While there was nothing all that new in the President’s speech on the Middle East, most of the discussion has been centered around the Israeli reaction, rather than the content of Obama’s ten-page peroration. In tandem with the usual pledges to keep borrowing money from the Chinese so we can give it to the Egyptians, Obama simply reiterated the terms of the deal Yasser Arafat refused and the Israelis agreed to at Camp David: a return to the 1967 borders with the understanding tha tland swaps could be made within that context in order to bring about a real and lasting settlement. This has been the framework of the entire “peace process” since Day One.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now rejects this framework, like Samson puling down the temple upon his own head. He claims the 1967 borders are “indefensible,” but the real story is that Israel is no longer concerned with defending its borders, only in expanding them.
In case no one else has noticed, I hasten to point out that the Israel of Camp David is no more. A new Israel has arisen to take its place, one with an electorate that sees the idea of a Greater Israel as the only “defense.” Forget about poor little beleaguered Israel, beset on all sides by relentless enemies: the states bordering the Jewish state are weak and in disarray. Militarily, Israel is by far the most powerful nation in the region, perhaps even more potent than their American patrons.
It is no longer a question of whether Israel’s borders can be defended: the question is, will they be extended? Israel’s strategic posture is best described in the old adage that the best defense is a good offense.
That is why the status quo — the old framework embodied by the 1967 borders — is no longer acceptable to the Israelis. Faced with a demographic time bomb that shows every sign of going off early, not to mention increasing international pressure and isolation, the Israelis have upped the ante. Placing all their coins on a single bet, they’ve decided it’s expand or die.
The Israelis are increasingly distanced even from many of their own traditional supporters in the US and have to depend on the likes of Glenn Beck and a bunch of backwater hicks to gin up support for Israeli in the US. The mainstream Jewish organizations always support the old framework, and are uneasy with Netanyahu’s new dispensation. The main result of Netanyahu’s rejectionist response will be to further alienate American Jews from his government and its policie.
On the other hand, in Israel, it will bolster the Prime Ministe’s standing — and that was always the point, anyway. In public, Netanyahu must roar like a lion, lest his constituents perceive him as a mere satrap of the Americans. Anti-Amerianism plays a role here, just as it does in Pakistan, whose leaders in public rebuke us, and in private say something quite different. Both have a direct line to the US Treasury, and have an interest in keeping it open. And while Netanyahu’s posturing is mainly for public consumption, it serves Israeli interests by keeping the occupied territories in limbo, and allows the settlements to expand and create more “facts on the ground.”