After a long period in which Israel was able to shout down international criticism of its actions with cries of "Terrorism!" the winds are shifting, as Daniel Levy writes in Haaretz:
In the last two weeks alone, two of Italy's largest supermarket chains have stopped carrying Israeli products; Swedish dockworkers have refused to unload goods from Israeli ships; Britain's largest trade union, Unite, unanimously voted to boycott Israeli items; and Elvis Costello and the Pixies have both canceled shows in Israel. Meanwhile, the latest debate raging in the United States is over how much of a strategic burden Israel has become.
In this instance, Israel's leadership played its role with Lionel Messi-like perfection. It's true that Israel's official PR response was ill-conceived, while its "army" of citizen advocates indulged in the use of racist stereotypes on YouTube videos, doing more harm than good. But Israel's predicament goes far deeper than the embarrassment of having Avigdor Lieberman head this country's diplomatic corps: It has become structural and therefore far more worrying. The gap between Israel's self-perception and global perceptions of the country has taken on Grand Canyon-like proportions.
In short, the game is up.
John J. Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby, believes that this gap between self-perception and global perception will only become wider as Israel sinks deeper into an apartheid system:
The political center of gravity in Israel has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade and there is no sizable pro-peace political party or movement that they could turn to for help. Probably the best single indicator of how far to the right Israel has moved in recent years is the shocking fact that Avigdor Lieberman is employed as its foreign minister. Even Martin Peretz of the New Republic, who is well known for his unyielding support for Israel, describes Lieberman as “a neo-fascist,” and equates him with the late Austrian fascist Jorg Haider. And there are other individuals in Netanyahu’s cabinet who share many of Lieberman’s views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; they just happen to be less outspoken than the foreign minister.
Given Israel's turn to the right, Mearsheimer argues, only a concerted effort by the US could force a two-state solution. This is the conventional wisdom, but contrary to the conventional wisdom, Mearsheimer see the chances of that coming to pass as between zero and nil:
Let’s look at the historical record. Every American president since 1967 has opposed settlement building in the Occupied Territories. Yet no president has been able to put serious pressure on Israel to stop building settlements, much less dismantle them. Perhaps the best evidence of America’s impotence is what happened in the 1990s during the Oslo peace process. Between 1993 and 2000, Israel confiscated 40,000 acres of Palestinian land, constructed 250 miles of connector and bypass roads, doubled the number of settlers, and built 30 new settlements. President Clinton did hardly anything to halt this expansion. Indeed, the United States continued to give Israel billions of dollars in foreign aid each year and to protect it at every turn on the diplomatic front.
One might think that Obama is different from his predecessors, but there is little evidence to support that belief. Consider that during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama responded to charges that he was “soft” on Israel by pandering to the lobby and repeatedly praising the special relationship. In the month before he took office, he was silent during the Gaza massacre – when Israel was being criticized around the world for its brutal assault on that densely populated enclave.
After taking office in January 2009, President Obama and his principal foreign policy advisors began demanding that Israel stop all settlement building in the Occupied Territories, to include East Jerusalem, so that serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians could begin. After calling for “two states for two peoples” in his Cairo speech in June 2009, President Obama declared, “it is time for these settlements to stop.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made the same point one month earlier when she said, “We want to see a stop to settlement construction, additions, natural growth – any kind of settlement activity. That is what the President has called for.” George Mitchell, the president’s special envoy for the Middle East, conveyed this straightforward message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lieutenants on numerous occasions.
In response, Netanyahu made it equally clear that Israel intended to continue building settlements and that he and almost everyone in his ruling coalition opposed a two-state solution. He made but a single reference to “two states” in his own speech at Bar Ilan University in June 2009, and the conditions he attached to it made it clear that he was talking about giving the Palestinians a handful of disconnected, apartheid-style Bantustans, not a fully sovereign state.
Netanyahu, of course, won this fight. The Israeli prime minister not only refused to stop building the 2500 housing units that were under construction in the West Bank, but just to make it clear to Obama who was boss, in late June 2009, he authorized the building of 300 new homes in the West Bank. Netanyahu refused to even countenance any limits on settlement building in East Jerusalem, which is supposed to be the capital of a Palestinian state. By the end of September 2009, Obama publicly conceded that Netanyahu had beaten him in their fight over the settlements. The president falsely denied that freezing settlement construction had ever been a precondition for resuming the peace process, and instead he meekly asked Israel to please exercise restraint while it continued colonizing the West Bank. Fully aware of his triumph, Netanyahu said on September 23, “I am pleased that President Obama has accepted my approach that there should be no preconditions.”
It's hard to find a point on which to disagree with Mearsheimer. As to the turn in Israeli politics and society, he is certainly correct. Far from pushing their people rightward, mainstream politics in Israel softens and moderates the hard racist, expansionist edge of the Israeli public consciousness. Some people in America may be tenatively starting to question our reflexive support for Israel, but we are many, many years away from taking the concrete steps -- an end to the billions of dollars in foreign aid per year, an end to the free use of our Security Council veto, and finally economic sanctions -- that would be necessary to push Israel off the path that they are on. So it's hard to disagree about where we are likely to end up:
The most likely outcome in the absence of a two-state solution is that Greater Israel will become a full-fledged apartheid state. As anyone who has spent time in the Occupied Territories knows, it is already an incipient apartheid state with separate laws, separate roads, and separate housing for Israelis and Palestinians, who are essentially confined to impoverished enclaves that they can leave and enter only with great difficulty.
Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at the comparison to white rule in South Africa, but that is their future if they create a Greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land. Indeed, two former Israeli prime ministers have made this very point. Ehud Olmert, who was Netanyahu’s predecessor, said in late November 2007 that if “the two-state solution collapses,” Israel will “face a South-African-style struggle.” He went so far as to argue that, “as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished.” Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who is now Israel’s defense minister, said in early February of this year that, “As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”
Other Israelis, as well as Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu, have warned that if Israel does not pull out of the Occupied Territories it will become an apartheid state like white-ruled South Africa. But if I am right, the occupation is not going to end and there will not be a two-state solution. That means Israel will complete its transformation into a full-blown apartheid state over the next decade.