In last week's effort to beguile America, Benjamin Netanyahu eschewed confrontation in favor of exhuming convenient pieties regarding peace with the Palestinians. But such gauzy emollients cannot obscure the degree to which the GOP and Israel's Prime Minister have politicized the U.S.-Israeli relationship, enabling Netanyahu's hard-right coalition to continue sabotaging the peaceful solution he conjured so conveniently, exposed yet again by their cynical appropriation of the massacre in Paris to justify their hard-line policies.
We must start by reprising the studied and very deliberate calculations through which Netanyahu and the Republicans turned our previously bipartisan support of Israel into a political wedge issue, shriveling the national security interests of both nations to the myopic litmus test of how faithfully America supports the Netanyahu government. First, motivation. By embracing Netanyahu, Republicans hoped to attract more Jewish voters, while securing many millions in soft money from hardliners like Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer -- at the same time motivating evangelical Christians within the Republican base, many of whom believe that God gave the West Bank to the Jewish people. As for Netanyahu, overtly allying with Republicans enabled him to reassure his own right-wing base that he could dampen America's support for a Palestinian state.
This ongoing pursuit of partisan electoral advantage has been as reciprocal as it is systematic. In the 2012 presidential race, Netanyahu signaled his preference for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama; in turn, prominent Republicans began backing away from a two-state solution. This conflation of the Palestinian problem with partisan politics continued in Israel's election last March, when Netanyahu cobbled together an extreme right-wing coalition by disavowing a Palestinian state and decrying that Arab-Israelis were turning out in "droves" -- whereupon virtually every Republican candidate fervently congratulated him.
A joint exploitation of the Iranian nuclear deal used this wedge to create a full-blown political schism. First, John Boehner colluded with Israel's ambassador to the U.S., former GOP operative Ron Dermer, in inviting Netanyahu to denounce the nuclear negotiations before Congress, thus aiding Netanyahu's embattled pre-election campaign. Then 47 Republican senators sent a letter to Iran, warning that the next president could undo any agreement "with the stroke of a pen." Typical among GOP presidential aspirants was Lindsey Graham, who flew to Jerusalem to proclaim, "Mr. Prime Minister, the Congress will follow your lead." This elevation by a major party of a foreign leader over a U.S. president was as unprecedented as Netanyahu's resolve to become a prominent player in American partisan politics.
The effects on our relationship to Israel have been dramatic. Though a majority of American Jews supported the agreement, the bitter rifts within the Jewish community will be hard to repair. So, too, the division between our parties. Among Democrats, Netanyahu's alliance with the GOP alienated officeholders and voters alike, rupturing decades of unbroken bipartisan support for Israel. In April, a Bloomberg poll asked whether Americans were sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama -- a question only slightly less stunning than the answer: whereas Democrats chose Obama over Netanyahu by a margin of 70 percent, Republicans preferred Israel's prime minister to America's president by almost as much. A poll by Reuters showed the same partisan divide over the nuclear deal itself.
Notwithstanding the seeming lack of persuasive alternatives, the pact with Iran surely deserved the most serious scrutiny and debate. But even before the agreement was released, it was denounced by virtually every Republican presidential candidate. On the merits, it is simply not possible that of 300 elected Republicans in Congress, not a single one found the multinational arrangement worth supporting. But this was never about the merits. Faced with a foreign policy question of the utmost gravity, the GOP has turned our relationship with Israel into a weapon of partisan warfare no different than abortion or guns. This, quite simply, is reprehensible as a matter both of national security and simple morality.
On the larger issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the damage inflicted by these tactics has only begun. Rendered insensate by their primary contest to the national security interests of either America or Israel, Republican candidates support Netanyahu with rising levels of ferocity -- exemplified by Marco Rubio's statement in last week's debate that President Obama "treats the Prime Minister of Israel with less respect than the Ayatollah of Iran." And despite his words, Netanyahu's actions are consistent with his election-eve repudiation of a two-state solution: the process of building settlements on the West Bank continues apace, each encroachment diminishing the viability of a Palestinian homeland.
The potential consequences of Netanyahu's course are easy to foresee: The continued escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and on the West Bank, extremists on both sides claiming ever more victims. An aggrieved Palestinian populace entering its second half-century of Israeli occupation without any realistic hope of self-determination. A third intifada. A disintegration of order as Palestinians shun the Palestinian Authority for its failure, requiring further military intervention by Israel. The annexation of the West Bank, forcing Israel to choose between allowing Palestinians to vote -- the eventual death knell for a Jewish state -- or ending Israel as a democracy by denying Palestinians basic rights. A world community that rejects Israel's policy and questions its moral standing. And the perpetuation of a smoldering conflict between Jews and Arabs under Israeli dominion, empowering those whose fondest hope is that Israel vanish from the map -- Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.
