Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Real Meaning Of The 'Freeze'

Benjamin Netanyahu's announcement "falls short" (in George Mitchell's words) on so many dimensions, reasonable people will conclude that it is simply a piece of theater, meant to appease the Obama administration, and public opinion around the world, particularly in the wake of the Goldstone report:

The freeze allows for the completion of 2,500 partially-built housing units and the construction of 492 new apartments. It does not apply to buildings like schools and synagogues. It does not take into account that the actual drivers of new settlement are not in the government, but fanatic settlement organizations that have been acting more or less independent of government decisions for years, and which the state does not have the manpower (or the army, the stomach) to confront with military force. The freeze does not apply to East Jerusalem, a greatly expanded zone (70 square kilometers) in the heart of the West Bank--historically, Palestine's biggest city, commercial hub, and the site of the mosques. Oh, and the freeze will only last ten months.

In effect, Netanyahu has followed the route of Sharon and Olmert before him on "Judea and Samaria," running like Menachem Begin and governing like Golda Meir: at first refusing to budge, then offering to take a five foot leap over the eight foot pit. No wonder the PA's Saeb Erakat announced almost immediately that the Israeli government's step was "unsatisfactory." No wonder, almost immediately, Avigdor Lieberman told Israel's Reshet Bet early this morning, "the response of the Palestinians is the last consideration the Israeli government's order of priorities." The point, he said, was mainly to attend to relations with Israel's friends, the (so he says) "17 countries" around the world that have supported Israel on the Goldstone report but have otherwise been drifting into hostility. (When you have Lieberman in the government, leaks are superfluous.)

AND YET LIEBERMAN'S admission is precisely what should get our attention. The question was never what Netanyahu would do for the Palestinians. The question was, what could the Obama administration make him do for it. And the critical move Netanhayu made for America here was to affirm, pretty much explicitly, that making critical moves for America was Israel's most important strategic priority; that, by implication, the idea that Israel could simply get what it needed from America by sicking AIPAC on the Senate is nonsense. You can feel the diplomatic isolation here growing everyday. And what government will resume settlements openly against American wishes?

As I've insisted before, the real divide in Israeli politics is between the party of Greater Israel and the party of (let's call it) Greater America; between the people who see Israel from the holy land up, and people who see it from globalization down; between the nut-jobs who take diplomatic isolation for granted, and the elites who fear diplomatic isolation will be followed by economic isolation. Netanyahu has always tried to keep a foot planted in both worlds, or at least run in the former and govern in the latter. This move suggests he is finally admitting his lean toward globalization.

Proof positive is the reaction of Uzi Landau, the biggest nut-job in the cabinet, and the (largely orthodox Mizrahi) Shas Party, who look at Israel's elites a little like the way Sarah Palin looks at Warren Buffet. Landau, alone, opposed the vote, while Shas absented itself. The West Bank Council will meet "in emergency session" later this afternoon.

NO ONE CAN say whether Netanyahu's "freeze" will be enough to bring Mahmoud Abbas into negotiations, but something is happening here, and I'm not at all sure Abbas is that relevant to it. By all accounts, we will shortly have a deal for Gilad Shalit, and among the prisoners to be released is Marwan Barghouti--or so he says. Barghouti will assuredly run for president, is close to Hamas and is the only Fatah figure who can unify Palestinians--a people with globalist elites and "religious" sociopaths of their own. By indirectly negotiating with Hamas for Shalit's release, Netanyahu is handing Hamas a big concession, too. The short-fall of his "freeze," and deal with Hamas for Shalit, both make Abbas look bad.

On the other hand, if all of this were a chess game, the board is not looking so bad for Obama just now, even if the situation on the ground has never looked more explosive. Shalit's release would not only bring Barghouti into play--that is, allow for the creation of a united negotiating partner committed to a two-state solution--but also open up the possibility that the siege on Gaza will be lifted, giving room for West Bank businesses and international organizations to reengage there. The Syria track, or at least Turkish mediation, seems to be opening again. Meanwhile, Israeli politicians will almost certainly realign, too. The closer Netanyahu moves toward America, the closer he comes to bringing Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz's Kadima party into the coalition. The closer he comes to conceding his need for America, the greater is the Palestinian incentive to get back into negotiations.

PERHAPS IT IS foolish to say that the catalyst for all of this movement was the Goldstone report, but on the whole the report has seemed a marker along the path that got us here. As my friend David Shulman pointed out in this very thoughtful post on the New York Review's blog, the Goldstone report, for all its (largely rhetorical) flaws, has driven home to Israel's government that a great many of Israel's erstwhile friends are sick of Israel's own crimes; that they will see even acts of Palestinian terror as a function of occupation--that the occupation will be seen as a chronic provocation. Which means that any actions by Israel to counter genuine terror--especially its inevitably asymmetrical actions: tanks against guns, planes against missiles--will only deepen Israel's isolation.

Or perhaps the report simply reinforced, what we all know in our bones, that there is so much blood on so many hands by now that the very idea of "moral high-ground" mocks our condition. That peace is the only idea that isn't boring.


