Netanyahu’s free ride

Gershom Gorenberg urges the United States to take a harsher stance towards Israel’s settlement expansion:

American opposition to settlement would matter only if an Israeli government felt that it was paying a direct cost in support from Washington, or an indirect cost in political support at home. Only rarely, though, has settlement caused enough tension between Washington and Jerusalem to become politically significant in Israel. The clearest example was when the first President Bush linked loan guarantees to a settlement freeze and turned relations with the U.S. into a major campaign issue in Israel’s 1992 election.

As measured by actions, American policy has otherwise been acquiescence. The lesson to Israelis—politicians and voters—is that American objections are not to be taken very seriously…

Whatever administration officials actually intend, this is the way Israeli voters are hearing them: Bibi is still king in Washington, and pays no price for intransigence. Less than two months before the Israeli election, this is indeed counterproductive.

Meanwhile, A.B. Yehoshua argues against labeling Hamas a “terrorist” group:

The time has come to stop calling Hamas a terrorist organization and define it as an enemy. The inflationary use of the term “terror,” of which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is particularly fond, impedes Israel’s ability to reach a long-term agreement with this bitter enemy. Today Hamas controls the territory; it has an army, governmental institutions and broadcasting stations. It is even recognized by many states in the world. An organization that has a state is an enemy, not a terror organization.

Is this just semantics? No, because with an enemy one can talk and reach agreements, whereas with a “terror organization” talking is meaningless and there is no hope for reaching accord. It is therefore urgent to legitimize, in principle, the effort to reach some sort of direct agreement with Hamas. That’s because the Palestinians are our neighbors and will be forever. They are our close neighbors, and if we don’t reach a reasonable separation agreement with them, we will inevitably lead ourselves down the path to a bi-national state, which will be worse and more dangerous for both sides. That’s why an agreement with Hamas is important not only for the sake of bringing quiet to the border with Gaza, but also in order to create the basis for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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