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1967 And The Other Third Rail

Don Rose 30 November 2009 No Comment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Senator George Mitchell, the Middle East peacemaker, both reportedly invoked the unmentionable year 1967 in negotiations with Israel and, to their credit, entered third-rail territory. This could be genuinely significant in the endless search for peace—or maybe just another false start.

It’s a convoluted story but worth examining, so bear with me for some instant history.

Social Security has long been known as the “third rail” of American politics—touch it and you’ll be politically electrocuted. Just ask our most recent ex-president, whose ratings dropped like a hanged man as soon as he brought up the idea of privatizing it.

But there’s another third rail halfway around the world whose political ties to this country are closer than any neighboring state. For a host of reasons this country has financed and otherwise supported Israel since its creation in 1948, going along with almost every request made by every Israeli government, left, right or center, and often stood alone with that tiny piece of middle-eastern turf when the world turned against it, as in the Gaza war.

The road to Washington is strewn with the corpses of politicians who did not hew to the pro-Israeli political line.
In recent years, however, more and more American Jews who continue to support Israel’s existence and well-being have come to recognize that blind support—as demanded by the ultrapowerful lobby, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—may not only raise moral questions but in fact not be in Israel’s best interest.

A new, progressive minded Jewish organization called J Street emerged to represent the potential majority of American Jews who do not follow AIPAC’s right-wing dictates. It is young, still building and has made an intemperate statement here and there. It also terrifies many Jewish officeholders, so its impact is yet to be realized.

At the same time, the Obama Administration found itself confronted with the far-right Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s new prime minister, along with his cryptofascist deputy Avigdor Lieberman, who advocates ethnic cleansing.

The first thing Obama and Clinton asked for was a total freeze on any and all new settlements in the Palestinian West Bank as the first step toward creating a two-state solution to the territorial issues. That is, a Jewish Israel and a strange bifurcated Palestinian state incorporating both the West Bank and the coastal Gaza, separated by Israeli land.

The West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights were won by Israel in the amazing 1967 war in which Israel defeated three attacking Arab states at one time. Thus began the longest occupation of modern times.

Netanyahu, who has about the same interest in a genuine Palestinian state as Ahmadinejad does in having a bar mitzvah, did everything but spit in Obama’s face.

The logical flaw here is that if Netanyahu continues to build settlements that resubdivide the West Bank—which he still calls by its biblical Hebrew names of Judea and Samaria, suggesting they are Israeli turf—the entire territory including Israel ultimately will have an Arab majority, which could overwhelm Israel.

Ariel Sharon, who still lies in a vegetative state, recognized this and began a peace process by surrendering Gaza. He saw that only a two-state solution would save Israel as a Jewish state and prevent its becoming an armed enforcer of apartheid.

Netanyahu instead offered up some lame idea about a moratorium on new building permits in the West Bank, which Clinton first called promising, immediately giving the world the impression that the US was caving in once again to Israel’s right wing.

But Daniel Levy, director of the New American Foundation’s Middle East Task Force, writes in The Washington Note that Clinton now says the US expects the outcome of negotiations with Israel to result in an “independent and viable [Palestinian] state based on the 1967 lines.”

Levy continues: “Senator Mitchell quoted Clinton in repeating the call for a Palestinian state ‘based on the ’67 lines’.”
If Levy, an Israeli, is correct—the quotes have not appeared widely—the tiny reference to 1967 in the language of diplomacy could become a tsunami.

There are many mountains yet to climb. Hamas still wants to destroy Israel. But if the 1967 lines become the negotiating issue, much becomes possible.

If the warrior Sharon eventually recognized reality, why not Netanyahu?

Maybe with a little push from Obama and the J Street crowd he could become Nixon in China. Not likely, but worth pondering.


Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer

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