The foreign policy debate has come and gone, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Israel was mentioned time and again—more than thirty times, in fact.
The American public was assured that the U.S. consults with Israel on issues such as the crisis in Syria and Iran’s nuclear program; both candidates repeated the standard and by-now expected lines about Israel being America’s greatest friend and ally in the region. Romney chided Obama for not visiting Israel as President; Obama countered with tales of his trip as a candidate.
Mentioned exactly once? Israel’s single biggest issue, on fronts foreign, domestic, and economic: the conflict with the Palestinians. It would have been foolish of me to expect anything else, and yet there is something bracing to seeing this willed blindness played out at the highest level.
For forty-five years now, more than two-thirds of its existence as a nation, Israel has maintained military rule over millions of Palestinians; it repeatedly engages in bloody hostilities with armed Palestinian forces; it regularly flouts international consensus and American policy by building on Palestinian land. Even while mouthing words of peace, Israel’s government consistently and constantly maintains policies that make peace ever-more impossible—such as announcing an additional 800 housing units in occupied East Jerusalem just the other day, even while likening an artificially bloated and violently held “eternal capital” to London or Washington, D.C.
I have no love for the government in Tehran, and I wish the people over whom that government rules with such heartless violence nothing but good. I do not wish to see that government armed with nuclear weapons, and can surely understand why the Israeli government views that possibility with real alarm.
But I’m Israeli, and I’m a Jew, and I know what is destroying my country right now, even as I type, even as President Obama and Governor Romney return to the campaign trail, confident that they did their best to convince American voters that they really—but really—love Israel.
What is destroying Israel is the occupation. What is threatening Israel’s future is the occupation. What will bring an end to the Zionist dream of a democratic, Jewish nation is the occupation.
The state of Israel has already conceded, however unofficially, that there are now more Palestinians under its rule than there are Jews—and the vast majority of the Palestinians have no vote, and precious little control over their destiny, because Israel won’t give it to them.
The choice, whether or not Israel actively makes it, could not be clearer or more stark: either admit the truth, claim Israel’s share of the responsibility for the terrible state of affairs in which we find ourselves, and find a path to a durable two-state peace—or become the apartheid state that we keep saying we’re not.
If the next U.S. president genuinely wants what’s best for Israel—is truly Israel’s friend—he will bear all this in mind, and bring the not inconsiderable power of this nation to bear on Palestinians and Israelis alike to take the difficult steps and make the painful compromises necessary to genuinely resolve decades of violence and hatred.
But I’m not holding my breath. In American politics, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestinians are invisible (and, according to Romney, don’t want peace anyway), and Israel is a talking point with which to win votes and donations.
And all those people? Those actual, flesh-and-blood people? I suppose they can, in the words of Gov. Romney “sort of live with it, and… kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.”
And weep and bleed and mourn, when that doesn’t work.