Obama Buckles on Settlements Freeze, But Israel Heading for Greater Isolation

The Netanyahu government got Obama to buckle on the settlements freeze. And now, Israel can look forward to a future of mounting isolation with no prospect for peace.

Tara Todras-Whitehill / AP Photo

Yasher Koach, Bibi, it looks like the White House has finally given up. For close to two years now, they've been hectoring you about a Palestinian state. First, they tried sticks: They worked to undermine you politically by letting Israelis know you didn't have the president's trust. Then they tried carrots: offering to double Israel's stock of advanced jet fighters, veto any critical resolutions at the U.N. and give you carte blanche to build in the West Bank if only you'd freeze settlements for another three months and use that time to talk seriously about the borders of a Palestinian state. But you held your ground. You made it clear that you'd pocket the planes and conduct a three-month filibuster. No way were you going to be bullied into the kind of final-status negotiations undertaken by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. And so the Americans caved. They've dropped their demands for a settlement freeze. They've stopped trying to orchestrate direct talks. They've gone into a fetal position. Am Yisrael Chai!

Now all you have to worry about is…Argentina. You see, Argentina just recognized a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. Brazil did so days earlier. Uruguay and Paraguay are expected to follow suit, and then Bolivia and Ecuador. Oh, and you have a small problem with rock stars: last year Elvis Costello and Carlos Santana cancelled Israel gigs because of the occupation, and more seem poised to follow. Dock workers are another worry: from Sweden to South Africa, they keep protesting the occupation and the Gaza blockade by refusing to offload Israeli goods. And then there's Hanna King, the 17-year-old Swarthmore freshmen who along with four other young American Jews disrupted your speech last month in New Orleans because, as she told Haaretz, "settlements…are contrary to the Jewish values that we learnt in Jewish day school." You should probably expect young Jews like her to protest all your big American speeches from now on.

I know, I know. You consider all this unfair, and in some ways it is. But when you've been occupying another people for 43 years, confiscating more and more of their land and denying them citizenship while providing it to your own settlers, it doesn't do much good to insist that things are worse in Burma. Your only effective argument against the Elvis Costellos and Hanna Kings was that you were trying to end the occupation. That's where Obama came in. As long as the U.S. president seemed to have a chance of brokering a deal, his efforts held the boycotters and protesters and Palestinian state-recognizers at bay. When Brazil and Argentina recognized Palestinian independence, the American Jewish Committee's David Harris declared it "fundamentally unhelpful to the Arab-Israeli peace process." But what if there is no peace process? What's your argument then? Maybe you can tell the Ecuadorians that Israel deserves Hebron because Abraham bought land there from Ephron the Hittite.

Rest assured, the Obama administration won't go along with these efforts to punish and isolate you. It may even denounce them. But as you may have noticed, the world doesn't listen to America like it used to. Non-Americans have grown tired of hearing that only the U.S. can broker a deal, especially because you've now shown that to be false. And so the dam preventing countries and institutions from legitimizing Palestine and delegitimizing Israel may soon break. You didn't like the American way? Get ready for the Brazilian way.

And how can the Brazilians and dock workers and Elvis Costellos harm you? Ask my 4-year-old son. At times, you see, he thinks we live in Israel. The reason is because at his Jewish school and synagogue on the Upper West Side—heck, even walking down Broadway anywhere between Zabar's and Columbia—he's constantly hearing Israeli Hebrew. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of Israelis applying annually for permanent residence in the United States doubled between 2000 and 2009. Former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak both have adult children living here. And it's not just the U.S. An Israeli friend recently told me that there are so many young Israelis in Berlin (Berlin!) that when he goes there and runs into acquaintances from Tel Aviv, they don't even act surprised.

These young, cosmopolitan, educated Israelis are exactly the ones you can't afford to lose. They're leaving for graduate school, and jobs in finance and high-tech and a thousand other things, but they're also leaving because they want to be connected to the world, not only economically, but politically and culturally as well. And they're not thrilled about spending a month a year as army reservists manning checkpoints in the West Bank. Offer them a future of mounting international isolation and no prospect for peace, and watch them flood into Williamsburg and West L.A. Maybe you can console yourselves that their ultra-Orthodox counterparts—who don't work, don't serve in the army, have an average of seven children per family, and drain the government coffers dry—aren't going anywhere. Luckily for you, one of their parties, Shas, controls the ministry charged with fighting the fires that last week ravaged Israel. Shas' spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, helpfully volunteered that the fires were God's punishment for Israelis who didn't keep the Sabbath.

The dam preventing countries and institutions from legitimizing Palestine and delegitimizing Israel may soon break. You didn't like the American way? Get ready for the Brazilian way.

So take a bow. You sure put Barack Obama in his place. And don't worry if the Brazilians and South Africans and Swedes and Swarthmoreans think your policies are immoral and insane. Ovadiah Yosef thinks they make all the sense in the world.

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, is now available from HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.