Move over Iran and North Korea, there may be a new member of the U.S. Sanctions Club: Israel. Earlier today, several DC news outlets began running accounts of secret White House deliberations regarding imposing sanctions on Israel for its continued building of settlements. Pointedly, no U.S. official has denied the rumors. Haaretz appears to have first reported this story. But in its reporting it never mentioned the word “sanctions.” Instead, it mentioned more mundane terms like taking stronger action.
The DC press corps and the rightist pro-Israel media has interpreted this as Obama is considering sanctions. So it’s hard to know what the real intent is here.
So far, the actions suggested don’t constitute sanctions in the conventional sense: refusing to veto anti-Israel Security Council resolutions and cutting off certain financing and support to settlements. They are more tangible expressions of anger. But nowhere near formal legal action.
These measures would be a step in the right direction. Especially if one of the policies under consideration includes removing tax-deductible status from the tens of millions that flow from settlerist American Jews to the settlements yearly.
There are several odd things about this announcement: where was Obama before this? Why has he all of a sudden decided to pursue such a radical change of course? Statements like this make the president look naive:
The failure of the Netanyahu-Obama meeting and the administration’s growing anger over the settlement construction led to the understanding that denunciatory statements, no matter how harsh, have become ineffective.
After years of such pablum, all of a sudden Obama understands how useless they have been?
Bibi himself will point to this as a cynical maneuver by a frustrated U.S. leader who can’t bring the prime minister to heel any other way. As a result, he pulls out this election gimmick designed to hurt the governing coalition at the polls in the upcoming election.
He wouldn’t be far wrong in claiming this. Sanctions? Sure. But now? Why? Why not a month or six months or a year ago? What has changed so radically to deserve such a change in policy? Hey, I’d love to think it was all of us who screamed bloody murder when the State Department spokesperson expressed “regret” or “concern” on the murder of Palestinian civilians or new settlement building. But I’m not that naive. Obama didn’t get religion all of a sudden.
How would sanctions affect the Israeli election? First, it would rally Bibi’s rightist base. But he already had them anyway. There was no question he would bring them to the polls in droves. So it may marginally improve his standing on the far right. Among the center-left voters, it could have a dramatic impact in strengthening their will to vote. Instead of seeing a demoralized center-left in the election, directionless and lacking focus–these voters may see the President of the United States echoing their own views about settlements. It could improve the chances of the center-left which, I believe, stood to take a drubbing.
I still believe the center-left will take a drubbing. It has no right or mandate to rule. It presents no discernible agenda other than self-preservation and retaining the status quo. So as I wrote above, sanctions are an excellent idea in general and should’ve been proposed long ago. But now? Doing so now makes them look like a political tool meant to impact the election. If that’s all they are then they are illegitimate. They should be a principled moral and political response to Israel’s unjust illegal settlement policy.