Iran Nuclear Deal Realities: A Response to AIPAC

I know many of you out there have been busily debating the Iran nuclear deal with friends, family and colleagues. Netanyahu_speechI’ve been doing what I can to help provide people with good information. The bottom line is that the arguments against the deal are threadbare and reflect the fact that the sanctions, for the ultra-hawks, neo-conservatives and Likudniks, have never been about Iran’s nuclear violations (real though those are) but about crippling Iran.

For that reason, they have no substantive case against the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). So, they are instead using distortions of what the JCPOA says, and on distracting arguments like the appalling spectacle of their abuse of the real issues of antisemitism by falsely accusing Obama of that bigotry.

On the latter point, Matt Duss and Todd Gitlin wrote a great rebuttal in Tablet Magazine that I urge you read. But today, I really want to urge you to read this entry on the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s web site by Richard Nephew, Program Director for the Center on Global Energy Policy. Nephew simply uses the facts to demolish the latest attempt by AIPAC to fool people about the Iran deal and the real consequences to the United States if Congress votes it down.

Please share it widely. Nephew’s piece is here.

Netanyahu and Obama: Name-Calling and its Discontents

The obsession in politics and diplomacy with decorum–largely a relic from the past–can easily distract people from the realities of the present. 8575956802_b0f1918361_zCase in point, the uproar over Jeffrey Goldberg’s latest article in the Atlantic, the headline of which, The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here, would seem important enough to warrant more attention than it has gotten so far.

Instead, the whisper of an unnamed “senior Obama administration official,” who called Netanyahu a “chickenshit,” has occupied headlines. And instead of taking a strong, or even a weak stance on Netanyahu’s repeated declarations about expanding settlement activity everywhere in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the White House has only tried to distance itself from the remark, describing it as “unauthorized” and “inappropriate.”

As Goldberg himself pointed out, the fact that Bibi is a chickenshit is not entirely a bad thing. Whatever else it does, it also makes him quite afraid to back up his rhetoric with action. Even in Gaza this summer, the ongoing slaughter seemed, from Netanyahu’s point of view, to be something that spiraled much further out of control than he had intended. Indeed, his constant shifting of the mission’s goal posts indicated the lack of any sort of planning beforehand. Political pressures kept driving him on, as they do with most of his actions. But at least the “chickenshit” was never going to attack Iran despite his bellicosity, as the United States seems to finally understand.

Being less of a leader and more of a leaf blowing in the political wind is an apt description of Netanyahu, and it is strongly suggested in Goldberg’s piece. But it also applies to the Obama administration, which has repeatedly refused to use the tools it has at its disposal to create real pressure on Israel to, at the very least, desist from its actions that are obviously intended to destroy any possibility of a two-state solution. So, chickenshit cuts both ways.

Maybe Goldberg intended the chickenshit comment to overshadow the rest of his point, maybe he didn’t. But the assertion that we are in a period of crisis for US-Israel relations is a very important one. The question is: are we?

The simple answer is no, but Goldberg is not wrong in suggesting that such a crisis could occur in the near future. One can understand why Goldberg focuses so much on personal clashes. Never in the history of Israel has there been a government that so arrogantly insulted the United States so frequently. Whether it’s Netanyahu, Finance Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, or some other member of the Knesset, anti-American statements have risen to unprecedented levels.

For their part, US officials have been getting just the tiniest bit harsher in their criticism of Israel, while Israeli officials escalate their anti-US rhetoric. And then there’s the endless stories about how much Obama and Netanyahu dislike each other, with Goldberg’s in the lead. The problem, of course, as it is presented in this narrative of interpersonal conflict, is bad communication, or mismatched personalities.

In reality, none of this is really about Bibi and Barack disliking each other. They do, but that is beside the point. It is the direction that Israel has decided to go in that is the problem.

