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Stuck

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu; drawing by Tom Bachtell

At the start of the last decade, Peter Beinart issued in these pages an anguished call to save liberal Zionism in the United States.* Young American Jews committed to human rights and averse to military power were growing alienated from Israel, which rules over millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank while populating the territory with Jewish settlements. As Beinart put it, “For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead.”

His argument appeared at an opportune moment. President Obama had made the Israeli–Palestinian conflict a priority. His national security adviser, James Jones, said that of all the foreign policy challenges facing Washington, the conflict stood out for its urgency, significance, and potential for resolution. The United States was deeply invested in the Middle East, both for access to its oil and in order to prevent the spread of Islamist terrorism. But the Arab states viewed the US as Israel’s sponsor and protector; until it persuaded Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state, Washington’s influence in the region would be limited. Ending the conflict through a two-state solution would advance American interests in countless ways.

Beinart’s essay (expanded into a book, The Crisis of Zionism, in 2012) was essentially a plea to the American Jewish community to back the Obama administration’s efforts. Yes, Beinart was saying, unlike in earlier decades, Israel had the means to protect itself militarily. But it was abandoning any serious attempt to make a deal with the Palestinians just as it was undermining democratic principles by giving greater status and privileges to its Jewish citizens than to its Arab ones, barring critics from entering the country, allowing members of small communities to prevent Arabs from renting or buying homes, and threatening to downgrade Arabic from its status as an official language (which was later done). Israel, Beinart argued, would soon face a crisis of legitimacy that would undermine its existence. Palestinians would rise up again; the world would censure the state as it once did apartheid South Africa; and as American Jews turned away, so would America. The status quo was unsustainable, the solution clear.

The decade since has not been kind to this prediction. While the moral arguments were once interlaced with the geopolitical ones, they are today separate. The Arab Spring, which broke out in late 2010, exposed suppurating disputes both within and between countries of the Muslim Middle East—none of them linked to Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. The shale revolution in oil and natural gas essentially ended America’s energy dependence on the region.

Moreover, the West Bank Palestinians are foundering. Israel’s security services monitor them constantly.…


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