Politicians' pandering does no good for Israel

My op-ed on the Republican primaries was published in ABC’s The Drum:

The jostle for the Republican nomination to challenge US President Barack Obama, when it comes to Israel, is quickly becoming a race to the bottom.

While it’s not surprising that with the virulent “Obama hates Israel” campaign in recent years these candidates would move to the right, it may well be they’re reaching new lows.

It seems that with each new day comes another interview or debate in which the front-runners - Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich - and those on the periphery - Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and others - try to outdo each other on Israel. They’re clambering for support from the hawkish Jewish Right, trying to prove that they, more than any other, are the true ‘pro-Israel’ candidate. The only thing is, in doing so, they’re ultimately being destructive to Israel’s own interests.

For example, since the Six-Day War, US foreign policy has held that Israeli settlements over the Green line are illegal, putting its interpretation of the Geneva Convention in line with everyone else’s. That policy has formed the basis of American support of the two-state solution to this day - that the West Bank and Gaza are temporarily occupied by Israel in the expectation that one day soon they will disengage, with minimal agreed swaps, to create a Palestinian state.

While one would hope it unnecessary to expand on, sadly today it seems as though it is. Realising a two-state solution, that is, Israel and Palestine living next to each other, is the only way to sustain the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state. Without it, Israel will either have to give up its Jewish or democratic character, neither of which is something I would like to see.

That’s not good enough for these Republicans, though. They all seem to prefer pandering to a base of support in Jewish America that is so extreme it in fact does reject the idea of a future Palestinian state. Last week on CNN, Texas Governor Rick Perry did just that:

“I consider the Israeli settlements to be legal, from my perspective, and I support them,” he said, despite being reminded by host Wolf Blitzer the hitherto bi-partisan condemnation of the settlements.

Michele Bachmann has been showing her commitment to Israel too, holding up her time spent on a kibbutz in Israel as proof of pro-Israel-ness. That brought the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart to quip that she “loves Israel so much she was willing to join a socialist collective,” perhaps not the press she was looking for. That’s not the worst of it, though.

No, that prize belongs to former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich who, in an interview with ‘The Jewish Channel’ espoused an ideology usually reserved for the political fringes.

“The Palestinians are an invented people,” newly crowned frontrunner Gingrich said. While it’s probably fair to say that the Palestinians are a new people, more so than the Jews, for example, to say they’re invented is applying an arbitrary system of determining identity that neither Gingrich nor anyone else seem keen to apply to anyone else. In fact, by that standard they’re barely newer than the Australian national identity, perhaps making our own cultural independence equally worthless.

Who cares where or when or how the Palestinian national identity came to be? Over the years, as Jewish immigration intensified in the 1920s and around the time of the Holocaust, as 750,000 Arabs living in Palestine were expelled and/or fled as a result of the end of the British Mandate and the establishment of Israel, and then with the conquering of Arab lands by Israel in 1967, a unique identity was formed by Palestinians living in the Levant. That reality is crystal clear.

Perhaps the only thing clearer is that today the Palestinians have a well-defined desire for statehood, not only independent of the Israeli occupation, but also of their neighbouring Arab states. Virtually every country, and certainly all the serious players, including Israel, the Arab League, and the United States and the Quarter recognises this. But not Newt Gingrich.

His comments are the very definition of a counter-productive contribution to the peace process. How can the world be expected to tolerate an American administration led by a man who is not only hostile to its preferred endgame of shared sovereignty over the land, but even the very existence of one of the peoples hoping to share it? There is no hope their position of an honest broker can be sustained by a president with such a view.

Further, as someone who believes in the goal of continued Jewish self-determination in the form of the state of Israel, does calling into question one group’s identity and desire for independence not also call into question my own? I am unwilling to tolerate anything of the sort; a future peace depends on recognising the here-and-now, accepting the legitimacy of claims and moving forward in good faith to broker a permanent, peaceful solution.

My message to Perry, Bachmann, Gingrich and others is simple - whoever is in your ear saying this is in Israel’s interests, that this is what Jews want to hear when they talk about ‘support for Israel’ is wrong. Support for Israel means honest and thoughtful support for both Israel’s Jewish and democratic nature, and a commitment to the peace process. Marginalising Israel’s partners in peace is the furthest thing from that.