What's the right thing to do when a long-time friend becomes more trouble than you can tolerate?
What do you do when that friend returns your friendship only so long as you support everything he does, even the things you've repeatedly asked him not to do?
And, what's the right thing to do with a friend, like the one described, whose behavior and your support of it, poisons your relations with scores of other friends and potential friends?
This is the very question President Barack Obama is struggling with this month. And, if he gets it right, he will be the first post-war president ever to do so.
Repeatedly we, and almost every other country on earth, have asked, even pleaded, with Israel to stop building settlements on Palestinian land and to stop expanding those already built.
And just as repeatedly one Israeli government after another have thumbed their nose at those pleadings.
Yet this naked thievery continues apace. Yes, I said thievery – a strong word indeed, and one that is certain to outrage my Jewish and Israeli friends. But, just as Americans had to accept the hard truth that "enhance interrogation techniques" really meant toture, I can no longer pretend that what Isreal calls "settlements" are anything but thievery.
Believe me, I understand all the arguments Israelis use to justify the unjustifiable; the holocaust, never again, hostile neighbors, terrorism, etc. But the strategic situation has changed remarkably since Israel's formative years. Israel is a nuclear-armed nation with the strongest and most efficient military in the region – as it has demonstrated to its hostile neighbor's chagrin more than once.
Should Israel's survival ever be really threatened she could wipe that threat away – once and for all – with the push of a button. Even Israel's most ardent foes have no illusions about that. Should they ever genuinely threaten Israel's existence, there'd be a holocaust, and this time it would not be the Jews on the receiving end.
As the years have passed it's become harder and harder to accept Israel's stated justifications for it's expansionist policies as anything other than cynical obfuscations. By expanding West Bank settlements and creating new ones Israel has been, piece by piece, preemptively dismembering any would-be Palestinian state.
And, by expanding these settlements Israel is also hoping they can push into the next century a loudly ticking demographic time bomb. Palestinian birth rates far outstrip the much slower Jewish population growth. Even within Israel's original borders, Israeli Arab voters will, at some point down the road, outnumber Jewish voters. What then? Disenfranchise any citizen with Israel who is not Jewish? Deport all non Jews? Create an system of apartheid for the only true democracy in the Middle East?
None of those solutions are realistic or acceptable in modern times. So, by expanding settlements and establishing new ones, Israel hopes Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe and elsewhere can, at least for the a while, hold off the day when Israeli Arabs become Israel's new voting majority.
Look, here's the bottom line: In the weeks ahead President Obama needs to make it perfectly clear that America's friendship with Israel is about to be rebalanced. We will still support Israel, but no longer on long-standing,“Israel, right or wrong,” status quo.
Like America, Israel faces very real dangers from very real foes. And both nations will continue facing those dangers for the foreseeable future. But that fact is not a greenlight to break the law or commit human rights offenses under cover of national security. We just got done learning that hard lesson here in America and nows the time to communicate it to our friends in the Middle East, including Isreal.
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