It would be really hard to beat the subtlety and cogency of this post by Noah Millman on Israel's now-accelerating assisted suicide. What Noah understands is that the pulverizing of Gaza, the embargo and the blockade are all enormously popular with the Israeli Jewish public, even as they immiserate and further embitter well over a million Palestinians. Even the relatively secular left is on board:
I get notes all the time from family and friends in Israel. These are generally liberal, secular people. None of them are settlers. None of them vote for Likud, to say nothing of parties further to the right. Overwhelmingly, the sentiment among people I know in Israel was in favor of the Gaza war, in favor of the embargo and blockade, in favor of a policy of collective punishment against the people of Gaza.
And let's not delude ourselves: the reason so many of us find the policy toward Gaza repellent is that it is quite obviously an attempt to collectively punish the people of Gaza for voting for Hamas, and then for lobbing missiles after Israel's withdrawal. That was the element of the 2009 war that was so horrifying to those of us on the outside, and that is why this blockade, designed to maintain total control over 1.5 million people (and to benefit various Israeli economic sectors), is so disconcerting.
And it is, of course, self-reinforcing. Has the war and the blockade hurt the idea of Hamas? Au contraire. It has legitimized it. When you end up killing civilians to prevent access to toys and wheelchairs, you have lost any desire to win the war of ideas and have retreated instead to the logic of force. The Bush-Cheney administration is, in other words, alive and well ... and in Jerusalem, and backed by the opposition, because it is backed by the people. This is one of the problems with democracy, as Millman notes:
Israel’s policy-making no longer seems to me to be particularly related to concrete policy objectives at all. Neither the Lebanon war nor the Gaza war had actual military goals. Both were essentially wars for domestic consumption. Hezbollah and Hamas were firing rockets at Israel, and Israelis were understandably furious. “Something” had to be done about that, to let the Israeli public know that their leadership felt their fury. So the government did “something.”
That reminds me of the Iraq war. I supported it for exactly the same emotional reasons that many Israelis do their forever war in Gaza and the West Bank. It's understandable emotionally, and Noah helps explain how. But it is crazy as a rational policy to achieve actual concrete ends. In the end, occupying Muslim Arab countries is a mug's game.
The question we have to face is whether Israel is now too far gone to be rescued. The enormous opportunity offered by the election of Obama has been thrown in the face of the US and the world. The alienation of Europe and Turkey seems driven by willful obstinacy and near clinical paranoia. And the knee-jerk response of the AJE has only made matters worse. I'm not sure, as Millman notes, that the US could do much good anyway. Pressure backfires; diplomacy doesn't work; and the truth is: Israelis cannot really absorb the fact that they have to give up the dream of Greater Israel or become a pariah state.
That's why, in my view, the settlement question was the right one to start with. A temporary freeze on construction was the minimum necessary to see if the Israelis are serious about some kind of resolution. The Israeli public simply isn't. And no Israeli government can over-ride such a massive consensus, even if it wanted to (which it doesn't). At some point, the US will have to decide how to deal with this. We should, of course, do all we can to be reasonable and argue for a comprehensive deal. But we should not delude ourselves into believing Israel will ever accept it.