Thanks to Diane Mason for translating this opinion column (in Italian) by Israeli novelist, A.B. Yehoshua published a few days ago in the Italian daily, La Stampa. Aside from the opening story about David Ben Gurion’s first meeting with John F. Kennedy and the attendant criticism of the Israel lobby and Bush policy, there is little that is new or earth-shattering until you reach the final paragraph, which is where the other shoe drops:
WHEN THE LOBBY WAS WEAK
Bush and the idle chatter about the illegal settlers
At the beginning of the Sixties, after the election of John Kennedy to the U.S. Presidency, David Ben Gurion, the leader and founder of the state of
and at that time also its Prime Minister, went to the Israel to meet with the Jewish community. In those years the American government maintained a cautious relationship with United States . Relations between the two states were correct but not particularly warm, and the Israel refrained from supplying weapons to the Jewish state. David Ben Gurion wanted very much to be received at the White House. But the United States administration would not give its consent to his meeting with Kennedy, as this would have provoked an angry reaction on the part of the Arab states. U.S.
In the end, thanks to enormous efforts by Jewish advisors to the young president, a brief meeting was arranged between the two in a
hotel, during a stopover in the city by the New York president. The meeting was probably not a great success. Ben Gurion asked for the U.S. to supply United States with Hawk air defense missiles, but Kennedy was undecided. Then, the story goes, Ben Gurion said something very undiplomatic to his American colleague: “You know you beat Nixon in the elections by the scant majority of one hundred or two hundred thousand votes. Bear in mind that the votes of the Jewish electorate could be decisive in the next elections”. Kennedy became angry, halted the meeting and left the room. It was only after the coaxing of one of his Jewish advisors that he was persuaded to resume his meeting with the founding father of Israel . Israel
I mention this episode to underline how far relations between
and the Israel have come in the past forty-five years. So that today an American president arrives on his own initiative in the Jewish state and finds time to consult with several ministers of the second rank, belonging to parties of the right, to urge them to support the head of the Israeli government in the peace process. In fact, many things have changed since the early Sixties. United States ’s victory in the 1967 war evoked the boundless admiration of the Americans. The strengthening of their evangelical and messianic awareness translated into a policy of strong support for Israel , particularly on the part of presidents who came from the southern states. Israel
But more than any other thing, the efficient Jewish lobby has gone to a lot of trouble to strengthen the friendship between the two states. That same lobby which Ben Gurion only alluded to has become an instrument of great influence in favor of Israel within the American administration. And so it is that President Bush, who didn’t display much uncertainty before embarking on an adventurous and expensive war in Iraq, which has already cost billions of dollars to American taxpayers (50-million of whom still don’t have any kind of medical insurance, a sensitive subject that is being raised now, during the primary elections of 2008) came to plead with second-rank Israeli political figures to keep the government coalition together, in order to be able to bring his problematic mandate to an end with a success in the Middle East. One example of the absurdity, or naïveté, of the
attitude toward U.S. is the question of the “illegal settlements”. Israel
Not being sure how well Italian readers can navigate this maze, allow me a brief introduction. All the settlements built in the Palestinian-Jordanian territories conquered in 1967 are considered illegal under the Geneva Convention, which prohibits the construction of civilian buildings in areas conquered in the course of wartime operations.
, nevertheless, started to build, officially or unofficially, settlements in the occupied areas, largely because of pressure by Jewish religious nationalists who, notwithstanding the objection of the army and the state, wanted to present everyone with a fait accompli. Israel
The settlement project prospered and a lot of money was invested in it, despite the international community (including the
) being opposed, as they considered these settlements an obstacle to peace. In recent years, the Israeli authorities have promised vaguely that, should peace truly be at hand, some of the settlements could be dismantled to allow the Palestinians the territorial continuity necessary to create their state. With the passage of years, however, that promise has become ever more difficult to keep, despite the fact that an ever-growing number of Israelis realize how foolish is the presence of settlements which threaten to imprison Israelis and Palestinians in one state of two ethnic groups which, in time, could even become a Palestinian majority. U.S.
Today, now, new settlements are not constructed. However, those that exist already are constantly expanding, and young settlers, extremist and adventurous, have started on their own initiative – and in open defiance of the government’s position – to erect “outposts” in Judea and Samaria, both on Palestinian lands and in uninhabited areas. The youths arrive at the pre-selected sites with a few caravans, hook up with the electric and water networks with the help of the army, and move in their young families, thus establishing a “new reality”. In Judea and Samaria there exist already more than one hundred of these “outposts”, which although defined as “illegal” by government authorities, are not dismantled due to fear of conflict with extremist elements. The status of such outposts is a decoy which deflects attention from the heart of the problem. In fact, rather than discuss the illegality of the “settlements”, the illegality of the “outposts” is discussed, thus rendering “legal” the status of the majority of the settlements in which about 250,000 Israelis live.
has fallen into this strange semantic trap, and its government has been asking United States for more than two years already to dismantle the “illegal outposts” in compliance with the law. Israel , for its part, promises to do so but, incredibly, just twiddles its thumbs. And so George Bush, with a substantial entourage and hundreds of bodyguards, arrives in person to convince Israel to keep its promise. But if the president of the United States had really wanted Israel to dismantle its “illegal outposts”, he would have done better to stay in the White House and concern himself with medical insurance for his citizens and to recall his ambassador in Tel Aviv for indefinite consultations. I can assure him that if he had done this the Israeli government would have very quickly dismantled the illegal outposts, a large part of the Israeli executive would have been delighted that pressure had been brought to bear, and the Israel government would have strengthened the confidence of Palestinians and Israelis in the continuation of the peace process. U.S.
