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Is Netanyahu So Blind?

Is Netanyahu So Blind?


Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

There is a letter currently being circulated on Capitol Hill by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and a dozen other Members–as well as supported by Senator Bernie Sanders–urging Members of Congress to support the withholding of U.S. assistance to Israel if the Netanyahu Government proceeds with its proposed annexation of 30% of the West Bank. At the same more than 198 Democratic Members of the House—including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer–have signed a letter to the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calling upon him and his Government not to proceed with its planned annexation of the West Bank this July. (This followed a similar letter that circulated in the Senate previously signed by nineteen Democrats including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.) Having been given a pseudo blessing by President Donald Trump as part of the Trump-Kushner Middle East Peace Plan, Netanyahu believed he presumably had a green light from Trump to proceed with annexation.

The passage of the July 1 opening with no action yet, suggests that perhaps the Netanyahu Government already may be wavering on its decision. Even domestically there are many possible scenarios which are hanging over Bibi. Many Israelis, even within the settler movement, are less than enthusiastic about annexation. The larger problem other than much world-wide opposition and domestic ambivalence, is the consequences to Israel’s relations with 70% of the American Jewish community and most of the Democratic Party.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders removed Israeli-U.S. relations off its historic track with their total disregard for the need to maintain a bi-partisan support for Israel in the U.S. Congress. AOC, Bernie, and their followers would never have gained the level of support which they are garnering, if Israel and its right-wing supporters had not pushed Israel into the bosom of Trump and the Republican Party; and if Netanyahu would not have capitulated.

The more progressive wing of the Democratic Party always will contest policy positions with the mainstream of the Party on a myriad of issues. Historically, however, the U.S.-Israel relationship was rarely a contested issue. In the past there were platform fights, and even convention debates over Israeli and Palestinian issues, but pro-Israel advocacy was always almost so broad and strong that ultimately more extreme positions were marginalized or compromised. Not only the progressives’ letter but the forthcoming Democratic Party platform committee meetings will now energize considerable pushback against Israel.

The non-issue created over annexation was pointless and even dangerous from a geopolitical perspective. In addition, the failure of the Netanyahu Government to even suggest a semblance of interest in a two-state solution and a continuing commitment to deal with the Palestinians was foolhardy from a negotiating perspective. It also demonstrates a political arrogance on the part of Netanyahu which will require him and the Israeli Government to invest much time to repair.

Netanyahu recognizes that the White House and even both Houses of Congress could be in the hands of Joe Biden and the Democrats next January. At least 50% of the frosty relationship that Bibi had with the Obama Administration was a result of Netanyahu’s personal arrogance. Over the past four years Netanyahu clearly has burned even more bridges with Democrats and with many American Jews. For Israel, the real question it should be asking is not what to do about annexation but what it would take to place the U.S.-Israel relationship back on track.


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