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Is Israel its own worst enemy?
The New York Times
2011-10-07 08:53 PM
For decades, Palestinian leaders sometimes seemed to be their own people’s worst enemies.

Palestinian radicals antagonized the West, and, when militant leaders turned to hijackings and rockets, they undermined the Palestinian cause around the world. They empowered Israeli settlers and hard-liners, while eviscerating Israeli doves.

These days, the world has been turned upside down. Now it is Israel that is endangered most by its leaders and maximalist stance. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is isolating his country, and, to be blunt, his hard line on settlements seems like a national suicide policy.

Nothing is more corrosive than Israel’s growth of settlements because they erode hope of a peace agreement in the future. Netanyahu’s latest misstep came after the Obama administration humiliated itself by making a full-court diplomatic press to block Palestinian statehood at the United Nations. At a time when President Barack Obama had a few other things on his plate – averting a global economic meltdown, for example – the United States frittered good will by threatening to veto the Palestinian statehood that everybody claims to favor.

With that diplomatic fight at the United Nations under way, Israel last week announced plans for 1,100 new housing units in a part of Jerusalem outside its pre-1967 borders. Instead of showing appreciation to Obama, Netanyahu thumbed him in the eye.

OK, I foresee a torrent of angry responses. I realize that many insist that Jerusalem must all belong to Israel in any peace deal anyway, so new settlements there don’t count. But, if that’s your position, then you can kiss any peace deal goodbye. Every negotiator knows the framework of a peace agreement – 1967 borders with land swaps, Jerusalem as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states, only a token right of return – and insistence on a completely Israeli Jerusalem simply means no peace agreement ever.

Former President Bill Clinton said squarely in September that Netanyahu is to blame for the failure of the Middle East peace process. A background factor, Clinton noted correctly, is the demographic and political change within Israeli society, which has made the country more conservative when it comes to border and land issues.

Granted, Netanyahu is far from the only obstacle to peace. The Palestinians are divided, with Hamas controlling Gaza. And Hamas not only represses its own people but also managed to devastate the peace movement in Israel.

That’s the saddest thing about the Middle East: Hard-liners like Hamas empower hard-liners like Netanyahu.

We’re facing a dangerous period in the Middle East. Most Palestinians seem to feel as though the Oslo peace process has fizzled, and Israelis seem to agree, with two-thirds saying in a recent poll published in the newspaper Yediot Aharonot that there is no chance of peace with Palestinians – ever.

The Palestinians’ best hope would be a major grass-roots movement of nonviolent peaceful resistance aimed at illegal West Bank settlements, led by women and inspired by the work of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A growing number of Palestinians are taking up variants of that model, although they sometimes ruin it by defining nonviolence to include stone-throwing and by giving the leading role to hotheaded young men.

The Israel Defense Forces can deal with suicide bombers and rockets fired by Hezbollah. I’m not sure that they can defeat Palestinian women blocking roads to illegal settlements and willing to endure tear gas and clubbing – with videos promptly posted on YouTube.

Netanyahu has also undermined Israeli security by burning bridges with Israel’s most important friend in the region, Turkey. Now there is also the risk of clashes in the Mediterranean between Israeli and Turkish naval vessels. That’s one reason Defense Secretary Leon Panetta scolded the Israeli government a few days ago for isolating itself diplomatically.

So where do we go from here? If a peace deal is not forthcoming soon, and if Israel continues its occupation, then Israel should give the vote in Israeli elections to all Palestinians in the areas it controls. If Jews in the West Bank can vote, then Palestinians there should be able to as well.

That’s what democracy means: People have the right to vote on the government that controls their lives. Some of my Israeli friends will think I’m unfair and harsh, applying double standards by focusing on Israeli shortcomings while paying less attention to those of other countries in the region. Fair enough: I plead guilty. I apply higher standards to a close U.S. ally like Israel that is a huge recipient of U.S. aid.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk – or drive a diplomatic course that leaves their nation veering away from any hope of peace. Today, Israel’s leaders sometimes seem to be that country’s worst enemies, and it’s an act of friendship to point that out.

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