automatic U.S. veto at the UN - and this is without mentioning stopping the flow of aid.
Any of these punitive measures would be efficient and just, in the interest of saving Israel from itself. But Obama's initial steps are not enough - they are likely, perhaps, to topple Netanyahu, but peace will not necessarily follow. Israel must be demanded to now make a series of practical steps, like evacuating the Maoz Esther outpost, which could pave the way for ending the occupation.
As the odds of Israeli society coming to its senses and fighting for its destiny have become infinitesimal, the arena for ending the occupation and pursuing peace has moved stateside, and Jewish America is itself beginning to undergo a revolution. One line of thinking goes like this: If Obama succeeds in dealing with GM, he will also win public support in dealing with Yitzhar and other settlements like it. If he can convince American supporters of Israel that relations with the Jewish state have become dishonest, the sky's the limit. Americans must understand that without changing relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds, the world itself will become a more dangerous place, and that improving relations with those people need not be at Israel's expense, but to its benefit. Time is short but the keys are in the ignition, President Obama. Drive on to peace.
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