I worry about the US decision to support a resolution at the UN Nonproliferation conference which specifically calls on Israel to open up its nuclear facilities and join the NPT treaty. What does this decision say about the Obama administration’s assumptions and directions regarding Israel?
The administration is reportedly trying to reassure Israel that if any similar resolution comes to the Security Council, it will veto it. Still, another element in the historic relationship between the two countries has been eviscerated. What is becoming a pattern is that when the administration looks at America’s broader interests, it too often chooses to see the Israeli position as undermining those interests. Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s not as if other administrations didn’t have differences with Israel. Even during the notably pro-Israel Bush administration, there was a major brouhaha over Israel’s decision to sell hi-tech defense material to China.
Never in recent memory, however, has there been such a pattern of decision-making that indicates a questioning of Israel. We have seen it on the focus on settlements, in comments by administration officials asserting that Israeli behavior is affecting relations, in comments suggesting that America’s success in Iraq and Afghanistan is dependent on a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And we have now seen it at the NPT forum, where the US justified support for a resolution it admitted it wasn’t happy with on the grounds that it would help rally support against Iran as well as general efforts against proliferation.
It is this pattern that raises fears about the future, despite a series of statements and actions by the administration to assure Israel that nothing fundamental has changed. Those include standing up against the Goldstone Report, official statements at the highest level reiterating the moral and strategic relationship, and major arms deals with Israel.
THESE STEPS are commendable, but do not succeed in calming the waters because of the repeated questioning of long-held assumptions. If Israel is seen as at best not helping American interests and as at worst undermining them, what other challenges may lie ahead? Will the historic willingness of the US to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council hold up? Will the administration conclude that Israeli politics make stalemate inevitable and therefore try to impose a solution? Will the administration conclude that as long as Israel is seen as having a nuclear arsenal, America can’t or won’t stop Iran from getting one too?
The NPT affair is particularly instructive about the impact of the
administration’s evolving assumptions about Israel. The Arab world, led
by Egypt, would on a pro forma basis raise objections about Israel’s
supposed arsenals, but for two important reasons that is all they did.
First, because they knew the US would stand in the way of any
resolution focusing on Israel, the Arabs would raise the issue and then
drop it. America’s position was based on the real-world understanding
that as long as the Arabs reject Israel’s legitimacy with the goal of
eliminating it, one can’t expect it to give up nuclear deterrence.
Second – and this cannot be stressed enough – the Arab world (despite
the rhetoric about its fearsome enemy) made clear by its actions that
it really had little to fear from Israel. After all, if it were truly
the aggressive, expansionist power they claim, which also had a nuclear
arsenal, one would have thought they would be urgently building their
own nuclear arsenals. But with the exception of Saddam Hussein and
Muammar Gaddafi, nothing of the sort occurred. In other words, the
Arabs voted with their feet; Israel’s possible nuclear capacity was not
Now the Obama administration, by breaking with past American policy of
keeping Israel’s alleged arsenal off the international agenda, has made
it a priority. And the Arabs, not able to look less determined than the
White House, will be running with the issue.
So we have another example of the administration misreading history and
following the trail of rhetoric rather than experience. This isn’t good
for American interests, it’s not good for peace in the region and it’s
not good for Israel.
That is why I worry.
The writer is national director of the Anti-Defamation League
and author of The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the
Myth of Jewish Control.