Peter Beinart zooms in on Dennis Ross's role in bolstering Netanyahu and on Obama's weakness when he backed down on the demand for a settlement freeze. There was, of course, no such freeze. You think Greater Israel under Netanyahu and Lieberman would live up to its promises?
In November, Israel and the United States agreed to a settlement freeze that exempted East Jerusalem, exempted all public buildings “essential for normal life,” exempted all buildings whose foundations had already been laid, and was set to expire in ten months. Key was the exemption for construction already under way. As Israeli newspapers reported, settlers had spent the months preceding November busily laying the foundations of new houses, which they then built upon during the “freeze.” Then, when the freeze expired, they began laying more foundations. All in all, according to Peace Now, construction began on 1,518 West Bank housing units in 2008. In 2009, the number was 1,920. In 2010— the year of the “freeze”— it was 1,712.
Publicly, Hillary Clinton calling the settlement freeze “unprecedented.” Privately, the mood was darker. As Mitchell told Erekat, “We know what you think of us because we failed.”
Peter rightly notes, I think, that last week's events mark a further capitulation of America's interests to Greater Israel's. From my column in yesterday's Sunday Times [paywalled]:
The new Six Power talks with Iran will now be critical. And in some manner, Netanyahu's apocalypticism and the threat from the Republican party should strengthen the West's current position. Obama can credibly argue that the window for a diplomatic solution, with full inspection of all sites, is still open, but that he is the Iranians' best bet if they want to keep war at bay. Will the Iranians now deal? The economic and financial sanctions are brutal, the military threat now more explicit than ever. But what we do know is that if the Iranians refuse to cooperate, they will have achieved something as chilling as it is ironic: a second US invasion of the Middle East, led by the president who was elected because he opposed the last one.
Or led by a Republican president, leading millions of evangelical Christians in a religious showdown against their eternal enemy: Islam. It is hard to be in any way optimistic about any loosening of the grip of Greater Israel's control of US foreign policy in the Middle East, just as it is hard to be in any way optimistic about a two state solution. Religious fundamentalism in Israel and America is now much more powerful than foreign policy realism.
But that doesn't mean giving up, however understandable that now is. Exposing Israel's slide into a fundamentalist-driven, expansionist force in the Middle East, and making the case, as David Ignatius did yesterday, that non-military options remain our best bet in undermining the theo-fascists in Tehran and the West Bank, remain vital.
My Tory pessimism leads me to think this is a losing battle. But losing battles must also be fought.
Which brings me to the great news of Zion Square, a new group-blog on the Beast designed to air this subject, expose reality and generate a more honest debate about what is happening in Israel. Run by Peter Beinart, whose forthcoming book, The Crisis Of Zionism, is a terrifyingly frank account of our current state of affairs, it's essential reading.
Case in point: Gershom Gorenberg's superb new column on the recklessness of Netanyahu's – and Republican – rhetorical style in Washington last week.