Congress, with repeated standing ovations, showed its love for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the valentine may have unintended consequences by stirring dangerous passions of Likud's rejectionist wing, which is now weighing the risks of transforming Israel into an overtly apartheid state.
These hardliners might well interpret the congressional obsequiousness as signaling that Israel still has a free hand to do whatever it wants, even if that means defying President Barack Obama's mild pressure for movement toward peace with the Palestinians.
As Democrats and Republicans competed to see who could jump to their feet the fastest and most often, Netanyahu mixed a rhetorical commitment to peace with preconditions that he knows are unacceptable to the Palestinians, including his insistence that they not only recognize Israel's right to exist but hail it as a Jewish state.
Palestinian negotiators have balked at accepting Israel's Jewish identity because about 20 percent of Israel's population is Arab. They also have said it is up to Israel to define itself as it wishes, not the Palestinians or any other outside group. But Netanyahu has made this declaration a prerequisite for peace talks.
In addition, this notion of a religious identity applying to any government runs counter to a core American principle, that governments should not show favoritism toward one religion over another and that all people are created equal.
So, there was something craven, arguably un-American, about the U.S. Congress cheering a foreign leader who insists on a religious state and even requires its acceptance by a group of people living under his military domination.
Republican commentator Pat Buchanan once got into a lot of trouble for saying that "Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory." But Congress on Tuesday behaved as if it was determined to vindicate Buchanan's point.
Annexing the West Bank
Netanyahu also got cheers when he alluded to the religious nationalism that cites Biblical authority for Israel's right to possess the West Bank where millions of Palestinians now live. Calling the area by its Biblical names, Netanyahu declared, "in Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers."
Though Netanyahu insisted that he was prepared to make painful concessions for peace, including surrendering some of this "ancestral Jewish homeland," his belligerent tone suggested that he was moving more down the route of annexation that Likud's deputy speaker Danny Danon outlined last week in a New York Times op-ed.
Danon warned that if the Palestinians go ahead as planned and seek United Nations recognition for their own state on the West Bank, Israel should annex the territory. "We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities [i.e. the settlements] and uninhabited lands of the West Bank," Danon wrote.
As for Palestinian towns, they would become mini-Gazas under Danon's plan, cut off from the world and isolated as enclaves with no legal status.
"Moreover, we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue to live in their own -- unannexed -- towns," Danon wrote.
By excluding these Palestinian ghettos, Jews would still maintain a majority in this Greater Israel under Danon's plan. "These Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population," he wrote.
In other words, the Israeli Right appears headed toward a de facto apartheid, if not a form of ethnic cleansing by willfully making life so crushing for the Palestinians that they have no choice but to leave.
Congress has made this option more likely, with its enthusiastic applause for Netanyahu and with its bipartisan criticism of President Obama for urging peace talks that use the 1967 borders as a starting point.
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