Monday, March 16, 2015

Benjamin Netanyahu's Unsustainable Bubble

The most dangerous threat to Israel isn't the Palestinians, or Iran. The gravest threat is Benjamin Netanyahu.

I've written before about my skepticism that Netanyahu really believes in the peace process. A day away from elections that could cast him out of power, he removed all doubt. There will be no two-state solution as far as he's concerned. Ever.

The mask is off now. For all of Netanyahu's protestations that Israel lacks a true partner in the peace process, that Fatah is corrupt and powerless, that Hamas will quickly undermine any deal-- it's clear now that Netanyahu was never paying anything but lip service to the idea of a peace plan. From his public statements, it's clear he believes that there can never be a Palestinian state that doesn't jeopardize Israel's security.

What then, is the answer he proposes? It's very clear from the policies he's supported as Prime Minister.

1. Restrict Palestinians' travel and ability to organize.

2. Strengthen and expand Iron Dome to prevent rocket attacks.

3. Secure borders with walls and high-tech monitoring.

4. Expand settlements to establish buffer zones and drive Palestinians out of strategic areas.

5. Use American money and diplomatic power to keep other countries out of it.

Netanyahu's 5-points of darkness security strategy, from his perspective, and the perspective of many Israelis, has worked so far. Israel is suffering far less casualties from terrorism than it suffered in the past. It faces no real conventional military threat. It's safer to live in Israel now than at any point during its history. Basically, Netanyahu has enclosed Israel in a bubble, and he doesn't care much about what's happening outside of it.

Yet it's a remarkably cruel and short-sighted strategy. The long-term downside to living in a bubble  should be evident to anyone who bothers to think about the future-- for Israel and the Palestinians.

With no Palestinian state on the table, Israel continues its control of the Palestinian territories, expands Jewish settlements, ignores the basic needs of the Palestinians and crowds them into ever worsening conditions-- effectively confirming the beliefs of all those who accuse Israel of being an apartheid state. Meanwhile, Israel isolates itself diplomatically and ostracizes its only reliable ally, the United States. Billions of dollars are wasted on maintaining security structures. The Palestinian territory remains a thorn in Israel's side that erupts in flares of violence, followed by severe, disproportionate crackdowns that resemble, more and more, acts of ethnic cleansing (drawing international condemnation and provoking acts of antisemitism towards Jews worldwide). In this scenario, "peace" only comes when Israelis effectively subjugate the Palestinians to the point where their population numbers and passions no longer pose a threat and the territory can be officially absorbed into Israel. And that's really the best case scenario for how this all shakes out-- it's a long, violent, conflict-riddled road to even get to that horrifically xenophobic vision of the future. It's much more likely that eliminating peace as a viable option ends up further radicalizing both sides until an all-out war erupts and forces other countries to intervene.

That's what most of us Jews have sworn would never happen. We're not the Nazis. We've suffered thousands of years of persecution, we would never seek to decimate another group. "We don't want the Palestinians gone, we want them to stop attacking us." That's always been the noble refrain: Israel doesn't want to destroy the Palestinians, the way many of them want to destroy Israel.

The only justification for Israel's management of the Palestinian territories has been to assure Israel's security while working to establish permanent peace. If you ditch the second part, then you basically concede the argument to all the antisemites and Israel-haters--"You're right, we don't want the Palestinians here."

Is that the Israel that Israelis want? To drop the noble intentions of living side by side in peace, and instead declare manifest destiny--Israel, and only Israel, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan? Israel in a bubble, blowing bigger and bigger, while those standing in the way get smothered?

That may be Netanyahu's plan, but we'll soon see if the voters agree. Right now, polls have Netanyahu trailing his more moderate rivals. That gives me some hope that the noble cause is not yet lost.

After all, bubbles, as we know, have a tendency to pop.

Update 3/18: Well, Bibi appears to have enough support to form a coalition. Jonathan Chait published an article today that echoes my concerns:

"Netanyahu’s comments present a coherent and chilling vision of his long-term strategy. His intention is to maintain singular Israeli control in perpetuity over the entire territory that the early Zionists were once happy to partition into two states. This course will eventually lead to pressure for Palestinians to gain a democratic voice within the institutions that control their lives, but Netanyahu treats that as illegitimate, as well. He proposes to snuff out every peaceful outlet for Arab political aspirations."

Somehow, America survived the lunacy of George W. Bush (even though his actions gave the world ISIS and destroyed our economy). Hopefully, Israel will survive Netanyahu.

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