The recent triumphal U.S. tour of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has generated a flood of hopeful commentary about U.S.-Israel relations. We were reminded once again of the "unbreakable bond
," and the close security cooperation. Obama sobers up"
gushed Israel Harel in Haaretz. Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post
, was a bit more cautious.
Still, Leibler wrote:
...Obama administration's belated sanctions against Iran heightened its concern about the nuclear threat which poses the greatest danger facing Israel...Obama went beyond any previous US leader in providing public endorsement for Israel's nuclear policy. He explicitly told Netanyahu that "the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests" and until such time as a comprehensive regional peace settlement had been achieved, would resist pressures from those seeking to force Israel to abandon its nuclear capabilities.
... the prime minister publicly conceded nothing beyond reiterating his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians. Nor was there evidence of pressure on him to extend the settlement freeze after September.
It is quite possible that..Obama realized that his strategy was counterproductive. He may have decided to utilize carrots rather than sticks and cooperation as an ally rather than an adversary.
But Leibler also understood that:
One need only observe the precedents of Obama's zigzagging in relation to Israel during the course of the presidential elections to appreciate how fickle (or pragmatic) he can be to garner votes...[W]e must be prepared for the possibility that Obama could resume his previous posture after the congressional elections and revert to beating up on Israel...
That is closer to the mark. The Iran sanctions resolution was achieved in part by softening the sanctions to the point where they are relatively meaningless. At the same time, the Russians became alarmed by the specter of Turkey snuggling up to Iran, and perhaps began to think that the old Ottoman - Russian rivalry might be revived and backed by nuclear weapons.
The statement that "[T]he United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests" is not beyond what any other President ever said. In 2005, Bush's Press Secretary Stephen Hadley told the AIPAC policy summit:
As you know, President Bush is a dedicated friend of Israel. He has pledged to Prime Minister Sharon that he will never ask Israel to take risks with its security to suit U.S. purposes or to suit U.S. politics - and he never will.
The Bush administration said it, and probably the Clinton administration and others. It is evidently part of the more or less meaningless sacred rite of the "special relationship." The promise has been made and broken more than once. The United States under Bush forced Israel to allow Hamas to participate in Palestinian elections for example. The Bush administration also pressured Israel not to react to the "Second Intifadah" for over a year and a half. Both policies were obviously harmful to Israel's security interests.
The tendency of Israelis to blame U.S. policy on Obama is in part self-delusion. Obama's approach to U.S.-Israel relations may be heavy-handed, amateurish, unpredictable and inconsistent. But the underlying principles are not those of Obama or this administration. The U.S. never recognized Israeli rights in East Jerusalem. They don't recognize any part of Jerusalem as part of Israel. The United States never supported the building of any settlements in the West Bank. Policies that have been in place at least since 1975 did not change overnight and will not change quickly. Likewise, George Mitchell was appointed by President Clinton to "investigate" the violence that began in 2000 and he reported to President Bush, in the Mitchell Report. that Israeli settlement construction was the main problem. He didn't change his opinion. His appointment as mediator by Obama demonstrates continuity in unchanging policy and viewpoints, not a departure from policy. Other administrations may have spoken more softly, but they carried the same size stick.
Despite all the feel-good verbiage, it is probable that Israel is still not getting the bunker-buster bombs it requested or the refueling aircraft it had requested for a certain well known purpose. Nothing substantive was said directly about the settlement construction freeze. That is not necessarily a good sign for those who want the settlement freeze to end. The usual lip service was paid to the problem of Palestinian incitement. However, no concrete steps to combat it were announced. We can be sure that nothing will be done about it, even though much of that incitement is financed by the massive aid to the Palestinians provided by the United States.
Israel Harel rightly points out the political benefits of this reconciliation for Benjamin Netanyahu: The Kadima party can no longer make a case that Netanyahu's policies are harming relations with the United States. Two politicians needed each other for internal political purposes. Both Obama and Netanyahu were anxious to generate "good vibes" and paper over real differences.
Israel Harel, however, is already busy building settlement empires in his imagination. He needs to calm down a bit. Nothing was said about extending the settlement freeze. Obviously, however, the U.S. "expects" that there will be progress in the negotiations and that this will lead to an extension of the settlement freeze.
U.S.A. administration policy has not changed. The ink was not dry on the all-smiles press releases when the State Department began protesting house demolitions in Jerusalem. An unnamed U.S. official also condemned the announced plans to build 32 housing units in Hizma in East Jerusalem, though there has as yet been no "on the record" statement.
Israeli leaders must take into account that U.S. policy has not changed. There will almost certainly be a renewal of the confrontation over the settlements, if not in September then in December or January, after the elections. Israel will be held culpable if the negotiations fail. The problem will not go away if it is denied or evaded. A disaster is in the making. Both U.S. and Israeli leadership should be thinking very hard about how to confront the issue, rather than how to manufacture confrontations with each other.
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Replies: 2 Comments
this is a very important issue, thanks for putting an accent on it.
RESEARCH PAPER, Sunday, July 25th
There will be a US-Israeli confrontation down the road because of Palestinian intransigence. There is no sign the PA wants direct talks with Israel or a peace deal with the Jewish State on terms other than its complete capitulation to its demands.
Neither are going to happen. And I doubt the Obama Administration truly understands why the proximity talks have been destined to fail from the very minute they began.
NormanF, Sunday, July 18th
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