After Netanyahu’s Triumph

Sep 22 2011 @ 12:50pm

Judging from his actions, the Israeli prime minister has two over-arching goals: the permanent annexation of the occupied territories and the electoral defeat of Barack Obama in the US. He will deny both – but he is a practised liar, and his actions speak so much louder than his words. He is gaining on both fronts, as inaction means more and more settlers on the West Bank, and as Obama reels from a poor economy and as an "ungrateful ally", in Bob Gates's words, focuses primarily on his electoral destruction.

Netanyahu is not stupid. Obama represented a real threat to the neocon rubric: an American president very close to Israel but uniquely capable of advancing America's long term interests by forging a better relationship with the Arab and Muslim world. But the House GOP and a few Greater Israel-obsessed Democrats, in a close alliance with Netanyahu, have destroyed that potential. Between advancing America's long term interests and challenging the Israeli government, the Christianists and neocons have no hesitation in choosing Israel's short-term and self-destructive intransigence over their own country's long-term global influence.

So watching the US president be humiliated at the UN must have made every neocon and Christianist very happy, even as it made me wince. To contrast this speech with last year's reveals just how impotent any American president is in dealing with this matter. To go further back, from Cairo to New York represents an arc from real potential change to total, bitter stasis, with the added humiliation of Obama now vetoing the very Palestinian state that has been America's policy for decades. In this case, the arc of history is short and it points to mounting injustice.

But in some ways, the crude demonstration of the impotence of a US president in this area is clarifying. It's clear to the entire world that America – for domestic reasons – simply cannot be an honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. America cannot even advance its own interests in a world transformed by the Arab Spring – because of the force of the evangelical right in determining Republican policies and the passion of the Greater Israel lobby in swaying the Democrats. If Obama was helpless in the face of this pincer movement, what hope any successor? The only way forward therefore is by reducing America's control of the peace process, and handing the issue to a wider international forum.

A first step is surely Sarko's option: backing observer member status at the UN as one desperate measure to force the Israelis to stop aggressively colonizing land captured in war. I don't see why the US should vote against that, even though the US will, because the US is domestically forced to do so. But the rest of the world may well vote in overwhelming numbers for this proposition, because they see it as the only real leverage against the deepening colonization of the West Bank.

This is Netanyahu's achievement: the alienation of Turkey and Jordan, the suspicion of the Arab Spring, the potential loss of Egypt's support and the dramatic reduction in US power and influence in the region. There was a window these past couple of years. Israel, the Greater Israel lobby and the Christianist GOP closed it. The best the US can do now is bow out of the responsibility for an ally it has no sway over, and work through more indirect fashion for a two-state solution that, at this point in time, seems further away than ever.