Saturday, May 30, 2009

Israeli PM Netanyahu: The Spoiled Kid Whose Candy Needs to Be Taken Away

Many have opined, including CAP's Matt Yglesias (whose opinion I really respect), that President Obama's efforts to bring Israel to freeze settlement expansion are evidence of a new, "tough"-on-Israel approach by the United States.

I wouldn't say that this could be much further from the truth. It's been long-standing US policy that the settlements Israel builds deep into Palestinian territories are illegal and should be dismantled. All Obama is doing is basically shaking his finger at the Israelis and saying, "Bad!" -- which doesn't amount for much. To start with, all they're calling for is a settlement freeze in the West Bank. They're not even going as far as to say that the settlements that already exist should be ended. And they've pretty much completely ignored Gaza -- which it seems they've accepted, will simply have to starve to death (bringing even Papal condemnation) under an Israeli siege reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

But still, despite the fact that Obama basically is taking the approach of looking at a serial killer and asking him to play a little nicer, it's been Israel's reaction that most interests me. Here's how they responded to the Obama-Clinton request to freeze settlement expansion in the West Bank:

Last night, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that the Obama administration “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a confidante. Referring to Clinton’s call for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu groused, “What the hell do they want from me?” [...]

So Netanyahu is throwing a hissy fit over a relatively minor request from the country that pretty much is his country's sugar daddy. The fact that such a small move from Obama elicits such a ferocious response from the Israeli Prime Minister to me shows that the Israeli government has pretty much just become accustomed to doing whatever it wants with our weapons, military aid, and diplomatic cover -- and when we make a very tiny suggestion to them, they throw a fit.

In short, Prime Minister Netanyahu is that spoiled kid who gets a new toy every time he starts crying. And his parents -- us -- haven't learned our lesson yet: we've gotta stop pampering him, and teach him some discipline.

Unfortunately, the difference between my analogy and real life is pretty stark. The spoiled kid who has too many toys generally isn't a war criminal who is holding an entire population of people hostage.

As Netanyahu and Obama sparred over whether Israel can just keep the Palestinian population subjugated and continue to steal even more land or just keep all its stolen land and subjugated population subjugated for now and not steal any more land in the future,

The New York Times reports on the situation in Gaza:

Israel began the siege after Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. It was tightened after Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in June 2007. Iranian backing for Hamas has added to Israel’s conviction that the siege is the right path.

The aim is to keep Gaza at subsistence and offer a contrast with the West Bank, which in theory benefits from foreign aid and economic and political development. Hamas supporters will then realize their mistake. The plan has not gone well, however, partly because the West Bank under Israeli occupation remains no one’s idea of paradise and partly because Hamas seems more in control here every year, with cleaner streets and lower crime, although its popularity is hard to gauge.

“Hamas is learning from its mistakes and getting stronger and stronger,” said Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, a prominent lawyer here. He and others have been urging international officials to get construction materials and other goods into Gaza through the closed crossings.

They argue that the current system serves only Hamas, since it taxes the illicit tunnel goods and limited currency exchanges and is not blamed by the people for the outside siege. If glass and cement were allowed in through the crossings with Israel, they say, Hamas would not get the credit and the Palestinian Authority could collect the taxes.

“The people of Gaza are depressed, and depressed people turn to myth and fantasy, meaning religion and drugs,” said Jawdat Khoudary, a building contractor. “This kind of a prison feeds extremism. Let people see out to see a different version of reality.”

Israeli officials remain skeptical of opening the borders. Many believe that their war served as deterrence and note the drastic reduction in rocket fire as evidence. They fear that steel or cement will be siphoned off by Hamas for arms. But they are feeling pressure from the Americans and United Nations, and they are discussing a pilot project.


Many here are especially worried about the young. At a program aimed at helping those traumatized by the January war, teenagers are offered colored markers to draw anything they like, says Farah Abu Qasem, 20, a student of English translation who volunteers at the program.

“They seem only to choose black and to draw things like tanks,” she said. “And when we ask them to draw something that represents the future, they leave the paper blank.”

And keep in mind, the US official policy is that all of that is fine, and we're arguing over a little technocratic detail in the West Bank. All of it funded by you and me, too.