Let’s start off by noting that the degree of the “crisis” is being massively overblown. There is a much bigger problem in Europe for Bibi than there is in the United States. The Europeans are actually threatening to take some action, not just calling Bibi names in whispers to reporters. Sweden’s recognition of Palestine as a state is just a first step in a series of actions that might be on the horizon from Europe, where Israel conducts the biggest share of its trade. When the United States gets to that point, as it has on occasion in the ever more distant past, then we can start wondering if there is a crisis in relations that might cause some small shift in the status quo.

The “chickenshit” epithet can apply to Obama just as much as it can to Netanyahu. He is a president with a non-confrontational style trying to govern with what is, arguably, the most defiant and combative Congress any president has ever had to deal with. And he is dealing with an Israeli government that is pursuing a very different strategy than its predecessors. The Israel of today no longer cares about the majority of the Jewish community in the United States. This Israel, correctly, determined that its ultimate desire to completely thwart a two-state solution and maintain an apartheid system over the Palestinians would never be acceptable to most American Jews. But most US Jews weren’t the ones providing the political power and, more importantly, the funding for congressional campaigns and for settlements in the West Bank.

The Jews that do provide these things, as well as the Christians, are right-wingers, either in their general politics or at least on Middle East policy (including policy toward the entire Arab world, Iran and Turkey). They are now the only ones Israel cares about. More liberal-minded devotees are not, at this stage, providing that much support for Israel, either economically or financially. Those of them who do provide this support will continue to check their otherwise liberal values at the Israeli door. The rest are not, in the estimate of the Netanyahu government, worth the compromises that must be made to garner their support.

In this circumstance, Israel has a freer hand in its actions. While Netanyahu announces more and more building plans in East Jerusalem and other sensitive parts of the Occupied Territories, Republicans, who stand a good chance of controlling both houses of Congress, are not criticizing Israeli actions in the slightest. Instead, as one would expect, they are attacking Obama for his insufficient support of Israel.

In this context, Israeli journalist Roi Ben-Yishai, one of Israel’s best, recently reported on Israel’s “new approach” to the Palestinians. It holds few surprises. Israel is not intending to return to talks, correctly believing they will be futile, and therefore would only make things worse. Israel’s assessment will remain correct until its own positions can be moderated by pressure like that of the Palestinians over the years.

The plan is then to have the quiescent Palestinian Authority (PA) assume control over Gaza and reinforce its control on the West Bank. In other words, marginalize Hamas throughout the Palestinian body politic. Under those circumstances, Israel would end the siege of Gaza and ease restrictions on movement in the West Bank as well. The idea is that the Palestinians can then build a functional economy, which Israel believes will cause the Palestinian people to oppose actions that could draw Israeli military reprisals. I rather doubt that would be the result, but right now, the delays in Palestinian international action imply that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is cooperating with Israel and Egypt on this effort, probably in the hope that this strategy would eliminate Hamas as a political rival.

This seems like another doomed plan, one that harkens back to old Israeli beliefs that Palestinian nationalism will eventually just go away. But we must recognize that this is happening with the silent approval of the United States. Egypt, in particular, would not work with Israel on such a plan if it believed that the United States would object. More to the point, the plan is also intended to provide the US with what it wants most: Palestinian silence. What American policy has always represented is the complete lack of importance placed on the welfare of the Palestinians, or anyone else (including ordinary Israelis) in the region, for that matter. The entire issue is only relevant insofar as it affects more “important” US concerns.

So, the Obama administration will likely allow Israel to proceed with its plans, even if it doesn’t believe those plans are likely to succeed. This is evident in the lack of material response to Israel’s direct challenge to the international consensus on a two-state solution.

The name-calling most recently highlighted by Goldberg merely reflects these disagreements and the fact that the increasingly populist and rightward tilt not only in the Israeli government but also in its population leads to verbose criticism of US officials, up to and including the president. Responses to such insults can be countered by Israel’s power in Congress in a way that more fundamental policy differences cannot. That frustrates some American officials, but it doesn’t provoke any material US response.

