The reelection of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms a harsh new reality: The toxicity of America’s domestic politics has poisoned the discussion of our policies toward Israel. The only antidote is a dispassionate and rigorous re-examination of what America’s support for Israel should mean.
This watershed moment is the direct result of the decision by Netanyahu and the Republican Party to politicize the US-Israeli relationship and, by extension, the existential questions confronting Israel itself. The fissure began with Netanyahu’s open support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Now his recent Republican-inspired speech before Congress, intended to thwart President Obama’s negotiations with Iran, as well as his desperate pursuit of right-wing votes before the Israeli election, have shredded the bipartisan support in America. This support previously muted serious discussion of how such unwavering support might damage the national security interests of both countries. But now that debate is here.
The potential consequences of Netanyahu’s chosen path are easy to foresee: An aggrieved Palestinian population entering its second half-century of Israeli occupation without any realistic hope of self-determination. A third intifada. A disintegration of order as Palestinians shun the PLO for its failure, requiring military intervention by Israel. An annexation of the West Bank, which forces Israel to choose between allowing Palestinians to vote — the eventual death knell for a Jewish state — or erecting an apartheid regime, which would end Israel as a democratic state. A world community that increasingly treats Israel as a pariah. And the perpetuation of a festering grievance between Jews and Arabs under Israeli dominion, which empowers those whose fondest hope is that Israel vanish from the map — Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.
Netanyahu’s Republican apologists cite these adversaries as a reason to support the hardline policies Israel’s enemies most desire. For Hamas, the two-state solution is anathema, a body blow to its dream of destroying Israel. It is a matter of historic fact that Hamas has always preferred Netanyahu to tough-minded pragmatists like Yitzhak Rabin, leaders without illusions, willing to pursue a secure peace. Indeed, after the assassination of Rabin, Hamas launched a wave of suicide bombings calculated to discredit his successor, Shimon Peres, tilting the electoral balance in favor of his rival, Netanyahu.
Two decades later, it is no secret that Hamas fervently desired that Netanyahu defeat Isaac Herzog, who stated his willingness to pursue a lasting peace. Hamas knows what Republicans choose to ignore: that without creative efforts to find a two-state solution, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a dead-end, not least for Israel.
Yet Republicans and their allies are scurrying to provide Netanyahu with cover by blaming Obama for the chill in US-Israeli relations. By doing so, they embrace a course that also jeopardizes American interests in a region where radical Islam presents serious threats to America itself. To be sure, the survival of Israel is a moral imperative, stemming from a tragic history ominously echoed by the rising anti-Semitism in Europe. But those very stakes demand that we shun policies that ultimately threaten that survival.
This scrutiny should not be buried under platitudes about our democratic ally, or by the frequent accusations of disloyalty hurled at discerning critics of Netanyahu’s leadership. Equally, our recognition that Palestinian recalcitrance was a critical factor in the failure of past peace efforts should be invoked to put them to the test, rather than as an excuse not to do so. Nor should Republicans exploit the very real concerns about Israel’s security as a political wedge issue, subordinating our foreign policy interests to the pursuit of money and votes from a fervent right-wing minority that views any critique of Netanyahu as akin to treason.
To the contrary, the question of a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians is too fundamental to write Netanyahu a blank check. Given his opportunism and intransigence, America should not reflexively block Palestinian initiatives in the UN to compel a peace process. Instead, America must ensure that the outlines of such initiatives include guarantees of Israel’s security such as a demilitarized Palestinian state, and borders secured by a multinational force. And Israel must decide whether any proposal emanating from the UN is a sound one.
For the United States, the question of how best to keep Israel safe, while pursuing a stable peace, deserves the most sober and responsible discussion, informed by the views of Israelis steeped in national security issues. Americans should demand from those in power a dialogue worthy of the subject, one far better than the strident vulgarity to which our domestic politics have descended. In the arena of foreign policy, at least, our leaders should respect our traditions, and honor their responsibilities.
Richard North Patterson’s 22 novels include “Exile,’’ a depiction of the Israeli- Palestinian dilemma.