Re-considering U.S. diplomatic strategy in Israel

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It was a dispiriting, violent week in Palestine/Israel, but it ended surprisingly. It was dispiriting because the ancient vapid formulas kept getting repeated which no evidence or argument ever penetrates. The repetition wears you down, you lose hope, and turn to the sports news.

Formulas like: Israel has the right to defend itself from attack. Israel is moral, the other side is immoral. We gave Gaza freedom, they gave us terror. Hamas will never recognize Israel's right to exist. These are examples, to be sure, of Israel-side propaganda. I have no doubt Palestinian leaders are capable of equal fatuousness but they lack Israeli access to Western outlets. I know unequivocal supporters of Israel will instantly deny even this claim despite what seems to me clear evidence: Just read the papers or watch the news. That's what's so disheartening. Discussion, after so many decades, seems pointless.

But if you do want proof of imbalance, consider this: leaders in both Canada and the U.S. instantly endorsed the precise talking points of Israel's leaders, in the very same words (Any government facing what Israel…). It's as if they were wired to Bibi Netanyahu's larynx. Perhaps in Stephen Harper's case he actually believes it. But Barack Obama tried to argue some of those issues with Israel during his first term. He seemed to have totally given up.

Then, mid-week, unexpectedly, the violence stopped, even as the rhetoric flowed on. What accounts for that? It seems to me the Americans discovered, or blundered onto, a new diplomatic strategy. It was this: Agree with everything Israel says, then do exactly what you want anyway.

"Yah, yah," they said. "You're the victims, they're the aggressors. Sure, sure. You're totally moral, they're killing their own children. You have a right to defend yourself with advanced arms we supply against those people blockaded inside an area smaller than Toronto. We know you want peace and a two-state solution and the only reason you've occupied all their land and continue to colonize it is because they won't grant your right to have a nation of your own."

Why not? It's a proven waste of time to argue so just repeat their talking points. What can Bibi say: I reject your unqualified support? It's brilliant. It checkmates all their patterned responses. Then do exactly what you'd like to.

So Hillary Clinton flies in from Asia, which she probably wouldn't unless the whole deal was in the bag already. She visits Netanyahu, pats him on the head, repeats how right he is on everything. Then goes to failed U.S.-Israel protégé Abu Mazen in the West Bank, who's looking very weak compared to Hamas's resistance in Gaza, pats him on the head, and says his only option now is to co-operate with his hated rivals there. Then she flies to Cairo -- the real name of the game -- where President Morsi of the hitherto reviled Muslim Brotherhood is the only figure who can make contact happen between Israel and Hamas, due to strictures on dealing with Hamas -- on which of course the U.S. agrees with Israel -- and the deal is cooked.

It puts the U.S. in a slightly less one-sided light in the region and establishes a bond between it and Morsi. Then Obama calls Bibi and congratulates him for his statesmanlike agreement to the truce. Bibi'd better go along, after his ill-advised support of Mitt Romney in the U.S. election, since Israelis, always worried about relations with the U.S., will soon vote themselves. Whew.

Israel's leaders may still be confused by all this, like the 7-year-old who tells his mom he's running away and she says, "OK, I'll pack you sandwiches." Didn't they just tell us they agree with us about everything? Whassup widdat?

Who truly knows? We never ever learn the real truth in foreign affairs. But it's more hopeful than fleeing to the sports pages. If you want something less jaded, there's a young Gazan living abroad, who posted a week ago: God save my beautiful Gaza. Most of us probably don't think of Gaza as beautiful. But home is beautiful because it's home. He may be feeling at least a little bit blessed at this end of that week.

This article was first published in the Toronto Star.

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