America’s Netanyahu Dilemma

Israeli voters rewarded Prime Minister Netanyahu for his scare-mongering and race-baiting with a solid electoral victory. Most significantly, Netanyahu prevailed by discarding the facade of a possible Palestinian state, forcing U.S. officials to face a grim reality, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Faced with an unexpectedly tough electoral challenge, (at least according to Israeli opinion polls, however unreliable they later turned out to be) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the closing days of his campaign decided that his best chance to stay in power would be to tack firmly to the Right, the hardest, narrowest, most intractable, and most prejudiced Right.

After all the alarming and scaring that this Prime Minister has done, one of his final scares was to warn that Arab citizens of Israel would actually, you’d better sit down before you read this, vote. This was an even more blatant, and openly racist, approach to the subject of voter turnout among opposing parts of the electorate than the enactment of voter suppression laws in the United States.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Arab citizens constitute only 20 percent of the Israeli population, so if there was any negative effect on Netanyahu’s re-election chances of this insult to those citizens it would have been less than the effect was, say, for Mitt Romney when Romney insulted 47 percent of the U.S. electorate. In any event, Netanyahu’s political calculation was correct; he won.

For the United States, the most significant of Netanyahu’s statements in his appealing to the intractable Right of the Israeli electorate was to declare clearly and unequivocally his opposition to a Palestinian state. In so doing, and in affirming his determination to hold on to occupied territory, he offered no honorable alternative way to deal with the trilemma of how Israel cannot hold onto all that land and be a Jewish state and be democratic.

Evidently he sees things the same way as his billionaire backer Sheldon Adelson, who said, “Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state, so what?”

Of course, there is no surprise in the substance of Netanyahu’s statement. It has long been abundantly clear from the conduct of himself and his government that he has had no intention of acceding to creation of a Palestinian state, and that past remarks suggesting that he did were only window dressing.

But to move from window dressing and polite fiction to open declaration nonetheless has consequences, not only for the one making the declaration but also for others who have to deal with him. There is no longer any room for plausible denial about who is opposed to a two-state solution, or for proceeding with peace processing that is based on the presumption that both parties genuinely want a deal and it is just a matter of finding the right formula and a third party making the right guarantees.

No U.S. administration, including the current one, can dodge the reality that the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which multiple U.S. leaders have acknowledged is damaging to U.S. interests, is unresolved because one of the parties to that conflict, the one with the military power and with control of the land, does not want it resolved, and is now even openly admitting that it does not want it resolved.

The administration also needs to realize that this is not just a problem with Netanyahu. The Prime Minister’s explicit rejection of a Palestinian state was part of a winning electoral strategy. With all due respect to the many Israelis who do understand the trilemma, who do want to live in a democratic state, and who accept the implications regarding resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, the Netanyahu/Adelson way of looking at things will dominate Israeli policy for the foreseeable future.

A big question for the Obama administration now is: what are you going to say, and more importantly do, about all this? How will you square the realities of the continued damaging effects of the unresolved conflict, the determination of the Israeli government not to resolve it, and the extraordinary relationship that government enjoys with the United States, with the many billions in aid and all those vetoes at the United Nations? (And remember, Mr. President, that you are in the final two years of your administration and will never have to run in another election.)

A more specific question the administration is going to face in the near term is how it will react to the Palestinians’ effort to press their case for statehood. Netanyahu’s admission strips away any remaining rationale for criticizing Palestinians for advancing that case at international organizations.

The rationale wasn’t valid in the first place; Palestinian endeavors in multilateral organizations to work toward self-determination never were “unilateral” moves that jeopardized bilateral negotiations in any way. Now it is clearer than ever that the Palestinians do not have a serious negotiating partner.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

10 comments for “America’s Netanyahu Dilemma

  1. bobzz
    March 19, 2015 at 13:19

    Hey, Joe. Call me naive but I think Obama realizes Israel is America’s tar baby. But the headwind is too strong; he has to tiptoe. Imagine the furor that would arise if he came out with something like: OK, Bibi; now that you have made clear what we have known about your real position all along, no more support for your war crimes in the UN, no more rejection of Goldstone, no more cover for Freedom Flotilla killers, no more $3.5 billion every year. PS. If you attack Iran, you are on your own; don’t call on us.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 19, 2015 at 16:47

      My hope is that President Obama is safe. Between false flag operatives, along with lack a daycle Secret Service agents, well you get the picture. Remember the last US president who attempted to make big bold changes was JFK, need I say more.

  2. Peter Loeb
    March 19, 2015 at 06:47

    Unfortunately some good points embedded in an otherwise backwards assessment. A review of the History of Zionism clearly shows that it was always a concoction for settler colonialism. The intention was always to conquer Palestine. For an in depth analysis see Michael Prior’s book THE BIBLE AND COLONIALISM: A MORAL CRITIQUE. Mr. Pillar seems to have mysteriously overlooked the work of Ilan Pappe such as THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE. Aruri’s THE DISHONEST BROKER” covers US policy prior to the current administration. There are of course other sources…

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • Gregory Kruse
      March 19, 2015 at 10:44

      Mr. Pillar wrote an article, not a tome.

  3. bobzz
    March 18, 2015 at 23:39

    I’ve said before that I knew Obama could never get much of his campaign promises of 2008 implemented. Right after he was elected though, it was the only time I can recall since Reagan that polls showed Americans were happy with the direction the country was taking. It all evaporated as soon as he started making his appointments.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 19, 2015 at 01:32

      Ah bobzz, you bring back memories. I’m with you on the appointments being the first let down. What I don’t get, is why today (in Cleveland) Obama voiced regret about not closing down GTMO day 1 of his first term as President. Also, if he really feels that way, then why not still attempt to shut down the ‘Not Who We Are’ prison NOW!

      As a sideline; could any of this wayward Secret Service stuff being causing Obama to go off script? Probably not, but what in the hell is going on with this President? Seriously, when was the last time an American President spoke displeasingly about an Israeli Prime Minster?

      You must admit, there are some strange things going on. We will need to keep our eye on it. That’s for sure. Good we have Consortiumnews!

  4. Ames Gilbert
    March 18, 2015 at 18:57

    It is futile to appeal to Obama to do the right thing, even in the twilight of his puppethood. He is a master (or at least his speech writer is) of saying the right words, then doing the opposite. He has no natural leadership qualities, and has never clearly stated any personal vision for the country whatsoever, let alone tried to actually fight to realize that vision, so his ‘action’ will be to kick the can down the road and leave the problem to someone else.
    Rather, being a closet neocon and psychologically needy for the approval of the Republicans, he may try to placate Netanyahu with another foreign adventure designed to further destabilize the Middle East (the Israeli ideal appears to be permanent mixture of chaos and poverty) and, of course, offer yet more unconditional military aid.

  5. Raymond Smith
    March 18, 2015 at 17:02

    It is way past time that the USA pull all aide of any kind from Israel. Israel needs to exist on it’s own and stand or fall as it may. They want to make their own choices that is their right. It is The USA’s right to not support their choices.
    We should also pull out of all of the Middle East. Time for the USA to heal itself first and worry about other countries later.

    • Joe Tedesky
      March 18, 2015 at 17:19

      Raymond, I second your motion!

    • Tyrone Koelmeyer
      March 19, 2015 at 00:32

      Re Raymond Smith, I couldn”t have put it better myself. Time for mollycoddling Israel is over. Charity begins at home.

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