If Congress persists in pressuring the administration on its Iran policy, a pressure which most understand as directed by Jerusalem, Obama may well respond through the Palestinian issue. In that case, we might see a more direct counter to Israeli policies, such as a Security Council resolution condemning the settlements or even an “Obama Plan” basing a two-state solution on the 1967 borders and sharing Jerusalem. That would be a turn of events not seen in decades, but Israel has also never worked so hard to undermine US goals on foreign policy matters as it has on Iran.

But make no mistake, if the Palestinians get any respite from the Obama administration it will be because of Israel’s meddling through Congress on the Iran issue. It will not be due to any Palestinian action, much less on the insulting attitude of Israeli officials or the personal dislike between the current Israeli leader and the president of the United States. It is, ultimately, all about policy priorities, not personalities.

Operation ClusterFuck

Chas Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and thirty-year veteran of the United States’ foreign service delivered a speech today that

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman

everyone in the United States should be paying attention to. It is a searing indictment of American policy in the Middle East from a man who was in the middle of it for decades.

The focus of Chas’ talk is the current battle being waged against Da’ish, or the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, whatever the name you want to use may be. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve seen my view in this, but I’ll re-state it briefly.

I believe the entire approach we’ve taken to IS is completely off-course. It is, in fact, a repeat of previous errors. IS wanted the United States to intervene, just as al-Qaeda wanted the US to react with massive force to 9/11. Any losses IS suffers will be more than made up for by the increasing radicalization of the region caused by US intervention. This reality is doubled because the US will only bomb, which will greatly increase damage to civilian lives and infrastructure. And from that soil will grow many more IS recruits, eager to battle their foes in the region and in the West.

Chas lays all of this out very neatly in his speech. But there is an underlying point which, though Chas did make it explicit in his speech, he doesn’t spend a great deal of time on, as he decided to focus on current events. Let me give you my own take on it, so that you can be even more tempted to read and, more importantly, share widely, Chas’ speech.  Continue reading

The Palestinian Refugee Issue is Not Going to Resolve Itself

When I started getting serious about action on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the associated US foreign policy, I found it imperative to Talbieh Palestinian Refugee Camp in Jordanconvince people that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail. There were the obvious critiques of the accords: the lack of any sort of human rights framework, the absence of consequences for failing to abide by conditions or fulfill agreed upon commitments, and the formal recognition of Israel without any mention whatsoever of a potential Palestinian state. But I saw an even bigger obstacle.

Conventional wisdom has it that Jerusalem is the most difficult stumbling block. But I have always maintained that it is the Palestinian refugees that were the most serious obstacle to a negotiated solution.

When various compromises were discussed about Jerusalem, they were always regarded as controversial and difficult to sell. Yet in my experience, people on both sides saw pretty clearly how a compromise could be crafted. Israel was willing, at least in the past, to permit the Islamic Waqf to continue administering the Temple Mount while official sovereignty would belong to both sides–the Old City would be divided and the border of East and West Jerusalem would be part of the agreement on borders more broadly. No one thought this would be easy, of course, but Israel appeared willing to compromise on this issue, in part because it understood that this was not just a Palestinian issue, but one that the entire Muslim population of the world had a stake in. The parameters of an agreement were visible.

When the matter of the Palestinian refugees came up on the other hand, there was a visible disconnect between the sentiments among the Palestinians, both in and outside the Occupied Territories, and the diplomatic framework that was being discussed. Many observers believed that the path forward on the refugees was clearer than that for Jerusalem, even though this was an area that Israel, no matter who was in the prime minister’s office, was going to be a lot less flexible on.

They believed that to be the case because, from available evidence, it seems that Yasser Arafat was assuring the Israelis and Americans that he was prepared to essentially sacrifice the refugees’ right of return settling for some token number returning to Israel while the rest would get some sort of compensation package and some limited option of returning to the presumed Palestinian state. This was, of course, not what he was telling the Palestinian people, to whom he continually pledged that he would not compromise on the right of return.

