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.