Um, Bibi? It's 2011...

Border Crossings

After listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his recent swing though the United States I can only assume that Bibi just doesn't realize it's 2011.  How else to explain his repeated comments, including his insulting dressing down of President Barack Obama at the White House, explaining why Israel cannot return to their 1967 borders because Israel would then lack the “strategic depth” to defend itself.  Strategic depth?  Why? Does Saladin have 50,000 mounted riders encamped on the far side of the Jordan River?   At it's widest point, the West Bank adds roughly 25 miles of “strategic depth” to Israel.  It is a distance that a modern battle tank could cover in about a half an hour, a jet fighter in under three minutes, and to a ballistic missile, a span of 25 miles is irrelevant.  In short, 25 miles of “strategic depth” is meaningless in modern warfare - not to mention that Israel has been at peace with the country on the other side of the river, Jordan, for decades now, and that the Israeli Defense Force easily outclasses any other army in the region, all of which begs the question of from whom does Israel needs strategic depth against? 

The answer of course is no one, the whole strategic depth argument is merely a smokescreen for Bibi's actual rationale: that Israel just really, really doesn't want to give up the West Bank, where they have pursued a decades-long plan to fill the occupied territory with Israeli (as well as many foreign-born) “settlers”, who now number a half-million.  Most of the settlers are politically conservative, so any attempt to uproot then en masse would lead to the collapse of his ruling coalition government, which is why Netanyahu avoids the topic at all costs, including cooking up lame excuses like arguments for strategic depth.  The Wall Street Journal recently published this informative graphic illustrating the settlement blocs within the West Bank.  Thanks to the aggressive settlement movement, the Palestinians now control only about 40% of the land that would make up their nation under the vaunted “two-state solution”; and the Palestinian share shrinks every time a settlement bloc is built or expanded, which is why the Palestinians have made continued negotiations contingent on a freeze on settlement activities – a position dismissed as mere intransigence by the United States and Israel.

George Washington once famously warned against “foreign entanglements”; with their devotion to the words (if not deeds) of the Founding Fathers, expect to hear this quote dredged up a lot over the next year as the Republicans launch their new reality show Who Wants To Be A Presidential Candidate? If we are going to be totally dispassionate and objective about it though, one must question why the United States maintains its steadfast support for Israel: Israel does not possess vast reserves of energy, nor is it a major base of US military operations (like, say Bahrain), nor does it sit astride a vital trade route like the Straits of Malacca or Hormuz.  Hypothetically, if Israel were to suddenly cease to exist, the operations of the American Empire would be relatively unaffected.  The reasons then that the defense of Israel ranks up there in the hearts and minds of most American politicians along with the defense of say Texas are historical, religious and cultural. But are these really good reasons? It's impossible to say since a rational discussion of the facts of the US-Israel relationship usually gets hijacked by self-serving politicians and charges of anti-Semitism, which is why were left to swallow the nonsense that Bibi Netanyahu has been peddling on his most recent trip to DC.

This is the point in an essay on Israel/Palestine where I now have to chide the Palestinians for their part in perpetuating the mess in the Middle East.  But I'm not going to do that simply because the Palestinians have been making some real strides of late.  While the PLO under Yassir Ararfat was a typically corrupt Mid-East regime, the Palestinian Authority has undertaken real efforts at reform, and both the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have deemed them ready to run a government.  Recently, the Palestinians engaged in a series of large-scale, peaceful demonstrations to protest Israel's Independence Day – making good on the oft-asked question of why can't the Palestinians be more like Gandhi and seek peaceful regress for their problems (the Israelis replied with tear gas).  And the Palestinian Authority has mended fences with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, giving the Palestinians the ability to speak with one voice, meeting another demand for political unification on the Palestinian side.

Of course this is now also the fall-back reason for why peace talks can't move forward since Hamas are terrorists and everyone knows you can't talk to terrorists.  Except we do talk to terrorists all the time, in fact it is a key part of political reconciliation, especially reconciliation with insurgent movements, all of which are always viewed as “terrorists” by the ruling power.  Sein Fein, the political arm of the IRA, is now part of the Irish government; the Kosovo Liberation Army, which the United States in the 1990s branded a terrorist group with possible ties to al-Qaeda, now makes up the bulk of the government in America's pet project in the Balkans, the nation of Kosovo; and in Afghanistan we are repeatedly told that the Taliban, the group now actively trying to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, must be brought into the Afghan government.  At some point in a conflict, as a matter of practicality, bringing “terrorist” groups into the government is a smart way to promote reconciliation and to co-opt the terrorists' own nihilist message.  But given the rhetoric coming out of Washington and Tel Aviv, don't expect support for Hamas in the Palestinian government any time soon.

At the end of May Egypt announced they would be permanently opening the Rafah border crossing between the Egypt and the Gaza Strip, effectively ending the blockade of Gaza.  The Middle East is changing at a breathtaking pace, it's a fact that Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters in Washington need to realize and accept. 

Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Development, Hamas, Israel, Palestine, Peace, US Foreign Policy