The Illusion of the Left in Israel
The Right in Israel will never tell you this, but they are winning. They are winning big, all under the guise of being attacked by a rabid left emboldened by an anti-Israel American president. The reality is that Israel has spent the past decade undergoing a collective rightward shift seizing the political platform while pushing the left out from the picture. The regulation of the range of debate to the right end of the spectrum has concealed a one-sided policy under a veal of democracy. The rocky moments between Netanyahu and Obama only reveal how far to the right our nation has moved. The paradigm, having shifted far from center, considers a criticism of settlement building as radical, anti-Israel, and, in absurd cases, anti-Semitic. There is no true discussion, no debate, and all arrows point towards continued occupation and violence. In a situation where Ehud Barak oversaw a brutal attack on Gaza and while Barack Obama is pumping financial aid into Israel, supporting the occupation in all but rhetoric where do we turn? The difference between the left and the right is so blurred now that we wonder where our peace camp is. Who will bring the change that we –and more so, the Palestinians- need for the future?
Unfortunately even in rhetoric Obama has done little to stray from the standard United States support for a two-state settlement while maintaining a "clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy.” In practice he has done less.
As a senator during Israel's 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon and Summer Rain attacks on Gaza, Obama co-sponsored a senate resolution condemning Hezbollah and Hamas while asking the United Nations to do the same. The resolution urged "the President to continue fully supporting Israel as Israel exercises its right of self-defense in Lebanon and Gaza."
During his campaign, despite being presented as the candidate who was 'bad for Israel', Obama promised to honor the pledge of an unconditional $30 billion in military aid given to Israel over a ten year period. Despite the financial crisis Obama made good on his promise meeting the 2009 pledge of $2.55 billion, a 25% increase from the Bush administration. The $2.78 billion promised for 2010 was approved by congressional vote six months into his first term.
Despite these moves to protect the status-quo between the two nations –a status quo that emboldens Israel's militant interests- the Israeli public's dismal approval ratings (6% in June 2009) of the President Obama has reflected the perception of Obama as 'bad for Israel' in Israeli and American media outlets. There is little doubt that Obama has been aware of this perception and the effort to patch up the relationship between the two leaders this past week has made one thing overtly clear: business in the Middle East will continue as usual.
In the recent Haaretz article entitled, Obama Sobers up, Israel Harel, acknowledges that Obama has recently gone through "a process of sobering up" from his previous "brutal pressure on Israel." Harel is in fact partially correct; Obama's previous meeting with Netanyahu did reveal a slight change in rhetoric. Obama moved from his moderate statements to a more supposedly clear headed view of unconditional support for the occupation of Palestinian lands and moral degradation of Israeli society.
The "brutal pressure" which he had exhibited was presumably -aside from fancy speeches in Cairo- a continuation of financial aid while standing impotent in the face of East Jerusalem settlement expansion. Perhaps by brutal pressure Harel was referring to Obama's uncompromising defense of Israel's presumed nuclear capabilities. It is hard to tell exactly what he means, but Harel does claim that this "dogmatic" pro-Palestinian stance "had caused the Palestinians to climb such a tall tree that when they reached the top, they suffered from vertigo and lost contact with reality." The vertigo they felt was a possibility of getting the just peace demanded since 1967 by the world -save US and Israel. The 'reality' that they lost contact with was the Israeli reality that peace will only come on our terms along the settlement lines that we choose.
To make it clear the Palestinian's demand Israel's return to the internationally recognized pre-1967 border and have signed on for a comprehensive peace in return. Behind American support Israel refuses to state a clear, definitive proposal outside of rejection, opting to leave key issues to direct talks. Clearly Israel does not wish to make any verbal commitment requiring them to sacrifice any of their illegal acquisitions. Meanwhile the facts on the ground speak volumes and Obama's silent consent is deafening.
Terrorism within Israel has long ceased. It has been eighteen months since Cast Lead has ended and Gaza remains in ruins. Economically depressed by a blockade of land and sea unemployment has rocketed to 40% while 97% of industrial premises have shut down. The strip has half of the necessary water to meet international standards and 70% of families live on less than a dollar per day.