Netanyahu's Republican apologists cite these adversaries as a reason to support the hard-line policies Israel's enemies most desire. For Hamas, the two-state solution is anathema, a body blow to its dream of destroying Israel. It is a matter of historic fact that Hamas has always preferred Netanyahu to tough-minded pragmatists like Yitzhak Rabin, leaders without illusions who were willing to pursue a secure peace. Hamas knows what Republicans choose to ignore: that without creative efforts to find a two-state solution, the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank is a dangerous dead end, not least for Israel.
It is one thing to recognize -- as we must -- that Palestinian recalcitrance was a critical factor in the failure of past peace efforts; quite another to write Netanyahu a blank check. Yet leading Republican presidential candidates prefer enabling Netanyahu to facing the consequences to Israel of a binational state. After calling Obama's criticism of Netanyahu's settlement policies "deplorable", Marco Rubio paradoxically opines that, as of now, "I don't think the conditions exist for a Palestinian state." Ted Cruz says blithely, "I trust the leaders of Israel to determine whether they want a two-state solution or a one-state solution." Most remarkably, Ben Carson suggests shipping the several million Palestinians on the West Bank to Egypt -- oblivious to both the geopolitical consequences and the darkly ironic resonance of proposing to expel an entire people based on their ethnicity. Thus Republicans continue to drown statesmanship and reason in the acid bath of political calculation.
The GOP-Netanyahu alliance explains why the administration has expressly given up hope of meaningful negotiations for the remainder of Obama's term -- Netanyahu can simply run out the clock while hoping for a Republican president. And even were he of a different character, he is mortgaged to a right-wing coalition, emboldened by Republicans, which will never agree to a Palestinian state.
This reality is far from subtle. The ultra-orthodox head of Netanyahu's Foreign Ministry insists that Israel inherited the West Bank from God: "This land is ours. All of it Is ours." His minister for public security argues for annexation. His education minister, Naftali Bennett, expressly disowns Netanyahu's soothing words for President Obama, calling for the absorption of 60 percent of the West Bank, and proclaiming that "[t]he era of a Palestinian state is coming to a close." Israel's ambassador to the UN comes perilously close to echoing Dr. Carson, stating that Israel should "gain sovereignty over the majority of the [West Bank]..." with "the minimum number of Palestinians " possible. As for the Prime Minister's newly appointed head of Israel's National Public Directorate, his less than diplomatic Facebook post denounced Obama as an anti-Semite and John Kerry as having the mental age of an adolescent.
In this spirit, Netanyahu and his allies seized on the horrific massacre in Paris to justify their policies on the West Bank. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas expressed the empathy and revulsion common to so many: "Our people are deeply shocked and angered, but mostly saddened by these events aimed at hitting civil life in the wonderful city of Paris." But Netanyahu could not resist tainting sympathy with exploitation. "It is time," he proclaimed, "for states to condemn terrorism against us..." Linking ISIS' mass slaughter of Parisians with the senseless murder of two Israelis on the West Bank, he continued, "Hours after the murders in Othniel, terrorists went on a ruthless attack in Paris... We are not at fault for the terrorism turned toward us just as the French are not at fault for the terrorism turned toward them. Those to blame for terrorism are terrorists. Not the [occupation of the West Bank] territories, not the settlements or any other factor -- it is the will to destroy us that keeps the conflict alive and motivates murderous aggression against us."
It is wholly right to condemn without reserve the sickening violence on the West Bank, whether the victims of fanaticism be Israeli or Palestinian; badly wrong to wrench this violence out of its historic context -- let alone by using scores of dead Parisians, as did Netanyahu, to claim that his coalition's policies bear no relationship whatsoever to the conditions which breed this ongoing tragedy. But his minister Naftali Bennett went one step further, callously suggesting that the mass murder in Paris was payback for Europe's failure to support the coalition's stance against a Palestinian homeland: "I said that if they wouldn't stand with us it will eventually reach them -- and now this happened." Such are the GOP's new best friends.
It comes down to this: the self-serving Republican embrace of Netanyahu is deadly -- for Palestinians, for Israelis, and, quite possibly, for Israel as a Jewish democracy. The worst scenario of all is a Republican president who encourages Netanyahu and his coalition partners down this lethal path. True friends of Israel can but hope for the ascension of an Israeli leader who refuses to let his country become a canary in the coal mine of America's shameful politics.