Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Disaster Approaches Inexorably in Palestine

The issue of the West Bank settlements is not going to go away. The Ultra-Orthodox and young hilltop hoodlums are digging in, as Ethan Bronner's latest makes clear. The harder Obama pushes, the more they taunt him (including, evidently, with a Hebrew version of the n-word); the more the rabbis like Ovadia Yosef exhort their followers to stand against the US's demand for a settlement freeze; and the more Netanyahu can sit back and wait for the likes of Pastor Hagee to whittle away at Obama's public support among our Christian Zionist brethren. There is indeed some push-back from the Israeli left, with Peace Now putting up posters. as Phil Weiss picks up

The poster, that is certain to stir up controversy in the capital, reads: "Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three things – idolatry, incest and bloodshed. Why was the Second Temple destroyed? Because there was unfounded hatred. And what, heaven forbid, will lead to the destruction of the Third Temple? The settlements, fanaticism and occupation."

"For this I mourn," the poster continues," for the settlements that were built in the heart of Palestinian territory and that keep peace and quiet from our land. For the settlements that were built, with or without permit, and that turn us into the loathsome scum among the nations.

"For the outposts that were built by deception and by turning blind eyes. For Jerusalem, the joy of the land, that has been turned into a city of strife and quarrel. For the continued investment and construction in the settlements, that will ultimately lead to one state for two people – and thus put an end to the Zionist enterprise."

But when you have people actually creating new "facts on the ground," with the Israeli government making what are really only hit-or-miss dismantlings of these outposts, with no follow-through . . . I'm sorry, but I fear that all of the momentum is with the settlers, not with the poster-people.

(And as for the response of US officials to Netanyahu's reference to them as self-hating Jews, I recommend you check out Stephen Walt's take.)

These zealots are dug in, and digging in more. Their government claims to be opposed to what they're doing, but in actuality takes great pains to make sure they're protected. Their rabbis are telling them to oppose IDF soldiers who might come to dismantle their outposts, and are calling upon the soldiers themselves (more and more of whom are coming from the ranks of the hyper-religious) not to obey orders to remove Jews from the "land of Israel" (i.e., the West Bank).

Meanwhile, the Paletinians, the Saudis, and others across the Arab world are counting on Obama to not only stick to his guns, but to actually bring about real change, to force a real breakthrough that will give the Palestinians some legitimate shot at a viable state. But Netanyahu knows that the majority of Israelis now have his back on the settlements issue, and that Obama has issues in re domestic political support (especially in Congress, and not just among Christian Zionist/evangelical Republicans) and needing to keep as much support on-side as he can as campaigning season for 2010 elections approaches (it's not all that far off). Netanyahu also knows that forceful government action against the settlers will almost surely ignite violence by settlers (many of whom, of course, are armed, and tote their arms with them) against IDF soldiers. That's another trump card he can play with Obama.

All of which will put the load of leading any movement for a Palestinian state right back on the shoulders of the Palestinians themselves - and whatever allies they can still attract. Negotiations have been a dead end - and will continue to be a dead end - because no Israeli government to date has been willing to "concede" enough to make any proposed deal viable.

The remaining options - short of an honest-to-goodness binational state, which is by far the fairest one - are very poor.

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