Y. Ben-David said...

While it is true that your "Israelis" can chalk up another victory over your "Judeans" with Netanyahu's latest move and the complete folding up of the "Right" in the Likud exactly as happened a few years ago with the destruction of Gush Katif, I think it is premature to start celebrating the triumph of the "globalist" pro-peace movement you have been trumpeting for years now. The outcome of releasing Gilad Shalit and the gigantic triumph for HAMAS that would represent, plus the move towards a unilateral destruction of Jewish communities in Judea/Samaria which Netanyahu's "freeze" is the harbinger (recall Olmert and Sharon promised such a move some years ago, Bibi will carry it out) is simply going to be a massive outbreak of violence. When Oslo was signed there was a wave of suicide bombings, when Rabin was assassinated and Peres carried out a quick withdrawal from the Arab cities, there was an even bigger wave of suicide bombings, when Barak was making concessions at Camp David the big suicide bomber war broke out and after Gush Katif was destroyed TWO wars broke out--Lebanon and Gaza. So we see "progress" in the "peace process" and Israeli concessions merely bring more war, death and destruction, because the goal of BOTH FATAH and HAMAS is the eradication of Israel. They spit on your "economic peace". They view you as a fool, a dupe, ....what Lenin called a "useful idiot". You keep promising that Israeli withdrawals and concession will bring peace closer, yet it only brings war closer. The tragedy is that the political echelons in Israel don't understand this...The release of HAMAS' terrorists from prison (something that doesn't seem to trouble you "humanists" on the Left-one of the five counts of first-degree murder your pal and "peace partner" Barghouti was convicted of was the murder of a girl who attended my synagogue-but why should that bother you-she was a cursed "Judean" after all) will embolden Islamic terrorists all around the world. The West as a whole will suffer, not just us (e.g. the troops Obama is going to send to Afghanistan).

Carolyn said...

You are the only blogger on this subject who is starkly realistic AND engenders hope out of this mess. Keep on blogging!

Y. Ben-David said...


Are your friends closet "Judeans"?
Are many members of the "secular, economic elite" also closet "Judeans"?

Y. Ben-David said...

You're dismissal of everyone who disagrees with you as a "nut-job" (if it is so obvious that you are right, why are your views that of a small minority in Israel?) reminds me of a line from the immortal TV series "I, Claudius" where the crazed tyrant Emperor Caligula tells his cousin Claudius that sometimes he thinks he is losing his mind. Claudius replies "are you kidding, you are the standard by which sanity is measure in the Empire". Same with you, Bernie!

Joel said...

Y. Ben-David,

The destruction of Israel is the sworn objective of Hamas, not of Fatah -- not that Fatah would mind. And, this situation will persist until a Palestinian state experiences significant benefits from its association with Israel.

Your thesis that every Israeli liberalization leads to more violence is less reasonable than the idea that Palestinian violence is the product of the repeated frustration of their hope for freedom (e.g., Tabah) or their continued oppression by Israel.

I suspect that your belief in historic processes rather than in individual decisions (including your own) is just an expression of expansionist convenience.

Y. Ben-David said...

Palestinian violence is due to the fact of Israel's existence. It is NOT caused by any particular policy of Israel. There was plenty of violence before Israel came into control of Judea/Samaria in 1967. Then there are the refugees, an insoluable problem as the Arabs see it, without an actual, implemented return, because there is no place for them anywhere else. The existence of Israel is abhorrent to the Muslim/Arab world, regardless of which borders. Any Bernie's secular, materialist, globalist "Hebrew Republic" is even more repulsive to them, because whereas a Jewish state causes a problem by sitting on the land of the Dar al-Islam (Realm of Islam), Bernie's "Hebrew Republic" represents an agressive, capitalist, secular culture that would insidiously undermine Arab/Muslim culture. Traditional Jews (whom Bernie abhors and views as "nutcases", "extremists", "primitives",) are much closer in lifestyle and values to the conservative Arab/Muslim population of the Middle East and it will be much easier for Jews of this type to reach an UNOFFICIAL modus-vivendi with the Arab world, something that will take time and which will only occur once Israel stops making territorial concessions. It is "HOPE" that spurs Arab violence-hope for Israeli capitulation. Once that "hope" is gone, than they can turn their attention to improving their lives and forget about jihad.

BTW-the terms with which Bernie dismisses his fellow Jews who don't accept his views also give insight as to how he really views the Arabs, and I mean the bulk of the population and not unrepresentative tokens like Sam Bahour (who I suspect is Christian and for whom HAMAS doesn't have much affection). The world is make up of PEOPLE, not just Bernie's "entrepeneurial elites" whom Bernie feels have some sort of medieval divine right to rule the rest of us.

Acuumyst said...

Hi Y.Ben-David and Barnie,

I have to agree with some of the observation. The Jewish religious "nutcases" are close to Muslim religious "nutcases". But I do not think they can negotiate with each other. Both a tribal narrow minded. Till now they had they war fought by some one else, sitting safe and "study"; The concept of Bernie's "business and social elites" I also find abhorrant and unrealestic. Historicaly the so call "elites" usually join the "winning side" without the consideration for "unwashed" masses. You can find it even in Bible, the concept is thousands years old.

Anonymous said...

The longer Israel remains idealistic and refuses to negotiate and prevents discussion with calls of antisemitism, the more US support erodes for their government.

Liberals blogs are already full of condemnation and Conservative supporters are mostly Evangelical Christians sure all Jews are going to Hell.

I doubt this generation of leaders on either side will be able to negotiate in good faith. Hopefully initiatives to change the attitude of youth will slowly cause progression to a real peace plan. If fighting can stop long enough to allow them to grow into leaders.

potter said...

Reading this and reading Ethan Bronner's version in the NYTimes Saturday, it's complicated yes but the Obama administration should not allow it to be said that this concession is made to end the conflict. This is a "partial temporary freeze to satisfy the US" and should not satisfy us.

Especially after reading Shulman's linked above, it's extremely hard to see any peace deal settlement growth continuing.

To the world, Palestinians are increasingly going to be justified in their resistance (nut- jobs included) and Israeli's increasingly demoralized if the nut-jobs in Israel prevail.

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