So Bibi has taken down some outposts. My new piece at the Forward explains why no one – least of all Barack Obama – should be impressed. I’ll have more up soon on Netanyahu’s efforts to fool Obama.
The show goes on. As I write, a radio newscaster is repeating an item about the evacuation of an illegal settlement outpost in the West Bank: At Nahalat Yosef, near Nablus, the army demolished two makeshift mobile homes and removed a third, thereby erasing the outpost. Settler leaders promised to rebuild it. Judging from past experience, the promise will be kept.
The show started after Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington. Police razed several shacks comprising Maoz Esther, northeast of Ramallah. It was a grand demonstration that Netanyahu was acting against the 100-plus illegal outposts – small settlements established since the mid-1990s without government approval but with well-documented help from government agencies. Settlement activists immediately began rebuilding Maoz Esther. Like Nahalat Yosef and several other outposts removed with fanfare in recent days, Maoz Esther is among the least substantial of the outposts. Larger outposts haven’t been touched.
The outpost campaign is pure theater. The intended audience is Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell. President Obama has made it utterly clear that he expects Netanyahu to fulfill Israel’s obligations under the 2003 road map for peace and the 2001 Mitchell Report: Remove outposts, stop all construction in other settlements. Netanyahu would like to convince Obama that he’s making a good-faith effort to evacuate the outposts and that the president should therefore let him continue building new homes in other settlements. This kind of con might work on a legacy student with a C average named George. To Netanyahu’s dismay, Barack Obama isn’t George.
Let’s be clear: Obama is asking Netanyahu to do the right thing for Israel’s future. The aim of settlement is to entangle Israel in the West Bank. The argument against permanent Israeli rule of that territory was laid out by the most clear-sighted of Israeli officials by the summer of 1967, and has remained true ever since: Ruling the West Bank without granting the Palestinians citizenship is the antithesis of democracy. Keeping the West Bank and giving them citizenship means making Israel into a binational state. Every new home in Tekoa or Ariel makes withdrawal more difficult. By insisting on a settlement freeze, Obama is acting like a guy standing in the door of his apartment, telling his drunken roommate that he really, really shouldn’t drive. That is, he’s a good friend getting a response that alternates between belligerence and pleading. …