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W.E. Gutman: Israel gives a slap in America's face, a threat to peace

Posted: March 19, 2010 4:43 p.m.
Updated: March 21, 2010 4:55 a.m.
If the world needs proof Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's regime was, from the start, a calamity and a recipe for disaster, all it has to do is reflect on his latest colossal display of chutzpah and tactlessness.

When he pooh-poohed the grave crisis his interior minister had created by announcing, during U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's visit, the construction of 1,600 additional homes in occupied East Jerusalem, he heaped insult on the only friend Israel has left in the White House.

In so doing, he also put Israel on a collision course with its Palestinian partners and its Arab neighbors and further strained America's patience and benevolence.

Dastardly alliances with jingoist generals; unholy covenants with religious zealots who use ideological extortion to force a theocracy on a largely secular society; the inexplicable compulsion to scuttle peace negotiations; a wrathful, neurotic disdain toward international criticism; a savage antipathy toward the Palestinian people - all are hallmarks of an administration wavering between ineptitude and aberration, posing grave dangers to peace in the Middle East and, by extension, to the region.

MIT-educated Netanyahu cannot begin to grasp the damage he is causing U.S.-Israeli relations. Columnist Yoel Marcus writes in Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily, "(Netanyahu) tried in vain to phone President Obama. Instead he got Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who told him off in no uncertain terms. It was the first time that the settlements were linked to the future of bilateral relations. Clinton did not mince her words when she accused Netanyahu of undermining ‘trust and confidence in the peace process and in America's interests.'"

The fury radiating from the White House is so great that were someone to introduce an anti-Israeli resolution in the U.N. Security Council the United States would join in.

Marcus is right. Netanyahu's cavalier attitude and scandalous conduct calls into question his fitness to serve as prime minister. He systematically laid waste to the delicate foundations for peace that his predecessors had erected.

Issued from the sword and resting on the Bible, his policies have discouraged serious attempts to bring about regional security and stability. His lifelong antagonism toward the Palestinians, whom he considers "a sinister and divisive element," has palliated the religious right, whose enormous financial resources helped underwrite his campaign and whose gluttonous territorial expansionist objectives continue to inspire and fund the development of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu's combative style and pugnacious rhetoric keeps exhuming and re-igniting old hatreds, reopening unhealed wounds, fomenting a new swell of cynicism, misgivings and suspicion. Israelis are exhausted and demoralized. Israel's friends are exasperated. Negotiating partners are unnerved. Bitterness and rancor deepen with every stroke of his ministerial pen, with every hostile decree, every calculated vacillation, every broken word, every rubber bullet fired on stone-throwing youths.

This pernicious alchemy, concocted in the name of "national defense," yields nothing but confusion, anxiety, sorrow and, yes, insecurity.

Stimulated by the wild possibility of a peaceful settlement of their protracted conflict, Israelis and Palestinians are now bewildered and apprehensive. Neither side can endure the suspense and agony of occupation, grudging concessions and fragmentary progress routinely nullified by spasms of retributive violence.

Netanyahu's cabinet violated two principles: The first of not startling the United States; the second of not calling Israel's credibility into question. Had he apologized immediately for his interior minister's unforgivable lapse and pledged not to undertake any construction unilaterally, Israel might have been able to weather the incident.

But by attempting to do damage control and running off to tell "the gang" that everything is fine, he further enraged Obama, who has not scored many successes and who has no love lost for Israel.

Said Israeli-U.S. affairs expert Dan Halperin: "When we surprise the U.S. administration we erode the confidence in the cabinet's commitment to a two-state solution." He added that Netanyahu has indeed remained the same old Bibi, who does not even fit the old saying that the clever man is someone who can extricate himself from a situation that the wise man would not have got himself into in the first place.

Given these sobering realities and the volatile political landscape on which he has cast his shadow, the once-and-yet-again prime minister - his colossal ambitions fulfilled and his hawkish Orthodox supporters placated - may wish to glance earthward and heed non-partisan wisdom: Hard line begets hard line. Security by intimidation, repression and economic persecution produces hatred and insecurity. He who sows the wind reaps the tempest.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians are fighting for increasingly shrinking fragments of their homeland.

W. E. Gutman, a former press officer at Israel's Consulate General in New York, is a veteran journalist. His column expresses his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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