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Ass-Backward Reality: The Myths That Underpin the Failure of American Policy in the Middle East

Let’s be honest. The Israeli story doesn’t merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards.

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“Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” Netanyahu responded.

It’s just another case of Israelis staring into that mirror. Hamas has, in fact, been moving steadily toward a form of secular nationalism and greater political moderation. Its government in Gaza is busy fending off threats from the true theocrats of the Muslim right, who despise Hamas. The rare volleys of Hamas rockets that now come into Israel are triggered by and responses to Israeli attacks.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has been saying for years that he and his party are absolutely willing to accept a two-state solution -- implicitly accepting the permanent existence of Israel -- as long as a majority of Palestinians approve it.  Meshaal now speaks of “peace” rather than merely “truce” and views the infamous Hamas charter, calling for the destruction of Israel, as no longer relevant.

When it comes to the all-important question of recognition, it’s Israel that refuses to recognize Hamas as a legitimate party or the Palestinians’ right to be a democratic state and choose their own government.  Meanwhile, the Israeli government has been doing exactly what it accuses Hamas of doing -- opening the door to increasingly reactionary, racist, and theocratic laws. “Public opinion polls point to increasing extremism, bordering on racism, in Jews’ opinion of Arabs,” as Haaretz has noted, so “it’s no wonder there is no public pressure on the government to advance the peace process.” 

Israel is fast coming under the sway of far-right theocrats, and “ever more Israelis are infected by the symptoms of Messianic thinking: ‘We are right, and the whole world is wrong; hence we must no longer listen to anybody,’” as one Israeli Jewish columnist observed.

Then there’s the upcoming vote in the U.N. General Assembly in September, when Palestine is expected to be granted full status as a nation. In his speech, Obama echoed the Israeli line that the Palestinian push for recognition there will harm chances for peace. In fact the vote would promote the peace process by pushing a nay-saying Israel closer to what it now fears most: finally being forced by irresistible world opinion to negotiate peace rather than become a pariah state.

There’s one last point that Obama and American public discourse get absolutely backwards: the idea that being a friend of Israel’s means endorsing its popular narrative, which offers no more truth than Alice’s looking-glass. Real friends don’t enable their friends to engage in self-destructive behavior.  Real friends wouldn’t let them get so drunk on a delusional story that they have no compunctions about driving what might otherwise be a peace process off a cliff. 

The U.S. has the power to push the Israelis away from that cliff and head them in a new direction. There’s real truth in the common Israeli joke that the U.S. is “the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes.”

Yes, Obama can put his tuches anywhere he wants.  If he ever feels politically safe enough, he just might put it on the table.  Then, Israel might have to leave the looking-glass world and agree to start genuine peace negotiations.

Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Read more of his writing on Israel, Palestine, and American Jews on his blog: http://chernus.wordpress.com.

 
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