While many hold Arafat responsible for the disconnect between diplomacy and reality, obviously not without some justification, the real problem was the disinterest that Israeli and US diplomats routinely showed toward the Palestinian people. One need go no further than to read books by key figures such as Dennis Ross or Aaron David Miller. While the complexities of Israeli politics were always dealt with in careful detail, the Palestinian side was ignored to such an extent that virtually everything you see in the writings of these and other diplomats of the day about Palestinian opinion was obtained simply by asking the Palestinian leaders. Can anyone imagine Israel being approached that way?

The Palestine Liberation Organization leadership (PLO) under Arafat was neither prepared to hold the difficult national dialogue about possible compromise on the refugee issue nor to admit to their Israeli and US interlocutors that the right of return was as core a national Palestinian value as the land itself and that public sentiment strongly opposed the sort of compromise that Israel had, not without reason, come to expect.

This held true after Arafat’s death and Mahmoud Abbas’ assumption of the leadership. In truth, even Hamas has not specifically spoken about the refugees very often, although that is largely because its agenda, unlike the PLO after the mid-1970s, remained focused on liberating all of Palestine, which would mean the refugees could simply return. The result is that the national conversation on this issue never occurred, and all through the Oslo talks, even if one believed they had any chance of going anywhere, the refugee issue hung over the table like a pendulum with a razor-sharp blade, coming nearer to splitting the table with every passing swing.

The biggest danger was that, in the case of a miracle where Israel and the Palestinians were able to agree on a lasting peace deal, the refugee issue would shatter it. In several incidents, most recently with the revelations contained in the “Palestine Papers,” confirmation of the framework around the refugees caused great concern among Palestinians.

It is not always easy for others, including myself, to fully grasp the importance of the refugee issue to Palestinians. Nor is it fully understood by others how deeply Israeli Jews fear this issue. For the Palestinians, refugees are a deeply personal as well as a national issue. After all, the accepted estimate of the number of Palestinian refugees is approximately five million, and the total global population of Palestinians is eleven million. So, pretty much every Palestinian has refugee relatives, many of them living outside the Palestinian Territories. Families, in other words, have been sundered for 66 years.

Palestine-Refugee-KeyThen there is the reality, often vastly underestimated, of how central the refugees are to Palestinian nationalism. They are as core a value as the land, Jerusalem, anything. The key to the lost home in Palestine is the overriding symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and it is the symbol of the refugee.

This is not to say that some practical and negotiated agreement cannot be reached on the issue. But thus far, that hasn’t been even remotely attempted. Instead, Israel has insisted that the right of return be forfeited and their Western allies have concurred, as have, in a more circumspect fashion, many of the regional Arab leaders, Lebanon being the main exception. That makes the issue even more sensitive, if that is possible, because for most Palestinians, the framework in which the refugees have been discussed is a surrender, and one that they do not believe the PLO leadership has the authority to make (many Palestinians argue that the right of return is an individual as well as a collective right and as such cannot be negotiated away in a collective bargaining framework. There is considerable basis for this argument).

What is needed is a national conversation, and that will take time. The debates need to happen in communities, in coffee shops and in mosques as well as on the internet and in the halls of the Palestinian Authority. Over time, a general consensus of what is and is not going to be tolerable for the majority of Palestinians, including the refugees themselves, will emerge. From there, realistic negotiations on the issue can manifest.

This needs to happen because it is the only way to turn the refugee problem from a poison pill that would almost certainly torpedo any agreement into part of the solution. The Israeli public also needs to know what the Palestinians want from the right of return.

There is no subject that the Israeli Jewish public is more united and rejectionist on than the refugee issue. Outside of the radical anti-Zionist left–a small portion of the population–you will be hard pressed to find an Israeli Jew who would agree to any significant return of refugees. You’ll find it equally difficult to find an Israeli who would acknowledge any right of return. The refugees, you see, touch on the most intimate identity crisis for Israeli Jews: the fact that Israel could have only come into existence by forcing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians out.

