The American political class has spent decades convincing itself that the Israeli political class really does want a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The last six years have been the hardest—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed a tepid desire for peace, but consistently acted contrary it—and yet the image of an Israel that would strike the deal if only this or that condition was met by the Palestinians persisted. Perhaps the image even grew stronger: who can forget all the standing ovations Netanyahu received during his 2009 address to Congress and, despite all the controversy, again this winter?
The illusion, however, of an Israeli body politic, perhaps even an Israeli electorate, happy to make peace was shattered as Netanyahu sailed to another victory—especially in light of the way he did it. Netanyahu’s last minute bid to strengthen his hand came not from fear-mongering about Iran, as he’d done for years, but about the Palestinians. His fired salvos at both Palestinian citizens of Israel (some 20 percent of the population) and against those Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. In the former case, Netanyahu warned his base Arabs were “coming out in droves to the polls”; in the latter, he boldly declared that no Palestinian state would be birthed were he elected (something Netanyahu had been hinting at throughout the campaign).
The mantra of American Israel supporters, from grassroots lobby groups right up to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, has always been that the United States and Israel hold “shared values”—chief among them the countries’ common democratic characters. But Netanyahu’s campaign put the lie to the notion. “Remember that Netanyahu’s version of democracy includes as few Arab voices as possible, simply because they are not Jewish,”wrote +972 Magazine’s Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man. “Remember that the peace processes he has overseen for decades were not genuine, that he never had any intention of ushering in, let alone seeking, a two-state solution.”
The problem for American policy-makers, with the illusion of “shared values” shattered, is that they have spent decades enabling Israel’s pursuit of its worst instincts. The US subsidizes about a fifth of Israel’s defense budget—the largest American foreign aid package—to help the country defend itself as it pursues peace, not for it to hold the Occupied Territories in perpetuity and create, as many Israeli officials have put it, a de jure Apartheid state where half the people under its control get no vote. The United States gives Israel diplomatic cover in international fora to prevent the Jewish state from being unfairly targeted and maligned, not to avoid criticisms of a state deserving of censure. How can we keep graciously offering these benefits to Israel if it has so blatantly defied its own claims—and ours—of being a strong, if flawed, democracy?