Why Israel's Left Doesn't Support Obama or a Settlement Construction Freeze
Aluf Benn, possibly Israel's smartest journalist, makes a fascinating point about the construction on settlement freeze issue: why is Israel's left so indifferent to it? In the past, the left (which can mean, say, Labor party through Peace Now) has eagerly rallied to U.S. efforts to press Israel for concessions, especially on the territories. Not this time, even though the concession being sought is smaller than many in the past.
Benn attributes a lot of this to Obama's failure to sell his program. It is true that he has made no effort to appeal to Israelis on it but I think there's another explanation. The truth is that in the past a lot of Israelis on the left were persuaded that there was a real chance for peace and that by proving its willingness to leave the territories, Israel could persuade the Palestinians to make a deal.
Hardly anyone believes that today in Israel. People are fed up with the Palestinian leadership's bad faith and failure to deliver on commitments. They know that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has a big support base on the West Bank. They have no illusions about the Palestinian Authority leadership, which makes clear that its entire program is to have others pressure Israel into giving it everything it wants.
So the left's response would go something like this: We would be willing to dismantle all Jewish settlements in favor of a real and lasting peace. But do you really think freezing building on settlements will contribute to this goal? That's nonsense.
There's a secondary factor as well. Many Israelis on the moderate left--which are the overwhelming majority of those in the "left" category--support a two-state solution with some border shifts. In this concept, which is what Labor party leader and then prime minister Ehud Barak took to Camp David in 2000, Israel would retain some small areas with high Jewish (settlement) populations like Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.
This concept was called the idea of the "settlement blocs." Israel believed that the last two U.S. presidents accepted this idea and thus agreed that Israel could continue building in these specific places. The Obama administration says that never happened.
So many Israelis on the left not only doubt the prospect of peace and blame the Palestinians for the situation and also favor the settlement blocs approach and are also made very nervous about a U.S. government that forgets past pledges to Israel and doubt Obama's willingness to be tough in opposing Iranian nuclear weapons.
That's why there's no pro-Obama bloc in Israel today, not even on the left.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).