The Pro Arab Lobby always needs a boogie man. For years it was former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. You remember him, he was the guy who unilaterally pulled out of Gaza. In fact even when he did that, he was roundly criticized.
After the stroke that keeps Sharon in a coma to this day, Ehud Olmert took the stance to aggressively pursue peace at all costs,possibly to hide the corruption that surrounded his administration. What Olmert found is that even the supposedly moderate Abu Mazen was not a willing peace partner.
Within two days Bibi Netanyahu will take the premiership over from the corrupt Olmert, and even before he has taken over, the Arab lobby has placed the “boogie man” mantle on Bibi’s head. They say that Bibi will not work toward a peace plan, even though he as repeated his intention to make peace over and over. Even worse, they refuse to recognize that there is no peace partner on the Palestinian side:
WITH Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu set to be sworn in as Israel’s prime minister tomorrow, Western capitals are in a dither about the irrelevant question of Israel’s commitment to the vaunted “two-state solution.”
The “solution” — based on President George W. Bush’s vision of a democratic Palestine living peacefully next door to Israel — has no relevance to the world as it is now: Palestine is further from developing a viable democracy than it was when W. set forth the idea. Questions of Bibi’s commitment to the idea are just a new club for those in Washington who think that distancing America from Israel will somehow solve US problems with the larger Muslim world.
It all began with charges from Bibi’s rival, Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni. In refusing to join in the Netanyahu government, she publicly cited his refusal to declare that he is committed to a two-state solution. But the dispute was plainly more about politics (or personality) than policy: Since then, the leftist Labor Party has joined the government, and its leader, Ehud Barak, is expected to be a powerful voice in the new government, perhaps second only to Netanyahu’s.
Nonetheless, European Union leaders last week announced that Israel’s hopes of an upgrade in economic and diplomatic ties with the EU are all but doomed unless the new Jerusalem government declares support for the two-state solution. In his own press conference last Tuesday, President Obama similarly said that advancing the solution is “critical for us” but that he doesn’t expect the Netanyahu government to make Middle East peacemaking “easier than it was.”
What makes all this absurd, of course, is that Israel isn’t the problem. The outgoing Israeli government was fully committed to Bush’s vision. Livni, its foreign minister, endlessly negotiated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides to establish a Palestinian state. But Abbas’ hold on power has been failing for well over a year, fast, while the absolutists of Hamas — who won’t even pretend to want peace with Israel — are on the rise.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government has “gone further in the peace negotiations than any previous government.” But the Palestinian leadership’s “weakness and lack of courage” derailed the negotiations. He’d made a firm offer months ago, Olmert said last week, and “I’m still waiting” for Abbas’ answer. Whether this was a self-serving alibi or hard fact, it’s hard to see how a public Netanyahu commitment to chase the same chimera would make any difference.
Only in myth is the Israeli right the roadblock to peace. The rightist Likud leader Menahem Begin signed the first peace treaty with an Arab state, Egypt, 30 years ago. In 1997, Bibi himself signed an agreement ceding parts of Hebron to the Palestinians, despite loud protests from the right — and superhawk Ariel Sharon pulled Israel out of Gaza in 2005. Yet Stefan Collison of Agence France-Presse clearly expressed the prevailing “wisdom” in his question at Obama’s press conference, blaming the next peacemaking failures on an Israeli “prime minister who is not fully signed up to a two-state solution and a foreign minister who has been accused of insulting Arabs.”
A growing chorus in Washington wants Obama to distance the United States from Israel — as the failed effort to install Chas Freeman as head of the National Intelligence Council shows.
Israel is “a foreign country, and while maybe 40 years ago many of its values were convergent with ours, I think there’s been a divergence of values,” Freeman told the Jewish Forward last week. “We have paid heavily and often in treasure in the past for our unflinching support and unstinting subsidies of Israel’s approach to managing its relations with the Arabs.”
Like-minded officials will cite Netanyahu’s refusal to embrace the “two-state solution” to push Obama to lean harder on Israel on issues like talks with Hamas — even though Hamas is publicly opposed to any two-state solution. (It’s committed to a one-state answer: an Islamic state that includes Israel’s territory.)
Facing far more real and pressing foreign perils — and with no chance at an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough anytime soon — Obama would be wise to ignore them.