Turning a Dream into a Nightmare

It has never been as clear that Americans who support a secure state of Israel have an obligation to oppose the Netanyahu government. That is not as daring as it sounds.

Opposing Prime Minister Netanyahu only requires backing the efforts of our own government to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and a nuclear deal with Iran. In the past few days Netanyahu has gone to war with the Obama administration on both fronts.

Secretary of State John Kerry never had much of a chance to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The Netanyahu government could not withdraw from the West Bank even if it wanted to, given the composition of the far-right coalition Netanyahu heads. But the fact is, it doesn’t want to.

It has never been as clear that Americans who support a secure state of Israel have an obligation to oppose the Netanyahu government. The prime minister sees his job as preserving his coalition, not the Jewish state.

At some point, Kerry’s attempt to bring Israelis and Palestinians together was destined to collapse over the settlement issue. However, to nip any possible progress in the bud, Netanyahu this week announced plans for 3,500 new settler homes in the West Bank. In other words, rather than playing along with Kerry and letting the talks collapse later, Netanyahu is pulling the plug out before it’s even in the wall.

He is taking no chance that somehow progress toward peace could break out. As for the question of what Israel will do when the Palestinian population in Israel and the occupied territories outnumbers the Jewish population, that isn’t his problem. He sees his job as preserving his coalition, not the Jewish state.

Even more destructive to the future of Israel is Netanyahu’s flat out rejection (in advance) of the agreement to end the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear development. President Obama, seizing the opportunity presented by the election of a pragmatic moderate as president of Iran, has come up with a formula under which Iran will put its nuclear program on hold for six months in exchange for the United States relaxing financial sanctions on Iran. It’s a first step designed to give both sides a half year to work out a comprehensive deal.

Netanyahu could not wait for the agreement to be announced before saying no. He went before the cameras to declare that Israel “utterly rejects” the agreement and does not consider itself bound by it. He does not want any sanctions on Iran lifted until its government fully complies, in advance, with the demand that Iran dismantle all aspects of its nuclear program. Israel, of course, has nuclear weapons while Iran doesn’t and Obama is working to ensure it never gets them.

It’s not hard to see that Netanyahu’s goal is not so much ending any Iranian nuclear threat but in ensuring that Iran is unable to assert any kind of leadership role in the region. And he believes that goal can only be achieved through military means, either an Israeli attack on Iran or, preferably, a U.S. war on the Islamic Republic. Although top security analysts in both the United States and Israel agree that a military attack on Iran might not only fail to achieve its goals but could also engulf the region (including Israel, of course) in another war, Netanyahu is steadfast. He “utterly rejects” negotiations.

Of course, it is not likely he can stop a deal although it is obvious what his plan is. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has already announced its plans to sabotage an agreement by getting Congress to enact additional sanctions on Iran at the same time that Obama is offering to remove sanctions. Given that we are already in the 2014 Congressional campaign, Netanyahu assumes that he can count on beneficiaries of the lobby’s financial generosity to do what AIPAC tells them to do. In short, he is counting on AIPAC and its loyalists in Congress to play the role that is commonly ascribed to the “mullahs” in Iran: preventing peace by using its supreme power.

Friends of Israel need to ask what will happen if Netanyahu succeeds in his efforts to destroy chances for both an Israeli-Palestinian and a U.S.-Iranian agreement.

How long can Israel survive like this? How long can it continue to count on U.S. aid while it thwarts U.S. diplomatic efforts designed not only to help secure Israel but to preserve and protect U.S. interests in the Middle East.

As was demonstrated by the struggle over aid to the Syrian opposition, Americans across the political spectrum reject the idea of U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. Lay aside the economic costs, think about the Americans who end up fighting and dying (or, often almost as bad, being grievously wounded) in these wars that can be avoided. Successive U.S. presidents have viewed continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a threat to America’s interests. As for war with Iran, the war Netanyahu seems to prefer to a negotiated peace, that threat to Americans could not be more direct.

And then there is Israel itself. It took Jews 1,900 years to re-establish statehood in Palestine. That state can be secured forever by an agreement with Palestinians to share the land basically along the ’67 lines. Similarly, endorsing America’s effort to achieve an agreement with Iran can help eliminate the threat to Israel from the one regional power capable of posing one (Egypt and Jordan are at peace with Israel while even Syria has maintained the peace since 1973).

Sad to say, it is Netanyahu himself who poses the greatest threat to Israel. Fifty years before Israel was created, Theodor Herzl said, “if you will it, it is no dream.” Netanyahu seems hell bent to turn that dream, the one that was miraculously realized in 1948, to a nightmare. Hopefully, the United States will not permit that to happen.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC’s newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.


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