Thanks to both Diane Mason and A.B. Yehoshua. (may Italy get out of the crisis)
Why is it that the most impressive arguments are always so utterly simple? And how to resolve the paradox that populism also feeds on simplification.
” ‘[O]utposts’…are not dismantled due to fear of conflict with extremist elements.”
This sounds fishy to me. I think of what the U.S. government did to the Branch Davidian ‘outpost’ in 1993. If the Israeli government was really opposed to these outposts, wouldn’t it send in the tanks and deal with them?
solution seeker says
Andy – you raise an interesting question.
We did see the IDF forcefully remove settlers from Gaza a few years ago.
What are the chances of a civil war in Israel should the government force the settlers out?
Andy and Solution Seeker-if we want to extrapolate the ideas you are proposing, Israel could also solve the whole Palestinian problem by, as you say “sending the tanks in” and driving out the Palestinians population. However, you would not like that. Similarly, most Israelis don’t like the idea of using force to drive Jews out of Judea/Samaria. It is true, Sharon was able to do it very easily in Gush Katif (there was almost no opposition, almost all the people there packed up and left on their own) because the political leadership of the settlement movement and the old political “right-wing” was a comination of stupid, naive and corrupt. When Olmert decided to show he was “tough” at Amona a few months later, telling the police to use maximum force against passive resistance, things had changed, the old leaders were run out of the place by the protestors who decided to link arms and not just leave on their own. As a result, there were a lot of casualties among the protestors. This was just before the elections, and Olmert plummetted in the polls . Olmert then decided to use his muscle against the Arabs instead and we got the Lebanon II war.
While no doubt many people relish the idea of using violence against their political opponents, I recall as retired Los Angeles Police Captain telling me that what the US government and FBI did against the Brach Davidians was “Gestapo-like”. He said “you don’t send tanks against American citizens”. In Israel, the situation is even more complicated because the actual status of the “illegal” outposts is not so simple as it is presented in the media (i.e. they are not so “illegal” as it seems) and that much of the Israeli public, not just the settlers, oppose using force against the people there, regardless of Alef Bet Yehoshua’s own preferences.
Richard Silverstein says
But you would? You would be willing to accept the equivalent of war crimes by essentially eradicating the Palestinian people via mass slaughter. Because that’s the only way that sending in tanks could drive out the Palestinian population.
The don’t like it by they’ll accept it if it is the policy of their government just as they accepted the Gaza withdrawal because it was the duly implemented policy of the Israeli government.
Yes, that’s what I told my wife when she was pregnant with our twins: “You’re not so pregnant as you seem.” What a load of rubbish. They’re ILLEGAL–under Israeli law under international law. Period.
Walter Ballin says
The Jewish settlers and their benefactors in the Israeli government and the Israel Lobby in this country, claim that it states in the Torah that the West Bank or” Judea and Smaria” belongs to the Jews. I recently learned that the Torah really does state is that one must not cut down another person’s tree. When the Jewish settlers tear down the Palestinian peoples homes, they also cut down their olive groves, a clear violation of the Torah. So these Jewish settlers cite the Torah when it’s convenient for them and besides they make a false interpretation.
solution seeker says
Imjudy – I have a much simpler soultion: Declare the border along the ’67 lines (or some slight modification based on agreement with the Palestinians), and inform the Settlers that if they return home now they can get goverment compensation for the loss of their home, or they can choose to live in the new Palestinian State and deal with that administration. The offer for compensation is a limited one. No one is twisting anyone’s arm here. I see no reason why Jews shouldn’t be allowed to live in the new Palestinian state given that there are many Palestinians living in Israel, but if they are treated like the Palestinians are treated in Israel they may decide that life would be better on the Israeli side of the border. If I were a Settler I’d be afraid of vengance attacks and get my tuchus back on the Israeli side of the border pronto, but that’s just me. For some Settlers living in Judea and Samaria may trump living in a Jewish state, so more power to them. The Israelis might even give them visas to visit Israel every so often.
Walter Ballin says
The unofficial Accords signed in Geneva Switzerland by Israelis and Palestinians which former President Jimmy Carter played a part, state that some Jewish settlements can remain in Palestine. The settlers would be living under Palestinian laws.
Jeanne Capozzoli says
Thanks to Tikun Olam and Diane Mason for all your work to help inform us on the Middle East. It is greatly appreciated — as well as encouraging to learn of prominent Israelis who speak out against the Occupation and Settlements. Help me to understand why so many, many Israelis, including member of the military, condemn the treatment of Palestinians, the Occupation and Settlements etc. and yet, leaders of Jewish organizations in the US remain silent.
Imjudy, you didn’t read my comment very carefully. I didn’t say that the Israeli government *should* “send in the tanks” to deal with the settlers in question. My point was that governments everywhere are typically not shy about using force against their adversaries, and because the Israeli government, which uses force aplenty against the Palestinians, does not use force against the settlers, then it clearly doesn’t view them as criminal in any way.
I think solution seeker has the right idea – the IDF should leave the West Bank and then it would be up to the settlers to fend for themselves.
solution seeker says
Jeanne Capozzoli – The silence in most cases is based on two fears:
1) Criticism of Israel will invite attacks from less enlightened Jews and thus create problems for the general running of their organizations.
2) Criticism of Israel will give aid and comfort to those who wish to see Israel destroyed altogether, not to mention Jews in general be marginalized. Trust me, there are plenty such people out there. They are vocal and as rabid as your most right-wing settler. You can find them on the far right and the far left.
Many Jewish organizations feel hamstrung by these two fears. Leaders and members of the organizations get caught between the different wars that Walzer helps to explain in his article http://dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=557. They are afraid that their criticism will add to the first war and they haven’t felt enough pressure to more vehemently and publicly oppose the fourth war. They generally support the 2nd and 3rd wars.