This “original sin” is not something that Israelis can simply live with as we in the United States can live with the legacy of slavery and the genocide of the native population here. In the US, we have left too few natives to be worried about any claims to the land, and they are far too disempowered. Slavery is considered a historical shame, but the ongoing issues of racism are largely seen by whites as the legacy of Jim Crow laws (read: apartheid) rather than of slavery. These horrific crimes are regarded by most of the white US as history, however sordid.

Israeli Jews cannot do that. No doubt, the leaders of the Zionist movement in the 1940s believed that, by now, the Palestinians would have resettled in various Arab countries and that Israel could make peace with that past in a similar way to the United States. But that view did not take into account the fact that Palestinians were going to be in refugee camps nearby, would refuse to assimilate (or be barred from it) into the countries they fled to, and would maintain a sense of national identity that kept them–much like Jews throughout the centuries–as strangers in strange lands.

The reality of the Palestinian exodus from Palestine from 1947-49 was largely known in Israel all along. In the late 1980s, Israel’s “New Historians” produced controversial, but generally accurate tomes documenting that the Palestinians did not leave of their own volition or in response to broadcasts from Arab leaders telling them to do so. They either fled or were very frequently driven from their homes.

Many Israelis are aware of all this. But, as with most nations, the people of Israel want desperately to believe in the righteousness of their country’s creation. Moreover, there is enormous fear of what the world would think if this history became more commonly known, especially in the United States and other friendly Western countries where, among supporters of Israel, this history is largely unknown or papered over with some rather incredible myths (e.g., the Palestinians of 1948–all 800,000 and more of them–just picked up and left). Even acknowledging the Palestinian right of return threatens this, creating a situation where history, even when known, produces a visceral discomfort and threatens the Jewish self-image of a just and decent people trying to finally create a home for ourselves.

By itself, that could be overcome. But for Israelis, that sensitivity is piled on top of a fear of Palestinian return that borders on hysteria. And this fear is greatly exacerbated by the lack of clarity about Palestinians’ ambitions regarding the right of return. Israeli Jews treasure, more than anything else, having a homeland where they are the majority. Having such a homeland is also very important to many Jews living in the diaspora. That importance is every bit as strong as worldwide Muslim concern over the fate of Jerusalem.

Israelis are desperately afraid that if they cease blocking the right of return, even to the extent of merely acknowledging the existence of such a right, there would be a massive influx of Palestinian refugees into Israel, which would ultimately make Jews a distinct minority. True, many argue, Jews are doing pretty well as a minority in many countries; but many countries in the world are completely bereft of any Jewish population, especially in the Arab world. And, while they won’t name it, Jews also have the same visceral fear of Palestinians that white South Africans, whites in the US and in other places have had of those they oppressed: the fear that anger over those years of oppression will result in yet another incident of Jewish persecution.

It’s easy for me to say that the fear is born only out of prejudice and misplaced feelings, that the truly hateful among the Palestinians, like the truly hateful among the Jewish Israelis can be dealt with much more efficiently when Palestinian grievances, so long left to boil, are finally addressed. But for most Israelis and Jews in many other places, they look at the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda, places where the cycle of oppression kept spinning with death greasing the wheel. Given Jewish history, it’s an understandable fear.

But it’s also a fear that must be dealt with, not pandered to. When Arafat convinced Israelis that the PLO had backed off liberating all of Palestine and would settle for the lands Israel conquered in 1967, it made a big difference in Israeli perceptions of Palestinians. Even in the toxic atmosphere of 2014, such clarity from the Palestinians on refugees would have a similar effect. This would be true even if the Palestinians’ stance turns out to be (as I believe it would if the popular will was reflected) that each and every refugee should be offered the options of return, return to a Palestinian state (if a two-state solution is ever reached) or compensation, and it is up to each to choose for her or himself. At least Israel would know what the bargaining position is.

