Editor, Tikkun Magazine
Obama and Netanyahu’s “Make Nice” Meeting: Bad for Peace, Bad for Israel
When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama meet in the White House today, their goal will be to make amends in light of Netanyahu’s unprecedented attempts to manipulate the U.S. Congress and the American public into opposition to the Iran Nuclear deal negotiated by six countries including the U.S.
But instead of Netanyahu repenting for what he has done and now agreeing to support the deal, the chutzpah-filled leader of Israel will seek new military weaponry from the U.S. and Obama has already made clear that he will be agreeing to new advanced military weapons. The Israelis seek U.S. weapons that will allow them to blast through the mountains under which some of Iran’s peaceful-use nuclear energy has been developed. Their stated reason: to provide them with a way to strike at Iran should they determine that the terms of the nuclear deal be violated by Iran.
This is bad news for peace. The likely scenario that will result once Israel has this technology is not hard to imagine. Israel will wait till after the 2016 elections, and then sometime in the following two years strike at Iranian sites where Iran is developing nuclear capacities for peaceful usage. It will use the new weapons to destroy those sites where Israel “suspects” that this is happening, and announce that it has classified information that proves to them that these sites violated the deal and that it had to strike in order to protects its own security.
Iran might plausibly be expected to strike back at Israel, and the U.S. would soon be pulled into yet another Middle East War (hopefully by that time the U.S. will have already defeated ISIL, ISIS, the Islamic State). Israel could then sit back and watch the U.S. attempt to destroy much of Iranian society, as it did with Iraq. There is no potential Democratic or Republican nominee for President willing to say that s/he would not be dragged into such a war.
Netanyahu, to sweeten the package, will likely announce some “confidence building measures” that might reduce tensions with the Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Perhaps he will announce a partial freeze on new construction of housing for Israeli settlers in Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank, or perhaps a reduction in the number of check points through which Palestinians must pass to go from one Palestinian town to another in the Occupied Territories. While this might play well with the U.S. media, most of the rest of the world, not to mention the Palestinian people, understand these as token gestures that mean very little. Palestinians are not seeking a slightly less oppressive Occupation — they want an end to this 48 year Occupation.
Think of this as more analogous to Jefferson David, head of the Confederacy during the U.S. civil war 1861-65 announcing that the Confederate states had decided to give all slaves a full day and a half off of work every week. But the slaves wanted emancipation and freedom, not a slightly better work schedule as slaves. The anger and outrage that burst into public view with the recent (and in my mind quite tragic) slaying of some Israeli citizens by random Palestinians (and a far greater number of Palestinians in response by Israel) will likely reappear periodically until the Occupation itself ends. Yet Prime Minister Netanyahu won reelection by promising the Israeli public that he would not allow a Palestinian state to emerge under his rule, which can continue for another 4.5 years.
So why doesn’t Obama make the ending of the Occupation a condition for delivering these new weapons to Israel? The more cynical answer is that he is concerned to prevent losses to the Democratic Party in the next election that might come from some section of American Jews defecting toward Republicans who would certainly denounce such a demand. Others believe that some Democrats who supported the Iranian nuclear deal only did so once Obama promised these weapons to Israel, and they might join Republicans in undermining the deal should Obama stand up for an end to the Occupation.
But an equally persuasive analysis points to Obama’s consistent refusal to stand for any principle in a principled way. One day he speaks for environmental sanity at the U.N. but only after opening the Arctic to new drilling for oil and gas, then cancels the pipeline from Canada on the grounds of his caring about the environment but then reveals the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will give multinational corporations the ability to sue any country that is imposing environmental restrictions that might cut into their profits. It has been this way on every important issue, from health care to ending U.S. wars to challenging America’s economic elites — one step forward and one step back. Some dare call this his wimpyness, others his psychological background that makes him want to please everyone (and ending up pleasing very very few). But whatever the reasons, the upshot is bad for the world, and in this case, bad for Israel (which really needs peace rather than the U.S. being an enabler for further conflict with Israel’s neighbors), the Palestinians, and for the American people.
If Obama had any backbone or self-respect, here’s what he’d do: 1. Publicly present the U.S. plan for what a peace agreement should look like — one like that proposed by Tikkun which provides for significant compromises on both sides but also provides both sides with adequate security from the extremists on the other side, and equal dignity and national self-determination. That might be a valuable step for a President who bemoans the inability to control the gun lobby in the U.S. but in true hypocritical fashion supplies the rest of the world with armaments that are used against civilians 2. Tell Netanyahu that the U.S. is not going to deliver any new military hardware till Israel stops all expansion of settlements and begins the process of dismantling the mechanisms of the Occupation of the West Bank 3. That the U.S. will support full Palestinian membership in the U.N. and 4. That the U.S. will not do business with or buy products from any of the West Bank Israeli settlements or any company helping Israel enforce or extend the Israeli West Bank settlements.
Of course, Obama doesn’t have the backbone to do any of this. No wonder, then, that Netanyahu can insult Obama, have members of his cabinet say that Obama is an anti-Semite, come to the U.S. and do something no other foreign leader has ever done (namely, try to go over the head of the President to manipulate the Congress and the public into supporting what Israel wants even though what they wanted was insane from the standpoint of global nuclear security), and then, when he fails to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal, comes here and demands a reward of more military hardware so that Obama can “prove” that he isn’t anti-Israel. Yet this most arrogant behavior is only possible because Obama won’t stand up for the best interests of Israel and the U.S. — namely, ending the Occupation (and hence the struggle between Israel and Palestine) and using our economic and diplomatic power to achieve that goal. This weakness makes Obama an enabler of the Middle East’s neighborhood bully. Yet we know that bullies do not have a long shelf-life, which is why we Jews who want Israel to survive would appreciate a US President who could use all the tools the most powerful country in the world has at its disposal to reverse Israeli policy before it creates a global consensus that Israel should not be permitted to exist–something we do not want to see happen!
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine, winner of the mainstream media’s Religion Newswriters Association “Best Magazine of the Year” Award in 2014 and again in 2015 (www.tikkun.org). He is also chair of the interfaith and secular-humanist-welcoming Network of Spiritual Progressives, and author of 11 books including the national best seller The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country from the Religious Right, Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, The Politics of Meaning, and most recently Embracing Israel and Palestine. He can be reached at RabbiLerner.firstname.lastname@example.org.