I met former president Bill Clinton in May, not long before Netanyahu made his triumphal journey to Washington to play conquering hero before the Republican-led House of Representatives. I asked him about the Middle East. He threw his arm around me and said, “Let me tell you about Netanyahu. It’s like you’re in high school. There’s a girl you really want to go out with. And one day she says she’ll go out with you! You’re thrilled! So you arrange to pick her up. You park your car outside her door and wait. She doesn’t come out. You wait. You keep waiting. That’s Bibi.” Then he told me a second small-town Arkansas story too, with the same import: Bibi jerks you around.
Meanwhile, facts multiply on the ground. According to the scrupulous Peace Now, the rate of new construction in Jewish settlements on the West Bank is double that in Israel. Here’s another fact on the ground: The Jerusalem building and apartment stairwell of the heroic Israeli who gathers such statistics were recently defaced with graffiti calling for her death.
The political support Netanyahu gets from Israelis for his wearisome obduracy is their own disgrace. It’s quite chic in Israel nowadays to deny that there is an Occupation (not that there would be anything wrong with it, from the point of view of those Israelis who insist that Palestinians don’t really qualify as a people). The leadership of the recent Israeli justice movement, which supports building affordable housing for Israelis, also supports building more housing in the Israeli enclave town of Ariel, pop. 18,000, located 11 miles east of the Green Line, and considered by Netanyahu “the capital of Samaria.” Americans whose my-Israel-right-or-wrong fever grows exponentially with the square of their distance from the Holy Land display no interest in, or feeling for, the lives of the people whose land they occupy. Bloated with dreams of absolute security for themselves, they display no embarrassment at the galloping settlements, as if each high-rise tower were a shiny display box for the achievements of Jewish ethics.
The support Netanyahu gets from the U.S. is our own disgrace. The melancholy spectacle of Barack Obama, downcast and on-script as in a hostage video, bestowing upon the UN General Assembly what the American Jewish establishment dictated as the price of their lukewarm support, was disheartening enough. The thought that the upshot of the Palestinian Authority’s desperation move is going to be another round of talks, where Netanyahu will insist that Jerusalem is indivisible and that the Green Line is an obsolete legalism, is enough to make me swear off from Middle East news for, oh, say a millennium.
And disappointingly, the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bronner, refers today to “the small group of radical, frightened settlers who have recently attacked both Palestinian villages and an Israeli military base.” It’s a casual, passing adjective, “frightened,” and I have no doubt an accurate one. Settlers have reason to be frightened of the Palestinians who surround them because they have implanted themselves among them. West Bank Palestinians are generally frightened of Israeli occupiers, of course. Their kids are rounded up for late-night interrogations. The settlements go on and on. So do mass rallies on the West Bank in behalf of Palestinian statehood, along with clashes between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops firing rubber bullets—frightened, doubtless, but also cruel. These are all facts on the ground.
So we shall have another round of talks about talks, and the sophisticated people will congratulate themselves on having averted catastrophe, and Israelis will continue to think one inch deep, and the furies will gather.