It’s a good thing for Republicans that Bibi Netanyahu won his race. Had he lost, where else would they find a Strong Man?
Seriously, the GOP has been thirsting for some kind of hero. The party has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, Ronald Reagan is long dead, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney forged one of the worst presidencies in history, John McCain is stuck in get-off-my-lawn mode, Mitt Romney came and went, the current roster features yet another Bush and some midwestern governor who thinks he can beat ISIS because he battled unionized Americans…it’s quite a vacuum. So thank God there’s someone in Israel to latch onto.
The problem, on our domestic front, is that Israel is in danger of becoming a partisan football – a stark and sad departure from American tradition. Israel was founded in 1948, with the endorsement of Harry Truman’s Democratic administration, and support for the nation has been solidly bipartisan ever since. That support will be sustained in the broadest sense – Israel will still get roughly $3 billion a year in mostly military aid – but the Bibi-GOP lip-lock has injected hardball politics at ground level.
The way things stand today: We have a Democratic president who believes, as did his three immediate predecessors, that the key to Middle East peace is an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel (the so-called “two-state solution”). But now we have an Israeli prime minister who won ugly this week, in part by campaigning at the eleventh hour against a two-state solution. And that hard-right stance further isolates Bibi, not just from Obama but from most western leaders.
Bibi had previously endorsed a two-state solution – or maybe he was merely mouthing it – on numerous occasions. In 2009, he had envisioned Israel and Palestine as two lands, “each with its own flag, anthem, and government.” In 2011, he said that Palestinians “should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable, and independent people living in their own state.” But early this week, when the polls looked bad and he needed to pull right-wing votes from other parties, he did a Mitt-style flip-flop. He said that a Palestinian state would be like “giving attack territory to islamic extremists against the state of Israel,” and said that such a state would never happen on his watch.
For Republicans, this is where it gets interesting.
The GOP’s neoconservatives, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, are ideologically in sync with Bibi’s stiffing of the Palestinians. Problem is, the GOP has long endorsed a two-state solution as a matter of policy. The elder George Bush favored it. The younger Bush said that “building support for a two-state solution has been one of the highest priorities of my presidency.” And it’s right there in the current Republican platform: “We envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
Yet now Bibi is signaling that he won’t negotiate at all. So, on our domestic front, the question is whether Republicans will stick with the bipartisan two-state stance – or hew to their L’etat c’est moi hero by lurching even further rightward.
Don’t be surprised if it’s the latter. The so-called “Sheldon primary” is on the calendar in April. Republican politicians will journey to Vegas to kiss mogul Adelson’s ring – just as they did last year, when Chris Christie led the pack in abject groveling. All told, fealty to Sheldon will be tough to resist (especially for politicians who pine for Sheldon’s money). The Republican presidential debates, which will reportedly commence in August, will tell us how far the GOP is willing to go – to stand islolated with Bibi, or stand with the American mainstream and the international community.
A word about the American mainstream: First, it’s important to remember that Bibi has allied himself with the party that is rejected by most domestic Jews – 70 percent of whom routinely vote Demcratic in presidential elections. Second, a national poll says that only 14 percent of Americans favor Bibi’s position (indefinite occupation of Palestianian territory), and that a 39 percent plurality favors the two-state solution. Stats like those will likely embolden the Obama administration – with broad Democratic support – to squeeze Bibi, perhaps by endorsing (or refusing to block) a U.N. resolution calling for Palestinian statehood.
So that’s where we are. It’s bad enough that science has become a partisan issue in America. But, tragically, Bibi-GOP is doing the same for Israel.
And all Republicans are hereby warned that they’d better get with the program, lest they be attacked as Rand Paul was earlier this month, for appearing to applaud Bibi with insufficient zeal. In support of their Leader, right-wing litmus testers will not abide a clap gap.