The International Crisis Group undertook what I consider to be the first serious effort at finally taking the veil off this critical issue by releasing a report entitled, “Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question,” on Oct. 9. It is a serious and pragmatic analysis of what Palestinian leaders and people can do to begin to bring this question out of the shadows and, crucially, to the center of diplomatic efforts. The recommendations include renewing and revitalizing local leadership councils in refugee camps, improving conditions for refugees as well as supporting refugees in building lives wherever they are without worrying that they are sacrificing their claims as refugees, and beginning the sort of national dialogue I have been discussing.

Now is the perfect time for such efforts, although Israel and the United States will oppose them. Even Abbas has realized that his old strategy has failed and he needs a new one. Refugees, long marginalized, have an opportunity to raise their voice and have it impact Palestinian negotiators in the future. And, despite the fact that Israelis would be vexed by such a development, it is an absolute necessity if there is ever to be a resolution to this conflict, be it one state, two state or whatever else.

This strategy will be uncomfortable for the Palestinian Authority. But it must materialize for the region to move towards substantive rather than illusionary visions of peace. We must hope that good sense can overcome fear.

At UN, Bibi Completes Trifecta of Hopelessness

After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stirred up some controversy by terming Israel’s recent bombardment of Gaza a “war of genocide” Netanyahu_speechat the UN General Assembly last week, there was some speculation that the Israeli prime minister would come in breathing fire. But all Benjamin Netanyahu presented in his Monday address was the same old smoke.

Netanyahu was expected to rail against the Palestinian Authority leader, but he merely said he was “refuting” Abbas’ “lies” and instead focused on bringing his two favorite themes together: the Islamic State (IS) and Hamas are the same thing, and Iran is trying to fool the world with a moderate president while trying to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu addressed a largely empty hall, with mostly junior diplomats sitting through his speech, though billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and lawyer Alan Dershowitz, both staunch pro-Israel advocates, were also spotted in the hall. There was occasional applause but it mostly came from the Israeli delegation, a stark contrast to the kind of reception Bibi gets in the halls of Congress. Adelson apparently hosted Netanyahu for lunch following his speech.

Bibi has routinely made a fool of himself on the international stage. But what he says often plays fairly well in Israel, and it is always greeted with fawning adoration on Capitol Hill, though that means little—the response would be the same if he read from a phone book. Two years ago his Iranian cartoon bomb visual aid was ridiculed. This time he presented a blurry, unconvincing photo of children playing near what he claimed to be a rocket launcher. Few were impressed.

In fact, Bibi’s speech reeked of a desperation that has been a long time coming. True, the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program are struggling along right now, but not for the reasons he had hoped for. Both sides are stuck on the details of Iran’s future capacity for nuclear enrichment, but both sides are also still committed to finding a resolution. That may or may not happen, but even if talks fail, that desire will remain and no one, absolutely no one, is interested in Bibi’s ludicrous and illegitimate standard of preventing Iran from maintaining any enrichment program at all.

On Gaza, Bibi knows full well that even the Obama administration was displeased by the obviously illegal Israeli actions in the strip this summer. Yes, the US can probably still be counted on to frustrate any UN moves for consequences directed at Israel, but that American view remains problematic as it will only fan the flames of much greater outrage in Europe. Netanyahu would be well-advised to stop talking about Gaza, but instead he peddles the ridiculous line that “Hamas is ISIS.” Again, no one is buying.

Between ham-handed references to retiring New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and demonstrating his lack of geographic knowledge by claiming that Tel Aviv is as close to the Green Line (the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank) as the UN building is to Times Square (Tel Aviv is actually about five times as far from the Green Line), Netanyahu gave the impression of a man with nothing new to say. And, indeed, there was nothing new.

