In an interview with Charles Gati in Politico Magazine, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, proves once again that he is a man of profound religious faith. He worships at the Church of Linkage, which holds that Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank is the primary cause of Middle East instability and a principal cause – if not the main cause – of the U.S.’s troubles in the Muslim world.
Before I go on, the usual caveats: The settlement project – especially those settlements far from Jerusalem that have been planted in the middle of thickly populated Palestinian areas – is a strategic and moral disaster for Israel. The settlements should be dismantled. They threaten Israel’s standing in the world; they threaten to undermine the very nature and purpose of Israel. And so on. I’ve written before about the threat that settlements pose, at great length.
But there is danger in thinking that the removal of these settlements would bring about a liberal, enlightened Middle East. The danger is analytical: If you don’t understand what ails the Middle East, how can you possibly fix it? It is also dangerous to scapegoat Israel for problems it didn’t cause, in the same way that it has historically been quite dangerous to blame the Jewish people for problems they didn’t cause. Brzezinski’s native Poland provides lessons in this regard.
Brzezinski has had hard feelings toward Israel for years, and he has been consistent in suggesting that American Jews possess too much political power. In Politico, he asserts in drive-by fashion – which is to say without offering proof to buttress his contention – that “the Jewish community is the most active political community in American society.”
Here is what Brzezinski told Politico about President Barack Obama’s failure to force Israel to permanently freeze settlements: “At a critical juncture he failed to show he had steel in his back, he failed to follow through. He spoke on the record and very sensibly about the settlements, but when a confrontation developed between him and [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, Obama caved in. That has contributed significantly to the general mess we now have in the Middle East.”
Brzezinski is referring to one of Obama’s earliest confrontations with Netanyahu. Early in his first term, the president demanded that Israel stop building in the settlements as a confidence-building measure in advance of peace negotiations. Israel gave in partially, but only partially, and when settlement building continued, Obama offered rhetoric but did nothing concrete to shape Israel’s behavior.
Obama’s mistake was to make a public demand of an ally (and a client) and then have no Plan B ready when that ally refused to listen. Netanyahu’s unwillingness to reverse himself on settlements – an unwillingness born of careerism as much as anything else (his governing coalition includes a disproportionate number of settlers and their sympathizers) – has hurt Israel, but has it actually, as Brzezinski alleges, “contributed significantly to the general …read more