US needs pro-American lobby in Israel
It would require more than one article to document the litany of diplomatic disasters that have plagued the US-Israeli relationship of late, and especially since Barack Obama entered the White House.
Perhaps one of the more memorable setbacks occurred during the November 2011 G20 meeting where Obama and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy were overheard expressing less-than-flattering remarks about Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"Netanyahu, I can't stand him. He's a liar," Sarkozy reportedly told Obama, to which Obama responded: "You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day."
In March 2010, while Vice President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem touting the US-Israeli relationship, the Israeli Interior Ministry took the opportunity to announce the construction of 1,600 new homes in contested East Jerusalem, a poorly timed decision that came just after the Palestinians agreed to restart peace talks after a 14-month lapse.
“The substance and timing of the announcement, particularly with the launching of proximity talks, is precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now,” Biden told his host.
The recent rash of such incidences could signal more irreparable damage down the road.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to carry out its domestic initiatives - illegal settlement construction on contested territory is the most glaring example - without giving much thought to what long-term repercussions those actions could have on its relationship with Washington.
Here is how the prestigious US political journal, Foreign Affairs, described the strained bilateral relationship: “Over the last 30 years these relations have evolved to the point where Israel is more dependent on the United States than ever, and yet feels itself free to take hard-line positions at variance with American views without fear of anything worse than verbal admonition from Washington,” wrote the American diplomat George W. Ball. “The result is to encourage Israeli positions and actions that cannot be in the long-term interest of Israel itself, and to deprive the United States in practice of freedom of diplomatic action on issues that deeply affect its national interest.”
The incredible thing about that accurate summary of the US-Israeli relationship is that it was penned back in 1979, by yet another American in a long list of diplomats who never lived to see through a Middle East peace plan between Israel and Palestine. Some say that failure, which has existed since the Six-Day War in 1967 (although Palestinians would argue the problem goes back to 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel) and Israel’s annexation of disputed territory, is the root of all problems in the Middle East.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry took that controversial argument to the next level, suggesting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to the rapid expansion of the Islamic State, the ultra-violent Sunni group that aims to establish a region-wide caliphate.
“As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the ISIL [Islamic State] coalition, the truth is we – there wasn’t a leader I met within the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to,” Kerry said on Thursday at a reception for the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha in Washington.
Needless to say, Kerry’s comments triggered a fierce reaction among Israeli politicians.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister and leader of the far-Right Jewish Home party came close to accusing Kerry of outright anti-Semitism.
“It turns out that even when a British Muslim decapitates a British Christian, there will always be someone to blame the Jew,” he said. “To say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is strengthening the Islamic State [ISIS] is encouraging global terror.”
The White House was quick to respond in kind to Mr. Bennett.
“Either this specific minister did not actually read what the secretary said or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion,” said Marie Harf, a state department spokesperson, calling the interpretation of Kerry’s remarks “inaccurate.”
Moshe Ya’alon, Israel’s defense minister, attempted to turn down the volume between the two sides when he reminded: “The relationship between the United States and Israel is based on shared interests and values, and disputes of one sort or another must not cast a shadow over it.”
Although Kerry’s attempt to connect the rise of Islamic State to the failed Middle East peace efforts may be a stretch, it nevertheless shows the deep frustration being felt on the American side, where efforts to draw up a road map for peace between Israelis and Palestinians has confounded and ultimately escaped Washington leaders for decades. Patience may be wearing thin, as even Israeli commentators have suggested.
As America continues to relish in its superpower status, soaring high on a towering mountain called hubris, it should come as no surprise that it is getting sorely perplexed with every failed attempt to mediate a Middle East deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Here is the crux of the matter: While Israel enjoys a level of lobbying representation inside of the United States that some would describe as out of proportion to its size, the United States has no such diplomatic apparatus with which to express and promote its concerns.
One solution may be to open a branch of the influential American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Israeli soil as a means for American-centric lobbyists to communicate their ideas directly to Israeli leaders and parliamentarians on issues of pressing importance. Although we should not expect the pro-American lobby to ever interfere in the Israeli political process, such a vehicle would in any case reduce tensions between the two historic allies and possibly even resolve the seemingly intractable Middle East crisis.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.