WASHINGTON -- Every time an Israeli prime minister or leading political figure plans an official trip to Washington, a certain set of requirements must be duly fulfilled.
The American president will usually give a speech in preparation, repeating once again that the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are really untenable, that peace will never come if those bad settlements continue taking Palestinian land, and that Israeli leaders surely know this. His speeches always begin and end with the assurance, which most Americans could repeat in the dark, about how Israel is our best friend in the Middle East and the only democracy.
But there is always something in the president's speech that sets off the Israelis, and the prime minister, in this case Benjamin Netanyahu, is infuriated about the mention of settlements. Shouldn't the Americans know that they are not to speak about the settlements, which have now so eaten into Palestinian territory that there isn't enough room for a Palestinian state, even if Israel would allow it? Shouldn't they know just to be silent and accept whatever Israel does?
Usually the Americans do act that way. Usually they "understand," but then this president is not like the others. In his speech at the State Department last Thursday, he called for a return to 1967 borders, but with mutually agreed-upon land "swaps."
When President Obama paid his obligatory visit in Washington to the AIPAC -- the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- he was onto the next step. In his way this year he was quite daring (anything that is not the most fervent praise of AIPAC is considered daring), for he stressed that Israel's leaders needed to recognize that time was not on their side if they were seriously talking about real peace with the Palestinians. The Arab populations are burgeoning in numbers, and Hamas and Hezbollah, the two major terrorist groups in the region, are deploying increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
But the tone of this American president was not sympathetic enough for the Israeli far right, which Netanyahu and Co. so strongly represent, and so the prime minister continued his group's endless criticism of America, while one looks without confirmation for some recognition from Israel that it considers the United States a "friend" or "colleague" in the ways of the world.
Indeed, if one listens only to the usual angry proclamations about America on the part of the Israeli right, not to speak of its disdain and sarcasm, one would certainly think that the Israelis are dealing with an enemy instead of a friend who gives them $3 billion annually, who shares its weaponry with them, and who makes excuses for almost anything Israel does on the world stage.
In addition, before this annual or more frequent exchange of unpleasantries, all in the name of a "friendship" that is difficult to understand, there often appears another unpleasant event to back up the public one.
In this case, it began when the trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY) voted to award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, an accomplished playwright and author of "Angels in America." Then one of the 12 trustees, Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, launched a vicious diatribe against Kushner, charging that he was anti-Semitic, the charge which most often is used to blacken the name of undesired people at times like this. The award was rescinded.
This situation, however, turned out well, with the CUNY trustees reinstating Kushner's honorary degree after an uproar over the incident, and Wiesenfeld now held in bad odor.
This is roughly the way events usually proceed with the Israeli lobby in this country and with their Israeli heroes overseas. A kind word for American policy is rarely murmured either by AIPAC or by the visiting Israeli leaders. (Remember how Netanyahu deliberately set up the construction of new settlements when American politicians visited Israel last year?) Is it really too much to expect an occasional "thank you" or even a brief word of appreciation from Israelis to Americans? Apparently it is.
There used to be remarkable and cosmopolitan Israelis who came to Washington offering genuine friendship. One thinks of the handsome Shimon Peres, of the brilliant Abba Eban, of the wonderfully saucy Golda Meir. Even many far-right Israelis in those early years had polished manners -- one of them being Menachem Begin, who signed the Israeli peace treaty with Anwar Sadat, a treaty that has lasted to this day.
But now, the Israeli right wants ITS goals -- and none other, even though the Israeli policies that Americans are, not asked, but told to support in Israel are ones that will put them in mortal danger. Any serious idea that a true Israeli-Palestinian peace might really work is merely one of the ideas that are now put in the "anti-Semitic" file.
No matter how many times Israeli policy has been wrong or self-defeating, all this group of Israelis wants is to dominate. The outcome of the policy is of little importance to them; and the idea that any group could know better than they how to sort out the tangled Middle East brings out only derogatory responses.
This is sad, because right now, there is a real chance for peace, particularly with the "Arab Spring" and the increased sophistication of the Palestinian population. "Don't miss it, don't miss it," we hear our better angels crying out. "Please don't miss it ... again."
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Israeli prime minister
- Israeli settlements
- the West Bank
- American president