Perhaps somewhat notable in its absence was any mention of a two-state solution. Netanyahu used his well-worn line about his willingness to make “historic compromises” but said it in the context of declaring his opposition, rather than his support for peace. Here’s the full quote:

I’m ready to make a historic compromise, not because Israel occupies a foreign land. The people of Israel are not occupiers in the land of Israel. History, archaeology and common sense all make clear that we have had a singular attachment to this land for over 3,000 years. I want peace because I want to create a better future for my people, but it must be a genuine peace–one that is anchored in mutual recognition and enduring security arrangements–rock solid security arrangements on the ground, because you see, Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza created two militant Islamic enclaves on our borders for which tens of thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel, and these sobering experiences heightens Israel’s security concerns regarding potential territorial concessions in the future.

So, the lands is ours and maybe someday we’ll give the Palestinians a tiny bit if all of our conditions are met. That, in the Netanyahu dictionary, is “historical compromise.”

But Bibi did present his ideas of peace. Well, not exactly his idea. He stole the idea from his foreign minister, the far-right leader of the proto-fascist party, Yisrael Beiteinu, Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman has proposed, on several occasions, that Israel seek peace with the so-called “moderate Arab states” and then pursue an agreement with the Palestinians. It is, of course, a non-starter, as absurd as closing one’s eyes and believing the conflict will simply go away. But this is what passes for diplomacy in Bibi’s speech to the United Nations.

As with Abbas, Bibi was primarily speaking to his audience at home, both in Israel and in the United States. Abbas, however, won points at home, perhaps enough to compensate for the distaste his use of the term “genocide” evoked elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine that Netanyahu’s speech did much for anyone in Israel. It was a mere recycling of what have become clichés, and, while he did display his characteristic obstinacy, Bibi didn’t come across even as forceful as he has in other major speeches.

One point Netanyahu made has so far escaped notice, but in light of recent events bears scrutiny. He said that “…as prime minister of Israel, I’m entrusted with the awesome responsibility of ensuring the future of the Jewish people and the future of the Jewish state.”

Now, as protests became angrier over the summer, the inevitable, though generally isolated, incidents of anti-Semitism were often, and quite intentionally blended in analyses by defenders of Israel’s massive military campaign. The refrain, heard over and over, was that Jews should not be held accountable for Israel’s actions.

I agree completely. But the flip side of that is that Israel does not represent world Jewry. If a Jew in the US or France or Australia or Iran wants Israel to represent her, she should accept Israeli citizenship and move there. Netanyahu is quite correct that part of the job description of prime minister of any country is the security and well-being of that country’s citizens. But he is no more entrusted with my future, or the future of any other non-Israeli Jew, no matter how strong their Zionism may be, than David Cameron is responsible for Brits who have become citizens of other countries, or Angela Merkel is for German-Americans. They are all responsible for their citizens.

Indeed, the point is even stronger with Israel, which offers automatic citizenship to any Jew who emigrates there. Being of Jewish descent is sufficient to trigger that offer, something no other nation-state offers to descendants of its nation who are citizens of other states.

People can’t have it both ways. If they want to consider themselves Israelis and therefore have Netanyahu take responsibility for their well-being, then they are also responsible as any Israeli citizen is for their country’s actions. Most of us in the global, non-Israeli Jewish community do not want that responsibility, and so we are represented by the governments of our countries. Netanyahu should therefore worry about Israelis—and he’d do well to pay attention to ALL of his citizens and not just the Jewish ones—rather than trying to usurp responsibility for the Jews who didn’t elect him.

Obama met with Netanyahu two days after his UN address. At virtually the same time, the Israeli government was giving final approval to a new settlement in East Jerusalem that is widely understood to be the final nail in the coffin of the long-dead peace process. Between Obama’s barely a mention of Israel-Palestine, Abbas’ much more confrontational tone, and Netanyahu’s mantras, there was little hope left for the near future. If ever there was a time for powerful international intervention it is now. But with Abbas having announced a proposed Security Council resolution calling for Israel to end its occupation in 2016, and the United States having already signaled it would veto any such resolution, that doesn’t seem likely.