What Does The Israeli Right Really Want?

By the time many readers get this post, the results of the American election will be known. The Israeli election will be largely influenced by them. A Romney victory would guarantee a Netanyahu victory. As I wrote here last time, the coalition of Israeli liberals and globalists forming against Netanyahu will never succeed if he’ll be able to claim a special relationship with the occupant of the White House. Obama’s reelection would at least revive the hope of a peace process that picks up where Olmert and Abbas left off; give people like Olmert (if not Olmert himself) a fighting chance to charge Netanyahu with foiling Israel’s relations with Washington and deepening the country’s global isolation.

Many in the Israeli peace camp, J Street, and so forth, have insisted, plausibly, that we are well down the road to a Jewish state where democratic standards are necessarily undermined. They point to the dangers of obvious demographic changes under occupation; some even speak glibly of an emerging theocracy. Romney probably thinks in these terms himself, though he and House Republicans draw different conclusions from the changes: that the worst that can happen in Israel and Palestine is a few million Arabs with no real civil liberties, you know, the same unfreedom Arabs suffer in most Arab countries.

This seriously underestimates the Israeli right. Netanyahu and his partners have a long-term vision with no demographic problem because the incorporation of “Judea and Samaria” does not just entail a few more settlements here and there. It entails the upending of the Hashemite government in Jordan, the formation of a Palestinian state in Amman, and the eventual migration—or, in the event of war, forced expulsion—of Palestinians in the West Bank across the Jordan River. (Likud politicians do not just say this, at least not to voters and journalists. But neither did Romney talk about the "47 percent" to voters and journalists. Spend an hour with even moderate Likud people and settlers and you will eventually hear why this scenario is "inevitable.")

Give the status quo enough time and the incendiary conditions laying the foundation for Netanyahu’s policies will be as irreversible as global warming. And enough time in this case means four years, eight at the most. If America reinforces Netanyahu’s position beyond this year, President Abbas will exit the stage. The Palestinian Authority will pretty much fall apart. The old Fatah leadership has already lost most of its moral prestige, having bet it on being able to deliver a state with American and European backing. Virtually no Fatah candidate won election in recent municipal elections across the West Bank. Four more years of Netanyahu and Hamas will be the only force in Palestine left standing.

Remember that when Ronald Reagan took office there were perhaps 10,000 settlers outside of Jerusalem. When he left office, there were 100,000. American elections, as it is said, have consequences.  Obama's defeat would mean that Israel's fearful, grieving, hegemonic Jewish national community would continue to evolve without countervailing liberal pressures from Washington, something like the deep south without pressures from Washington.

Not that the rightists’ policy can succeed, at least not in the way they imagine. The Hashemites will not just surrender power and abscond to South Kensington. West Bankers will fight to stay in their homes, even if the richest among them also keep a home in Amman or Qatar.

Indeed, imagine Likudish fantasies coming true. Should Palestinian forces take power in Jordan, it will be after a period of bloody radicalization, following a corresponding process in Syria. Israel will find itself surrounded, with a Balkan-like insurgency forming in the territories, and a million-and-a-half Israeli Arabs growing sympathetic to a cause promising to remove a self-defined “Zionist” state that treats them like second-class citizens by design. The occupation-cum-settlement project will engender a vicious war, with ethnic cleansing on both sides, Tel Aviv technology entrepreneurs getting out, and the government of Egypt jumping in—a five foot leap over a seven foot chasm, an Intifada stretching from Nazareth to Hebron.

Netanyahu insists that America should focus on the Iranian nuclear program. But it is illogical to ignore the direction of the occupation if Iranian power is really the danger. Irrespective of how or why America should seek to stop the Iranian bomb, progress on the Palestinian issue will make confronting Iran easier, for it will make it easier for Arab countries to engage with American leadership. Obama knows, what Romney has denied, that strength against Iran requires strength against Netanyahu’s annexationism.

Romney slyly told his big donors in Florida that, aside from giving up on the 47 percent, he would kick the Palestinian can down the road. He was mirroring Netanyahu but doing Israelis no favor, nor Jordanians, or Palestinians, for that matter. The Middle East, alas, kicks back.