A reader writes:
I understand you're feeling a bit beleaguered recently. I understand that you've evolved in your views towards the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and that you've gone from what is referred to as staunchly pro-Israel to a more nuanced view. But I'm worried, that in your transition, you've gone from one echo chamber to another.
I think now you've come to the point where you're reflexively criticizing everything Netanyahu does. Every gesture he makes is inevitably a "go Cheney yourself" to the Obama administration. Everything is designed to make negotiations impossible, or inevitable failures. Don't get me wrong, I think he's a slimy douche who would sell his mother for half a klondike, but the other side ain't better.
All the movement since Obama came to power has been on the Israeli side. Netanyahu is the one modifying his opinions. Netanyahu is the one offering to sit down. Netanyahu instituted a moratorium on settlements. Netanyahu is punishing soldiers that refuse to follow orders for future withdrawals. Are these half-measures? Sure. Is he still beholden to his right-wing base? Sure. But what was the last move the Palestinians made? No matter what Netanyahu says, the Palestinians say the same thing back: No talks until all settlement comes to an end.
Today you're analyzing two NYT articles, and reflexively interpreting them as the devious machinations of a Netanyahu out to embarrass Obama. Are you sure that's what it is? Netanyahu didn't call the Cave of the Patriarchs a "Zionist site". You did. He referred to 150 archaeological and Zionist sites, among them the Cave of the Patriarchs. Some sites are archaeological, and some are Zionist. Some are both. I'm almost certain he meant that the Cave was an archaeological heritage site of national importance - which it of course is. You seem to be insinuating that he wishes to commemorate the Goldstein massacre - hence, the "Zionism", I suppose. This seems to be a reflexive and intemperate interpretation that really isn't called for. Just because Israel makes something a national site doesn't mean it's a Zionist monument - no Arabs allowed!
Next, you draw attention to the Tu B'shvat planting ceremony. Let me get this straight: Because Netanyahu announces that Israel plans to retain a densely settled settlement in the West Bank near Jerusalem - a position it has always maintained - this is a particular strong insult because he did it on Jewish Arbor Day? Because George Mitchell was shuttling back and forth? Why must Netanyahu always have to be the one to not do anything, or say anything to upset the Palestinians? Would you like him to stay away from the West Bank altogether? Act as if he's already given up everything. Most commentators agree that Israel will end up with the Etzion bloc anyway - what's the big deal? Again, have the Palestinians done nothing intemperate?
Please try to take a balanced view of things. You don't have to be on one side or the other. This isn't binary. There are plenty of people articulating the Palestinian side, and plenty of people advocating for the Israelis, but precious few realists in the middle.
He did not propose a total freeze on settlement construction. He refused. And my point about the Cave of the Patriarchs was in no way that he was commemorating Baruch Goldstein, for Pete's sake. That site's status is far far deeper than some religious terrorist's relatively recent mass murder. My point was that it was not exactly sensitive timing, and was bound to stir up a huge amount of emotion that would make any sort of peace talks impossible right now. And yes, I think he should stay out of the West Bank right now as much as possible, if he genuinely wants peace - but I don't believe he does. I believe he wants permanent annexation of the West Bank and a war with Iran. Another writes:
You take the easy way out by labeling Netanyahu and his government as the obstacle to a two state solution. You forget that the Israeli people voted in this right wing government and supports his government. The Israeli people mistrust the American government and are extremely wary about the two state solution. Netanyahu is simply the people's representative and so is elected to carry out their will.
Also, it is naive to think that the Israeli government will ever pull out of the Etzion settlements. These "settlements" are not comprised of trailers on hilltops. Rather, these are vibrant cities and are centers of Torah scholarship. Their inhabitants are not extremist settlers.
Actually, that was my point. Israel is now at a pmoment where Netanyahu occupies the fricking center. Most Israelis despise the US president and want him to fail in reaching some kind of rapprochement with the moderate Muslim world. And on the West Bank, we do finally have a leadership that might actually be able to deliver something. (Hamas is, of course beyond any relationship.) Reaching out to the Muslim middle, as Obama did at Cairo, was one reason I and many others supported him. He won the election. We wanted change. And it seems to me that it is long past time that a foreign country that is purportedly an ally should stop behaving this way if it wants the US alliance to continue.
I favor what I believe, rightly or wrongly, are the interests of the United States. And I can understand if some draw the line at anything that might risk the actual security of Israel. But freezing construction of settlements on the West Bank? How could that affect Israeli security? Many Israelis believe it is essential to Israel's future security. It is the least Israel could do to help its largest ally and supporter. But even this ... is out of the question and followed up by provocation after provocation.
I'm not a fool. Netanyahu is out to destroy Obama's outreach to the Muslim world. In that battle, I stand with Obama and have every reason to be frustrated with the direction Israel is taking. No more excuses. It's getting pathetic.