As a supporter of Israeli sovereignty, I am increasingly frustrated by Israel’s lack of commitment to the peace process in the Middle East. Israel’s hard-line President Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy of continued settlement construction in the West Bank, where Israelis kick Palestinians off land guaranteed to them in the Oslo Accords, benefits neither Israel nor Palestine. By May 2009, there were 280,000 Israeli citizens living in 121 settlements in the West Bank, and Israel currently has 300 new construction projects underway there; the U.N. has recognized these settlements as a violation of international law. From a terrorist organization like Hamas, we expect antagonistic actions like these even though we do not accept them. For Israel, we should do neither; if Israel does not respect past accords, how can it be trusted to respect future ones? While I fully endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Palestinian territories, West Bank settlements serve no defensive purpose; they only inflame Palestinian emotions.
Israel resembles less a sovereign nation than it does a selfish child playing in the largest sandbox in the world. Israel throws sand in the eyes of the other children, pushing them further to the outside of the box and building sand castles in their place. While moderate President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas has committed to pursue a truce, his hopes have been dashed. On Thursday, exasperated with failed efforts to halt Israeli aggression, Abbas announced that he would not seek reelection.
Perhaps even more disturbing than Israel’s actions is Obama’s indulgence of this spoiled child. Obama plays the role of “acquiescent parent,” publicly asking infantile Israel to stop bullying its Arab neighbors and demanding a two-state solution while privately rewarding Israel with airplanes and guns to play with.
In June, Obama traveled to Egypt, one of the disaffected sandbox play pals, to soothe concerns, declaring, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” At the U.N. last month, he guaranteed “an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians” before peace talks begin. These promises were completely discredited last Saturday, however, by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At a press conference with Netanyahu, Clinton stated that freezing Israeli settlements “has never been a precondition, it has always been an issue within the negotiations” for a peace settlement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Nobody expects Washington to mediate a Middle East peace impartially, but must the U.S. kowtow to the Jewish lobby on every issue? I suppose I was naïve to expect change from this administration on Middle Eastern policy. Despite Obama’s lofty rhetoric, I find politics as usual from an administration that treats its sole Middle East ally as infallible. Obama must hand Israel a soft spanking; diplomatic reprimands or trading sanctions until it completely halts all settlements. Yes, I know midterm elections are looming in the U.S. and yes, I know Democrats need the Jewish vote. But the implications of a sovereign Israeli state are more profound than poll numbers or congressional races; it will take courage to sacrifice politics for peace. Obama should aim for a two-state solution in the Middle East. However, he must realize that goal is unattainable so long as Israel treats its borders as transient lines in the sand.