In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn't matter to us at all who is prime minister.
That's Rahm Emanuel, allegedly speaking to an unnamed Jewish leader in Washington. (As the person who supposedly heard this has not identified him- or herself, it's not safe to say yet whether this statement was actually made.) I had hoped that Obama had tapped Emanuel for the purpose of being his pit-bull with regard to the likelihood of a right-wing government emerging in Israel that is opposed to a two-state solution. It appears that he may have done exactly that.
Naturally, the response of the Israeli government and the right wing in particular has been less than positive. Most notable was the reaction of Ya'akov "Ketzele" Katz, head of the ultra-far-right National Union Knesset faction, which is currently sitting in the opposition but has not ruled out in principle the idea of joining Netanyahu's government.
Katz wrote a letter to Emanuel in which he wrote, among other things, this:
For many Israelis, this report [i.e., Emanuel's statement about a two-state solution] is a cause for worry because it reveals a condescending attitude toward our prime minister and Israeli public opinion. This is an attitude that Israel does not expect from a real friend such as the US, and all the more so from an Israeli Jew who has succeeded in being appointed White House chief-of-staff
Katz went on to compare Emanuel to the biblical Esther, who was wife to the King of Persia and, in this position, was able to prevent a genocide against Persian Jews. He also reminded Emanuel that he (Emanuel) is Jewish and has Israeli roots. As if Rahm Emanuel were somehow to forgot either thing.
The word chutzpah comes to mind when considering Katz's letter to Emanuel. Katz's endeavors in the Palestinian Territories (he helped found one of the larger settlements in the northern West Bank and has stated that he would like to see Gaza re-occupied by the Israelis) have been largely funded by the largesse given to Israel by the United States. As can be seen here (PDF file), the only nation to receive more military aid from the U.S. during the period 2000 to 2006 was Iraq, a country in which we have been waging a war. Notably, Afghanistan received less aid that Israel, and the fourth country on the list, El Salvador, received slightly more than half of what Israel received.
Yes, I know: U.S. aid to Israel is a major point of many anti-Semites who cloak their hatred of Jews in anti-Zionism. It doesn't fool me, and I doubt it fools anyone reading this diary. But that anti-Semites focus so heavily on U.S. aid to Israel doesn't mean it doesn't exist and doesn't mean that it shouldn't come with strings attached. When President George H.W. Bush tried to tie $10 billion in aid to Yitzhak Shamir's government in the aftermath of the first Persian Gulf War to a settlement freeze, Shamir had the nerve to accuse President Bush of anti-Semitism, and he was way out of line. Katz hasn't gone so far (yet) to call Emanuel a "self-hating Jew," although I'm sure he or one of his colleagues on the lunatic fringe in Israel has that bullet already in the chamber. But he's just as out of line as Shamir was back in the early '90s.
It is not inherently a problem that the U.S. gives Israel a lot of foreign aid. It is a problem, however, when Israel uses that money and continues to go against American foreign policy in the process. And American foreign policy has been clear on the issue of a two-state solution (even the watered-down, neutered-Palestinian-state solution) since the first George W. Bush administration. The Israelis cannot have expected that the election of a Democrat as President would have made that policy more rather than less conservative. The last two Democrats before Obama brought about Camp David and hosted Oslo.
But I digress. Here's why Katz is wrong to have addressed Emanuel in such a manner.
- It's condescending. Katz has a fine military record for a religious Jew in Israel. He headed a commando unit and was wounded permanently in the 1973 war. But Emanuel himself volunteered to assist the IDF as a civilian during the First Persian Gulf War. And Emanuel's father? He helped build the state that Katz currently believes that keeping the Palestinian Territories will protect.
- It raises issues that are irrelevant. It is wholly irrelevant that Rahm Emanuel is Jewish. There are plenty of Jewish people that support a two-state solution and oppose the radical-right politics of people like Katz
- It tosses out a red herring. This red herring is contained in the Esther comparison, which would suggest that Emanuel has the responsibility to prevent Israel from negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians, or else there will be a genocide against the Jewish people. Now, it's true that (at least in some reports), Emanuel and/or Obama have linked an attack of some kind on Iran to Israel negotiating a final status agreement with the Palestinians. While I don't particularly buy the idea that Iran poses an existential threat to Israel (and other diaries of mine have mentioned this), the Palestinians pose no existential threat to Israel whatsoever. If anything was made abundantly clear by Israel's conflict with Hamas over the winter, it's that Israel could decimate the Palestinians if it so chose.
- It ignores that U.S. aid funds Israel. Yeah, I made this point already, but it bears repeating. It is time that our aid to Israel come with real strings attached. Israel will not collapse if the U.S. were to suspend or cease our aid to Israel. Rather, Israel would have to reconsider its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and its other neighbors. Obama is offering Israel both: continuing aid and support in exchange for dealing responsibly with the Palestinian issue.
Of course, all of this is academic if an honest broker does not emerge on the Palestinian side. But I think we can surmise with reasonable surety that Obama will push Netanyahu on the two-state solution. There is only so much that Netanyahu can do to push back and not take enormous political risks.
This will be interesting to watch.