Time to Sanction Israel
Just as Vice President Joe Biden spoke of a new round of peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli Interior Ministry announced that it plans to build another 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem. This is much more than an embarrassing diplomatic moment for the American second-in-command, who just before professed his love to the Jewish state in his meeting with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu. It is (and should be) the final nail in the coffin for the U.S.-Israel “special relationship.” It may be time for the United States to seriously consider pushing its weight around in the Middle East, particularly against an Israeli ally that has become nothing but a hindrance to the peace process.
I was actually a little bit hopeful that the proximity talks would at least get both sides to discuss their grievances in a constructive manner. The fact that the 22 nation Arab-League endorsed the talks between the Israelis and Palestinians was a step in the right direction, because if any peace agreement is to work, Arab Government’s need to be on board as well. But this latest slap in the face only confirms the view that so many have held for the past few years; that Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of reconciling, even with a major power as a referee. America’s role is the equivalent of a parent trying to keep two misbehaved children from killing each other.
So with this is mind, I have a new plan for Mideast peace, and it’s basically a two-step process:
Step 1: Pursue rigorous nation building in the Palestinian Territories, namely the West Bank where the moderate Fatah is in control. The West Bank economy has already grown by 8 percent over the past year, giving Palestinians a much needed and much deserved spout of job opportunity. The Fatah Party is demonstrating its sincerity in anti-corruption, cracking down on public officials who are both sympathetic to the rival Hamas movement and who are stealing money right under the government’s nose. The integrity and transparency that Palestinians have been praying for may be finally blossoming into something real. And with institutions adapting and maturing, the Palestinians could eventually work their way towards a state of their own, albeit unofficially. Who knows…perhaps a stable and prosperous Palestinian entity will nudge the Israelis back to the negotiating table, thus making it official.
Step 2: U.S. sanctions on Israel. Now I know this is controversial. The powerful Israeli lobby in Washington would undoubtedly view this is action as an insult towards a trustworthy ally in an otherwise contentious and hostile region. Some lobbies, like AIPAC, could show their displeasure by withdrawing their representatives from the United States and diverting more attention to Western Europe. Israel may decide to purchase weapons elsewhere, like Russia or China, two powers that the U.S. would rather keep in check. But the benefits of sanctions would be enormous to say the least. With billions of dollars in cash and military hardware halted, and with the protective American umbrella lifted, Israel may have no choice but to actually cooperate. The reason that Israel has not taken the United States seriously over the past year is because condemnations over settlement building are rarely taken to the next level. We are too quick to give Israel the benefit of the doubt in all areas of Mideast policy. Why not take Dr. Stephen Walt’s advice and start adopting an impartial stance?
Like any other party engaging in negotiations, the Israelis want to be in a position of strength relative to the Palestinians. With more Jewish settlements in the West Bank, with a siege in the Gaza Strip, and with troops ready at a moment’s notice, the Israelis may be trying to do everything possible before the U.S. really cracks down on settlement construction.
Whatever the case for settlement building is, it is clear that the Israeli Government is still viewing negotiation as a zero-sum game, with one side winning and the other losing. This does not need to be. Both sides can claim victory within reasonable limits, but the United States needs to be willing to exert some control over the entire ordeal.
-Daniel R. DePetris