Obama Goldberg’s liberal Zionist lament

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Jeffrey Goldberg has an odd piece for Bloomberg that offers a view from the White House of U.S.-Israeli relations. Goldberg reports (or intuits?) what President Obama thinks about Benjamin Netanyahu and affirms Obama’s approach to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. It’s difficult to tell where the reporting ends and the commentary begins in the article, it reads like Goldberg’s message for Israel as told through the President. The two are seamlessly molded into one generalized representative of the American liberal Zionist consensus — Obama Goldberg. The takeaway is that “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are” and that the current government’s policies will only deepen Israel’s international isolation:

In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.

And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah — one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend — it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.

Does Obama think Israel won’t survive? Or Goldberg? Or both? Either way Obama Goldberg sees apartheid and sanctions in the future:

Obama, since his time in the Senate, has been consistent in his analysis of Israel’s underlying challenge: If it doesn’t disentangle itself from the lives of West Bank Palestinians, the world will one day decide it is behaving as an apartheid state.

Again, I’ve never seen Obama use this language. Goldberg has and is clearly concerned about Israel’s future. He (or Obama) also believes he has a handle on what Israel’s “best interests” are:

But what Obama wants is recognition by Netanyahu that Israel’s settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution, and he wants Netanyahu to acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy. Obama wants, in other words, for Netanyahu to act in Israel’s best interests.

This is an American liberal Zionist definition of Israel’s best interests, and appears to be completely out of touch with the desire of Israelis. One of the best aspects of David Remnick’s current article for the New Yorker is that it lays bare the widening gulf between the imaginary Israel conjured by American liberal Zionists and the racist anti-democratic reality ascendant in Israeli politics. Compare Goldberg’s two-state plea to Remnick’s description from the ground:

Leaders of the traditional peace camp hardly conceal their gloom. Hagit Ofran, the director of the Settlement Watch project of the once influential Peace Now movement, told me, “Our fight today is not so much to persuade the Israeli public that we need two states. The biggest challenge is to ward off the despair and the indifference.”

Palestinians who are still in favor of a two-state solution and who have worked with Israelis over the years watch the elections with anxiety. “This is all very bad news for the Palestinians,” Ghassan Khatib, the vice-president of Birzeit University, in Palestine, told me. “If Netanyahu and this new crowd come to power, there will be two casualties—the Palestinian Authority and the two-state solution. The simple practical changes on the ground—the settlement projects, the daily incidents of settler violence against our people—just do not allow for a two-state solution. Also, the radicalization of public opinion in Israel and the radicalization of the leadership reinforce each other. And that, of course, has an influence on public opinion in Palestine. The percentage of people here who support armed struggle is going up for the first time after ten years of decline. The Palestinian majority is still in favor of a two-state solution, but hopes are fading all the time.”

Right-wing politicians listen to all this and smile. They are delighted. They are emboldened. Danny Danon, a Likud leader who recently suggested that, for every rocket launched by Hamas, Israel “delete” one neighborhood in Gaza, said to me, “I tell my colleagues on the left in the Knesset, ‘You are an endangered species. We’ll build a nature reserve for you.’ ”

Given this, Obama Goldberg really expects Netanyahu to “acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy”? Maybe he hasn’t noticed but Netanyahu can’t run away from his Bar Ilan speech fast enough. Goldberg has missed the story — democracy is out of vogue, annexation is in. Remnick has a shocking, and clarifying, quote from settler leader Benny Katzover, “I would say that today Israeli democracy has one central mission, and that is to disappear. Israeli democracy has finished its historical role, and it must be dismantled and bow before Judaism.” In the past Goldberg has dismissed people like Katzover as outliers, but they are closer to the center of Israeli power than ever before. What is Obama Goldberg to do?

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