Paul Pillar

Israel Slaps U.S. in the Face Again

Some recurring bad-news stories are so depressingly unchanging that all one can do is sadly to take note of them. The Israeli colonization of occupied territory, which for some four decades has been driving nails into the coffin of a two-state solution in which Jewish and Arab states could live peacefully side by side, continues apace. The word this week is that the Israeli interior ministry has approved construction of another 1,600 apartments in disputed East Jerusalem and that approval for 2,700 more is only days away. Although there is little new to say about how damaging the continued construction on disputed land is to U.S. interests and to Middle East peace (and to the interests of anyone wishing Israel to be over the long term a free, democratic and Jewish state), the consequences are too serious just to let this development slide by unmentioned because of sheer fatigue over this discouraging and long-running story. For a reminder of how much this unilateral action constitutes a slap in the face of Israel's American patron—which has incurred enormous material, diplomatic, political, and security costs on Israel's behalf—I commend Matt Duss's treatment of the subject. One of the recent costs the U.S. has incurred is to expend much diplomatic capital supporting Israel's resistance against a U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood. The only added point to make is that the colonization program, along with the current Israeli ruling coalition's larger opposition to a two-state solution, is what has elicited the very Palestinian initiative that raised the issue of a new U.N. resolution in the first place.

Closely related to all this is another piece of news this week about U.S.-Israeli relations: that 81 members of the U.S. Congress—nearly a sixth of the entire Congress—will be traveling to Israel during the current Congressional recess. The travel is funded by an AIPAC affiliate, the American Israel Education Foundation. House Republican leader Eric Cantor, fresh off his role as chief extortionist in the debt-ceiling debacle, says that through the trips “Members will better understand the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship.” This kind of lobbyist-funded jaunt enables us to better understand something about the members themselves and about their priorities. An appropriate reaction is the kind of indignation voiced by David Rothkopf, who notes that “Every moment spent jumping through a hoop for a potential group of supporters is a moment spent failing to address one of the many urgent issues confronting the United States.”

The trip to Israel to sit at the feet of Benjamin Netanyahu also demonstrates part of the extraordinary mechanism that leads legislators of the world's most powerful country to countenance—and even cheer—their country getting jerked around, much to its own detriment, by a small client that, at least under its current government, never stops displaying its ingratitude.