Obama/ Netanyahu Meet Produces Few Results

The Obama-Netanyahu talks were clearly a train wreck for Israel’s far rightwing Likud Party. The talks went on nearly twice as long as scheduled, suggesting a lot of bumps in the road. The two seemed to me stiff in their body language afterward, and they clearly did not agree on virtually anything important. Both finessed the disagreement by appealing to vague generalities and invoking the long term. Obama wants to negotiate with Iran regarding its civilian nuclear enrichment research program, but stressed that his patience is not infinite. Netanyahu, of course, wants military action against Iran on a short timetable.

Netanyahu’s hysteria about Iran is a piece of misdirection intended to sidestep the issue of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, and allows regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, even if the latter is not completely satisfied with Iran’s transparency. Israel just thumbed its nose at the NPT. Israel would only have the moral high ground in demanding that Iran cease enrichment research if it gave up its own some 150 warheads.

Obama wants Netanyahu to commit to supporting a two-state solution to be implemented in the near future. Netanyahu absolutely refused. He did say he is willing to “talk” to the Palestinians, though it is unclear why that would be a productive thing to do if he is die-hard against giving them the only thing they want. Rabbi Michael Lerner makes this point eloquently and at some length. Admittedly Netanyahu’s hands are in some ways tied by members of parliament from his own party , who reject the whole notion of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu said he did not want to rule the Palestinians. That is an evasion. If he won’t give them a state, then they remain citizens of no state and inevitably Israel “rules” them in the sense of making the important decisions about how they live their lives. The Likud Party doesn’t want the Palestinians, just their land and resources. That demand is actually what makes the Palestinian issue different and more horrific than other ethnic-national problems in the world. There are peoples imagining themselves as nations and working to assert a sub-nationalism. But virtually none of them lacks citizenship in a state. The Tibetans and others that are sometimes cited in this regard are not citizenship-less, even if they think they have the wrong citizenship. Palestinians have no citizenship at all, and all important decisions are made for them by their Israeli colonial masters. Sri Lanka, which claims to have just defeated the Tamil Tigers, was fighting to keep the minority Tamils (who speak a Dravidian language and are typically Hindus) as citizens of Sri Lanka, which is dominated by Sinhalese-speaking Buddhists. (The conflict is also in part about the wealthier Tamils wanting more autonomy from the poorer Sinhalese, and about a Marxist guerrilla group ironically representing this minority bourgeois demand; i.e. it isn’t just ethno-religious.) As brutal as the Sri Lankan campaign was, it does not leave the Tamils at the end of the day without basic rights of citizenship in a state, which is the condition of the Palestinians– who are therefore the most oppressed people in the world.

Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to acknowledge that Israel is a “Jewish state.” I don’t understand this demand. Israel is not a Jewish state, it is a multi-cultural state, with about half a million non-Jewish Russians and Ukrainians and 20% of its population is Arab. If “Jewish” is meant religiously, then observant Jews are actually a minority of the population in Israel. If “Jewish” is meant racially, then it is a particularly shameful demand. It is like demanding either that the US be recognized as a “Christian” country or as a “white” country. Obama was ill-advised to use the diction, himself.

As for Netanyahu’s gift to Obama of Mark Twain’s travelogue to nineteenth-century Ottoman Palestine, that was kind of an ideological attack on solid historiography.

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