A senior journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald tells me that the relatively new editor is keen to show to the Zionist lobby that he can’t be intimidated. The last months have been an interesting ride. Hardly revolutionary but a noticeable shift. First an editorial in March telling Jews to accept wider views on the Middle East. Then a stinging op-ed by Jeff Halper that slammed the Zionist establishment for having its head up its own arse. And today an editorial, while mild and full of inaccuracies, certainly increases the pressure on the Israeli government and the locals Jews who offer only uncritical support. It’s titled, “States of denial in Israel”:
Israelis are unlikely to be swayed by the words of Pope Benedict XVI, uttered in Bethlehem in the shadow of the security wall erected between them and the Palestinians, in support of the two-state solution to the dispute the wall symbolises. That’s partly due to the pontiff’s own clumsiness towards a central issue to Israelis and Jews everywhere – the Holocaust and those who question its reality – shown in his reinstatement of a Holocaust-denying bishop earlier this year, and a vague speech this week at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial to Nazi Germany’s 6 million Jewish victims that contained no criticism of Holocaust denial.
But it’s also due to a denial by Israel’s new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his voters. The Pope’s message has already been dismissed as slanted, even though Benedict also urged young Palestinians to “resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism”. The Israeli right doesn’t want to hear about an independent Palestinian state.
However the same message is about to be put a lot more forcefully to Mr Netanyahu. If, as Stalin once quipped, the Pope has no armies, the US President, Barack Obama, whom the Israeli leader meets in Washington on Monday, has both the finance and weaponry Israel depends upon. Mr Netanyahu has backed away from the two-state plan, and instead now talks about self-governing enclaves linked to Israel’s economy, of sidelining the Palestinians to make deals with Arab neighbours. He thinks shekels will overcome nationalism and jihad. Critics say this has about as much hope of success as the “Bantustans” in apartheid-era South Africa, to which they liken it.
To get Israeli on track in a new peace round, Mr Obama will want plans to wind back Jewish settlements in the West Bank and at least keep the question of East Jerusalem’s status open – which may conflict with Mr Netanyahu’s reported promise to a far-right coalition partner to allow further Jewish settlement around East Jerusalem.
The steadily-approaching threat of Iranian nuclear weapons will be advanced by Mr Netanyahu as a reason he cannot make territorial concessions that will be exploited by Iran’s proxies in Hamas or Hezbollah, and by Mr Obama as the reason he needs Israeli concessions, to win a nuclear freeze by Tehran. The Americans have cracked the economic aid whip twice before on Israel – by Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 and George Bush snr in 1991 – and may have it once again lying on the White House table.