Israel's Brick Wall

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas holds up the Palestinian application for U.N. membership as he addresses the United Nations on Sept. 23.

Whenever things take a turn for the worse in Israel, whenever I think this country has become too filled with fear and aggression to ever be ready to make peace, I remind myself: The way we're going leads to a brick wall, and one day we're going to run into it. After the pain subsides and we dust ourselves off, we will see that the brick wall is still standing. And at that point, we will have no choice but to change direction.

The brick wall up the road is international isolation to the point of pariah status, together with a continual escalation in severe security threats and no reasonable hope of overcoming them by military force.

At the United Nations the week before last, Israel took another giant step toward that wall. By enforcing Israel's opposition to the Palestinian statehood bid, the United States appears to have dealt itself out of influence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and maybe even in the Middle East as a whole.

Backed by the Republican Party, the American Christian right and the American Jewish right, the Israeli government bent U.S. President Barack Obama too far this time. By blocking the Palestinian drive for statehood, he is no good to Israel anymore. He has lost the trust of even a moderate Palestinian leader like Mahmoud Abbas. So he can't pressure the Palestinians to be more conciliatory, like he could before.

It's questionable whether he has much sway left with Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, either, on whom Israel used to count as bulwarks against its radical enemies.

This is not good for Israel. And if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thinks a Republican in the White House will come riding to his rescue, I doubt that any of the Republican candidates will be able to win any more friends or influence for this Israeli government than Obama currently can—and I am, of course, understating matters.

There's a Hebrew saying, "Tafasta meruba, lo tafasta," which can be translated to mean, "If you get too greedy, you end up with nothing." This, I think, is what happened to the Netanyahu government and its American allies. They not only wanted to temper Obama's pressure on Israel, they insisted that he follow Netanyahu's lead. 

And by doing so, the Israeli government, backed by its blind supporters in the United States, may end up with nothing—in the form of an America that can no longer defend it diplomatically. And for Israel, especially now, America is most emphatically the indispensable nation.

Still, something tremendous is coming out of this experience. The Palestinians see for themselves that nonviolence and diplomacy work. They have been cheering Abbas in New York and in Ramallah as he rides the wave of his triumphant speech—and reiterates that the Palestinian struggle will continue nonviolently. 

This movement, led by Palestinians and joined by Israeli and foreign activists, began locally in protests against land expropriations in West Bank villages and settler "block-busting" in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Abbas, however, has been calling for a national strategy of nonviolence for the last decade, and it appears his way has captured his people's imagination. This is what all seekers of peace in the Middle East have waited for, Palestinians and Israelis alike, and now it has come. 

What's coming will not be easy for Israel, for the United States, or for the Western powers seeking to bring Abbas and Netanyahu to the negotiating table. Without a commitment from Netanyahu to recognize the Palestinians' right to the Occupied Territories alongside Israel's right to its pre-1967 territory, together with a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank, Abbas will not negotiate. Meanwhile, Abbas will keep coming back to the Security Council with his demand for statehood, forcing Obama to defend Netanyahu's position, which will only deepen the isolation and hostility for the United States and Israel in the Middle East. 

There is only one way to reverse direction—by ending the Israeli occupation and making way for an independent, sovereign Palestine. Sooner or later, I'm absolutely convinced it will happen. The status quo is not static. At some point, the cost of the occupation to Israel and the United States will become too high to bear any longer. And then Palestinians—along with Israelis—will be free.

Larry Derfner is an American Israeli journalist and columnist who has written for many newspapers including US News & World Report, The Jerusalem Post, and The Sunday Times of London. He currently writes for +972 Magazine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service: www.commongroundnews.org.