Thursday, November 26, 2009

Palin, Netanyahu, and Israel's West Bank settlements

Sarah Palin recently suggested that "the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon." (I blogged about her comments, from an interview with Barbara Walters, here.) Evidently, this extremist position puts her to the right even of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for a 10-month freeze on settlement construction in order to show, so he says, Israel's commitment to peace.

The freeze will only go so far:

Netanyahu said the "far-reaching and painful" move would not be implemented in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, which is viewed by Israel as a separate issue to be discussed in a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

"We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital," the premier said.

The freeze applies only to new construction, meaning housing already underway will continue. Also, Netanyahu said, only new homes are included.

"We will not halt existing construction and we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal life in the settlements," he said.

As for any sort of "normal life" for Palestinians, and specifically for those whose land has been taken or those who otherwise are being impacted by the settlements and, until now, the expansion thereof, well, no matter. It seems that Netanyahu cares about as much the Palestinians as Palin does.

No, that's not fair. Netanyahu at least seems to be genuine about his efforts to achieve a lasting peace:

Now is the time to begin negotiations, now is the time to move forward towards peace. Israel today has taken a far-reaching step toward peace, it is time for the Palestinians to do the same.

This isn't entirely fair either, given that Israel will continue to colonize an occupied territory -- construction will continue, after all -- and it is rather disingenuous of Netanyahu to suggest that Israeli is now fully committed to peace and that the Palestinians must now, backed into a corner, prove themselves similarly committed. All this means is that, should negotiations fail, he'll be able to blame the Palestinians for not stepping up in response to this "far-reaching and painful" move. In giving up so little while claiming to give up so much, Netanyahu proves to be nothing if not a Machiavellian manipulator. (Too bad for him that this is all so transparent.)

Still, compared to Palin, Netanyahu deserves the Nobel Peace Prize (which I once thought he would win one day as a co-architect of peace, as it will probably take a conservative to make the necessary concessions and to persuade the Israeli people of the need for compromise). At least this is something, after all, and something, even this, is better than nothing, and certainly much better than dismissing the Palestinians entirely and pushing for even more Israeli expansion, as Palin and many on the American right are doing.

She really is clueless and really is dangerous and should never be allowed anywhere near U.S. foreign policy, or anything having to do with the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. While it is easy to laugh at her ignorance, though, her views are hardly uncommon among American conservatives. What Netanyahu's move shows is not just Israel's supposed commitment to peace, if we take him at his word, but just how extreme people like Sarah Palin really are.

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