WASHINGTON — “The Americans simply don’t care,” is the headline of Zeev Sternhell’s op-ed. The United States, he writes, isn’t pressuring Israel and isn’t using its aid package to Israel in order to move the peace process forward. That is factually correct.
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The U.S. even blocks Palestinian moves in the United Nations. It’s not that the heads of the administration don’t care what happens to Israel and the Palestinians. As far as can be guessed, they do care. But that caring is theoretical and distant, one could even say cynical, like other chapters in Barack Obama’s chilly foreign policy.
Anyone who is counting on American pressure to push Israel and the Palestinians into the pipeline that will lead to two states ought to wake up. When you’re here, in Washington, you see from up close not only the extent to which there is no pressure, but also that the alliance with Israel has near-sacred status.
The administration has indeed placed more financial constraints on its military aid, but it placed no political conditions on it. In this partisan political arena, which is in the midst of a historic political battle that has Obama’s full attention, Israel is a taboo subject.
You should have seen the stress and anxiety of the Democratic leaders in the face of the (failed) attempts by Bernie Sanders’ delegates to introduce the term “occupation” and a hint of criticism of what is happening in the territories into the party’s platform. The Republicans even removed all mention of a Palestinian state from their own platform. “Do we want to outflank Benjamin Netanyahu from the right?” a senior GOP official asked me. Large groups within the party would absolutely agree to that.
Many American Jews, actually, are much more critical of Israel than are top administration officials, much less the heads of Congress. But very few support putting pressure on Israel and even fewer are willing to call for such pressure. It’s important to understand that all of the community’s organizations, including such politically influential organizations as J Street, have joined the battle against the boycott and against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. That is the current state of affairs.
Nor will salvation come from Europe. With problems at home, and in light of events in Syria, and in Turkey as well, the last thing the states of the European Union want right now is an additional front in the Middle East. In fact, that’s old news. There’s no need to cite sorry examples like Tibet or Western Sahara to understand that international relations have always been a matter of a cold calculation of interests.
The upshot from all this isn’t that new ways must be found to put international pressure on Israel or that all sorts of boycotts will cause political change in Jerusalem. There’s no cause for illusion. There will be no such pressure, certainly not pressure strong enough to truly get the ball rolling, and BDS is not a genuine threat to Israel; sometimes it seems that government officials inflate it beyond all proportion.
There’s no point in waiting for a political messiah in a white airplane. The messiah won’t come. The only possible effective pressure is from within, from Israeli society. No one will do the work for us or instead of us.
The longing for international pressure is not only pointless, but enfeebling and enervating. It signals desperation, a loss of hope in the possibility of social change, and it contains an element of depriving the Israeli public of credit. Why give such credit to Americans, Germans and the French? Why think they would want or know what to do here, and to deny it to the Israelis who are directly affected by it?
True, the task is a difficult one. It requires persuasion, breaking into new circles, grassroots work. But the material is there. Israel remains a democratic state. It (still) has a free press, and the right of protest is protected. Oh yeah, it has free elections as well. These are the tools in the toolbox, and they are much more varied and effective than all sorts of international illusions.