The final diplomatic act of the Obama administration toward Israel is a telling encapsulation of the entire rocky relationship.
Israel has profited tremendously during the Obama years — $24 billion in military subsidies so far, capped off by a record-breaking $38 billion more to be delivered over the next 10 years — and has enjoyed almost unquestioned use of America's powerful U.N. Security Council veto.
However, occasionally President Obama has voiced frustration about Israeli intransigence, most often over the continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank (inflamed, no doubt, by endless highly personal insults from the Israeli prime minister to Obama himself).
Last week, the U.S. declined to veto a U.N. resolution condemning the settlements. Absent an American veto, the resolution sailed through 14-0.
Israeli officials reacted with furious outrage. On Saturday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fumed about this "shameful ambush by the Obama administration," and quickly summoned the U.S. ambassador to Israel for a dressing down. It's a preposterous, ginned-up overreaction — but it should not distract from the realization that this is a vision of what life will be like for Israel in its self-chosen exile when it inevitably loses its American protection.
Make no mistake: That really is inevitable. On its current track, Israel will one day be utterly alone before the crushing condemnation of nearly the entire world. And it has only itself to blame.
Of course, President-elect Donald Trump is probably not going to remove American protection from Israel. On the contrary, there is every sign he will back Netanyahu to the hilt. He abased himself before AIPAC during the campaign — reading a rare speech from the teleprompter instead of his usual manic, scattershot improvisation. Most tellingly, he selected as U.S. ambassador to Israel a right-wing fanatic who disdains the two-state solution and says Jewish supporters of the center-left think tank J Street are worse than the Jewish kapos who guarded concentration camps for the Nazis.
The Israeli hard right will get whatever it wants out of a Trump administration.
But that is precisely why Trump is a clear and present danger to Israel. Israel has become an abusive drunk of a nation that enforces an apartheid regime over the Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It controls both places absolutely and barely anyone — including Netanyahu himself — even bothers to pretend that permanent control of Palestinian lands, and permanent disenfranchisement of the human beings who live there, is Israeli policy. The West Bank is shot through with ever-growing Israeli settlements, its citizens are subjected to endless harassment from occupying Israeli troops, and its government is totally in thrall to Israel. Gaza is basically an open-air prison camp, its citizens trapped in grueling poverty, its economy and infrastructure shattered by routine Israeli bombardment.
When presented with these facts, pro-Israel partisans invariably talk about Palestinian terrorism. And it is undeniably true that many Israeli civilians have been killed or wounded by bombs, rockets, and knives. This is tragic and obviously wrong; it is always wrong to hurt innocent people if it can possibly be avoided. But as Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall argues, violence is simply what happens when one group of people is occupied and oppressed by another for decades. Blowback is a fact of life in a tyranny; it happened in Rhodesia and it happened in apartheid South Africa. It is unrealistic to pretend that shouting about supposed unfairness might make it otherwise — in addition to a double standard, given the far greater quantity of horrendous violence visited on Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military.
As the 14-0 Security Council vote shows, Israel's actions toward the Palestinian people are despised almost everywhere save the United States. For now, cloaked in America's protection, that leaves Israel mostly unharmed. But only for now.
The U.S. will be less and less relatively powerful in the future, as China and India continue to grow and assert themselves. In a decade or two, Israel might be economically ring-fenced even over U.S. objections. And even if that weren't going to happen, Israel has worked assiduously to undermine its own long-term support within the U.S.
With rare and mostly symbolic exceptions, President Obama has bent over backward to appease Netanyahu and protect Israel from international condemnation. For that he has received sneering contempt from the Israeli political establishment, constant meddling in U.S. domestic politics to undermine his initiatives and elect his political opponents, strong disapproval from the Israeli public — and, of course, an outstretched hand demanding ever-greater military subsidies.
Continued access to America's Security Council veto depends above all on bipartisan support for Israel. But Israel's behavior has polarized partisan opinion. Democrats, especially younger and more liberal ones, are far less sympathetic toward Israel than Republicans are. As the fact of Israeli apartheid becomes ever more obvious, and the Israeli right continues to work hand-in-glove with conservative Republicans, that trend will only continue.
It's only a matter of time before the Democrats who come to national power are irritated enough at Israel's petulant self-indulgence that they will refuse free use of the Security Council veto. And on that day, Israel will stand naked and friendless before a firestorm of international condemnation and sanctions.
I would hope that at that point they will realize the error of their ways. But I wouldn't bet on it either.