Why should Israel have to freeze new Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem, when it has already conceded so much and the Palestinians and their Arab patrons have given up so little?
Well, for one thing, that Israel-gave-lots/Arabs-gave-little equation is not as cut and dry as it seems. But that’s a separate discussion for another day. The essential question is this: America says it needs the freeze for reasons of American security. Does Israel owe it to America to answer American security needs as America answers Israel’s security needs? And if it doesn’t, what are the consequences?
Haaretz has two opinion essays right now arguing that Israel should freeze construction because it needs to stop Iran’s nuclear project and it needs America to lead the effort. One piece is by Ari Shavit, the prolific and unpredictable center-left interviewer/essayist. Its bottom line is that Bibi Netanyahu has boxed himself into a corner through a series of missteps over the past year and he needs to do something dramatic to get himself out of it:
The road to Iran also passes through Palestine. The price of stopping the centrifuges is giving up settlements. Only if Netanyahu acts with determination in this spirit can he right the great injustice he has done to himself over the past year. Only Netanyahu can save Netanyahu from destruction.
The other piece is considerably more substantive and compelling. It’s by Ephraim Sneh, a reserve brigadier general, former West Bank civil administration head (military governor), former deputy defense minister, former transportation minister, former health minister (he’s also an MD). Unlike Shavit he stays away from personal issues of Netanyahu versus Obama and sticks to a cold analysis of Israeli strategic interest.
Sneh lays out 10 “assumptions” that he says must be taken into account when attempting to unravel the current “fundamental and serious” crisis in U.S.-Israel relations. I won’t try to summarize them, because Sneh presents them in a terse, compelling flow. Here’s how he puts it:
1.) Israel cannot keep up a confrontation with its friends for long while its legitimacy is being eroded. This will soon begin to adversely affect the economy, based as it is on exports. 2.) Without a genuine pause in settlement expansion and construction in East Jerusalem, Israel will continue to lose the support of friends and international legitimacy. 3.) Israel cannot live in the shadow of a nuclear Iran. Immigration will cease, more young people will emigrate and foreign investments will diminish…A nuclear Iran will increase the audacity of the region’s extremists, threaten the moderates and lead within a few years to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Saudi Arabia and Egypt… 4.) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in accordance with his strong beliefs on this matter, cannot allow himself to be the leader on whose watch Iran acquires nuclear weapons. 5.) In the absence of “crippling sanctions” that will undermine the regime in Tehran, it is reasonable to assume that by 2011 Iran will have a nuclear bomb or two. 6.) An Israeli military campaign against Iran’s nuclear installations is likely to cripple that country’s nuclear project for a number of years. The retaliation against Israel would be painful, but bearable. 7.) U.S. President Barack Obama would find it difficult, if only for internal political reasons, to take military action against Iran and thereby open a new theater for war, in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan. 8.) The acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran during Obama’s term would do him a great deal of political damage. The damage that the resulting independent Israeli strike would cause Obama — soaring gasoline prices and American casualties in retaliatory operations — would be devastating. 9.) For practical reasons, in the absence of genuine sanctions, Israel will not be able to wait until the end of next winter, which means it would have to act around the congressional elections in November, thereby sealing Obama’s fate as president. 10.) Without international legitimacy, and with its friends mad at it, Israel would find it very difficult to act on its own.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).