Much focus this year has revolved around proximity talks yet the demands from the Palestinian Authority have fallen on deaf ears. The ten month settlement moratorium described by Netanyahu as "painful" allowed for the construction of 3,000 West Bank homes already approved while saying nothing about East Jerusalem. If actions speak louder than words then Israel declared their intent of what a future settlement may look like with the approval of 1600 new apartments in Ramat Shlomo this past March –an illegally annexed East Jerusalem neighborhood which should be the future capital of a Palestinian state. In addition to this public catastrophe that irritated the American administration there have been less publicized atrocities such as the eviction of 52 Palestinians from Sheik Jarah in East Jerusalem and the constant destruction of Palestinian neighborhoods in the West Bank such as Bil'lin where the bulldozers continue to pave away room for the separation wall.
The above is a description of Israel in its concessional period. These atrocities received nothing but the utmost commendation from President Obama this past week. Sitting aside Netanyahu, the President explained that "the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months." The message coming out of Washington is now crystal: Israel, do what you wish. America's priorities remain on the side of injustice.
Obama's rationale for his unwavering support lies in his consistent promise to never ask "Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests." Every security concern of Israel, however, remains marred in hypocrisy and falls flat when held up to inspection. Whose security concerns should we attend to when over 3200 Palestinians have been killed since 2005 in comparison to 133 Israelis? Since September 29, 2001 nearly 3000 Palestinians described as non-combatants have been killed, as well as over 1300 minors.
These numbers are gruesome. What amount of security must be sacrificed by the Palestinians as Israel seeks to remove its perceived threats? According to Washington the answer has always been the same: as much as Israel deems necessary.
The Israeli government has a long history of rejecting Arab offers –such as the 2002 Saudi peace initiative which was approved twice by the entire Arab league with the exception of Libya- because it believes the Arabs are lying and will seek to destroy more of the Jewish state. In the meantime Israel has displayed their own integrity by constructing settlements on 42% of the West Bank. Furthermore, from the moderate-left to the moderate-right the Israeli political parties agree that Israel holds a historic right to all of the land from the sea to the Jordan River –of course this implies that the Palestinians are entitled to nothing. One must wonder what meaning 'the left' actually holds in this context.
From nuclear weapons possession to massive expansion it appears that whatever ambitions the most extreme Arab or Muslim factions hold we not only hold as well, but have already achieved.
This frightening hypocrisy propagated constantly by the press and government have penetrated deep into Israeli society. Large portions of the Israeli population have recently been wearing yellow ribbons while marching through the streets in solidarity and passionate support for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit, yet there is scarcely a mention of the approximately 7000 – 8500 Palestinians prisoners held in detention. These prisoners have been kidnapped from their homes in the middle of night, many civilians, many minors and at least 300 without trial.
The steadfast belief in the righteousness of their plight mixed with historical consciousness of the Holocaust and the wars of '48 and '67 are manipulated and mangled by the government-media complex blurring the Israeli public's ability to reason, hardening their hearts to the fate of the suffering. A deeply indoctrinated population such as ours is out of touch with reality and unable to see the hypocrisy when it faults them.
The victims of our massacres are really aggressors. The supporters of our crimes are in fact our enemies. This breach of sanity empowers our leaders to lead us down a path that I do not believe many of us are prepared to travel. The end will not be kind. We, however, are responsible for and in control of our own fate. The Palestinians sadly are not- forever subjected to being the objects of history. How long will they remain quiet? How long should they? Abbas, ever the stooge, seeks an ally in peace through the United States. His side's position has been repeatedly stated and is blatantly clear. Meanwhile what is the offer of Israel? What is the advice of the United States? Rejection of the international consensus is the starting point for Israel's discussion, as it has been for 43 years. Meanwhile the Palestinian's are watching there would be nation slowly evaporate. The people of Gaza are sitting ducks, their fate left to the decision of their occupier. The United States does nothing. Obama's plays the standard presidential role of supporting Israel even as the majority of the population views him as an obstacle.
Through it all the right expands and conquers while playing the part of the victim. They claim to have an enemy in the white house and the conservative forces in America encourage the delusion. They anticipate the day that the nightmare that is Obama will end and a 'true friend', like George W Bush was, can return. Maybe a religious zealot such as Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin will fit the bill. But what would that change? Only the same thing that we have seen change thus far, nothing but the conversation. And the left has no voice.