Sunday, April 25, 2010

US and Israel: The State of Things

David Horowitz has written a veritable masterpiece, summarizing concisely the last year of US-Israeli diplomatic relations. Ignore his quaint and surely fruitless calls for a balance of pressure to rest on Arab shoulders, and one gets to the meat - a radical divergence in perception on both sides of the relationship; a misalignment of priorities stemming not from malice, in my opinion, but geography, ideology and experience.

The Obama presidency is convinced that Israel’s settlement policy lies at the root of much of the Palestinian and wider Arab hostility toward Israel. This despite Israel’s counterproductive demolition of the Gaza settlement enterprise and the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace offers that would require far greater settlement destruction.

The administration argues that Israel must prioritize more effectively – hence the relentless pressure for a building freeze to include east Jerusalem. This is seen by Washington as a tiny price to pay for the possibility of a breakthrough on the Palestinian front, in turn producing a whole new climate of relations with the Arab world and the prospect of a wider, powerful coalition to thwart the most serious threat to Israel, a nuclear Iran.

Such a freeze is of paramount importance to Israel, the administration feels, and it is acutely frustrated that Israel doesn’t share the sentiment. American pressure on Israel in this regard, the administration is convinced, is not only truly, honestly, in Israel’s best interest, but also in America’s best interest – since it would relieve some of the tensions in the Middle East which are producing greater hostility to “Israel’s friend America” wherever its troops are deployed on other Middle Eastern fronts.
The Netanyahu leadership believes that the massive concession of freezing all building in east Jerusalem, including in thoroughly Jewish neighborhoods such as Ramat Shlomo, would be anything but helpful: That Israel would be undermining, by its own actions, its claims to its own capital. That every such concession seems only to produce greater Palestinian intransigence and demands for further capitulations. That Israel, in the view of at least some in the cabinet’s key septet, would be playing into the hands of a Palestinian leadership that has never truly abandoned its phased plan for the destruction of Israel. That any perception of Israeli weakness emboldens Iran. And that the Arab world needs no concessions from Israel to motivate its support for every policy that would prevent the terrifying prospect of a nuclear Iran.
The views the US Administration holds are not limited to the Arabists within its ranks, but clearly include some of the most senior experts in Middle Eastern affairs, if not US-Israeli relations. In the past few days, Senator Schumer, a heavyweight on foreign affairs and within the Democratic establishment, fired a shot across the bow of the White House, indicating that consensus on the Administration's current approach is not to be taken for granted. A struggle is being waged for the President's ear, and it is now spilling out into the public sphere. Jewish and pro-Zionist communities around the country have been holding their breath and keeping their mouths shut for the past year in order to give Obama a chance for a historical breakthrough. Many are disoriented and confused, and are waiting for someone like Schumer to give them permission to have an opinion, so to speak. In that context, Schumer's warning is downright ominous: "we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and if not we’ll have to take it to the next step."

The next step being what? Public opposition to the President's Israel policies hitting the airwaves? An editorial shooting war? Mobilization of mass rallies in areas enjoying strong Zionist support - New York, Chicago, Miami, LA.? This could get downright bloody in an election year when Republicans are resurgent. Meanwhile, neither the Palestinians nor the Arabs, G-d bless 'em, see any particular reason to strengthen Obama's hand by throwing Israel a bone. The only thing better than a strong American president strangling Israel is a weak American president impotent to interfere in Arab affairs. "Freedom Agenda", anyone?

American Presidents tend to not be strict ideologues. Imagining a one term Presidency tends to open minds to new possibilities and policy alternatives. It is not impossible to imagine Obama pivoting sharply, leveraging two years of pressure on Israel into similarly balanced demands of the Arabs. Those arguing to cut Obama off at the knees are missing the point. Israel can have no stronger advocate than a President who went head to head with it, and changed his mind, however he decides to rationalize it. Not impossible. Our goal must never be to destroy people, but to discredit wrongheaded policies, and with a finality that resonates through the American establishment for a generation or more.

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