Today is the Fourth of July; the United States of America is 238 years old. Birthdays are good occasions to pay tribute and gratitude. We owe America both.
Yet whenever our current leaders make a feeble attempt at this, they act as if forced to do so. Many even have difficulty uttering the words. Others, like the minister of defense, blame the US for not heeding our wish to attack Iran or rejoicing at every settlement we build. The prime minister himself, whenever highlighting our strategic relationship with the US, does it in a self-congratulatory way: “America is our most important ally, as we are the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The government tends to forget that Israel is the largest recipient of American aid since 1985. With $3.5 billion of defense assistance per year, and aid for further development for our air-defense systems Iron Dome and the Arrow, America is putting its taxpayer money to work for our security (all together more than $120b. over the years).
The Arab and international perception of this strategic relationship is probably the most important building block for our strategic security. America’s assurance of our technological military edge is an all-important guarantee for our strategic defense.
Politically, too, America stands by Israel. Without it, we would probably already be isolated today, delegitimized and boycotted internationally for our occupation and settlement policies. The US has used its veto right in the Security Council in favor of Israel countless times, even when disagreeing with our policies.
On the peace front, all regional peace efforts that served our strategic interests – the peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt and the peace process with the Palestinians – were accomplished under an American umbrella. This support is bipartisan – from Reagan to Obama.
Israel exists and prospers due to our own achievements, but we would not be where we are in terms of our security, economy and international relations without the United States. To ask Israel’s leadership to express our gratitude for this is stating the obvious, although apparently not so obvious to our current government.
Israel is helped and supported not only by the American administration and Congress. The American business community plays an important role in our hi-tech industry. The champions of the American industry have developed a special interest in our ingenuity and empathy for our nation-building success story. American academia has close ties to ours and many Israelis profit from the scientific research and development opportunities that are offered by special grants. Hollywood has brought our story to all corners of the globe – from the ingenious Steven Spielberg to the brilliant Sharon Stone. It is in many ways a love story with the dramatic nation-building of Israel, from Holocaust to redemption. The ingathering of the exiles, the rescue operations of the IDF, the liberal values and democracy of our society and our desire for peace spoke loudly to the values and myths of American society. We have created a common language across the ocean, based on democratic values and success.
The inability of our current political leadership to speak realistically and humbly of our American connection is an indication that something in the relationship is turning sour.
Many Americans, mostly the young with little historical background, are irritated with the ongoing conflict situation we are experiencing. It is an anti-war generation enamored with globalization. Our democratic values in the eyes of many Americans are eroding.
News reports on the occupation and on the settlements don’t go over well, even among our best friends.
The role of religion in our state and policies is opposed by those who sanctify the separation between state and religion.
This is exacerbated by the change in American society.
The growth of the Hispanic and African-American populations will bring America closer to Latin America and Africa, not to us. Even within the younger Jewish community, there is a distancing from Israel due to assimilation and criticism of our policies.
Besides being grateful to America, we have to be careful not to lose its friendship. The less liberal and democratic we become, the bigger the dangers of erosion in American support. Talk about our two declarations of independence will not suffice if we don’t live by ours.
The Israel of David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres was enthusiastically supported by America and Americans as it stood for equality and the equal right to be different. The more nationalistic approach, bordering on racism toward Arabs, by many in the current leadership – the Bennetts, Libermans, Deris, Levins and co. are not only rejected, but corrode our image as a liberal democracy.
America has won most of its wars, but did not turn into a colonial empire. The occupation of the Palestinians and the settlement policy contradict the values of American foreign policy. In post-war situations, America does not conquer, but assists in nation-building, even if not always successfully. President Barack Obama’s objection to the settlements reflects a deeper divide between our two countries.
This does not mean that we should become the 51st US state. On the contrary, we have to become more self-reliant and independent, but at the same time maintain the all-important alliance with America.
Not only out of our dependence, but also because American expectations and standards can only benefit us. This demands that we be pro-American, learn from America, cooperate with it and, from time to time, even thank it for the assistance and support.
The United States is most probably the greatest success story of modern history. A country as close to it as Israel can profit by learning from its achievements; most important, from the careful balance of building power and assets, and of using them wisely according to universal values. The foundations of America are its Constitution and the Bill of Rights; a rebellion against colonialism, the sanctification of freedoms. The American dream is ambitious – everyone dreaming of achieving the impossible.
It has led to tremendous success in almost all walks of life – the best universities, great scientific and technological breakthroughs, industrial empires of the private sector, the worlds of media, arts, entertainment and sports, a balanced democratic system of government, the biggest, most sophisticated military and even landing on the moon. All this and much more turned the United States into the world’s leading superpower in the last century.
Yet America did not use its power to conquer other lands. It helped rescue Europe in the two world wars, worked to rescue parts of Asia from communism, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan from terrorism. Yet it always withdrew in order to enhance the opportunities at home while upholding the fundamental values of its Constitution. It may be popular today to criticize the United States, or speak of its demise as a superpower – I strongly disagree with both these tendencies.
As for Israel, given the closeness of relations and the need to sustain them, we ought to internalize the American balance: Develop your strengths at home in a value-based society (based on basic freedoms) and use it wisely beyond your borders, without compromising these values.
Furthermore, while Israel is responsible for itself, it must do better to coordinate its policies in the region with the US. Like us, the Americans want greater stability and security in the volatile Middle East. Washington believes in collective efforts against terror and against the dissemination of nonconventional weapons.
Collective diplomacy must be based on cooperation with the main international powers (P5+1) and the pragmatic forces in the region (Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine).
The Obama administration has proven success in leading collective diplomacy. It refused to use force in Syria, and yet Damascus is dismantling its chemical arsenal; it refuses to attack Iran, yet an agreement curbing its military nuclear ambitions in on the horizon; it refused to intervene forcefully against Russia in Ukraine and yet Kiev has just signed an agreement with the European Union. Obama’s soft-power approach is producing achievements. Only we Israelis, as well as the Palestinians, have failed the administration’s peace efforts. It is now up to us to renew peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who has proven that he is a credible partner in his courageous opposition to violence.
A coordinated American-Israeli regional strategy is needed, based on a regional coalition of pragmatists opposing the fundamentalists and forwarding Israeli- Palestinian peacemaking.
In doing so, we will develop a more effective regional defense policy, and restore common interests with Washington on regional issues with a coordinated diplomatic strategy based on international values respecting the self-determination of other people.
The government of the day does not understand this predicament and is endangering this strategic relationship.
It is enamored with the language of force and nationalism. Only a more liberal, democratic and peace-seeking Israel can keep this all-important relationship alive in the long run.
Last week, President Shimon Peres was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of only nine individuals in the world to be awarded the Presidential and Congressional distinctions. America admires Peres’s Israel. He said it best: “America is the only great power in history that never tried to become an empire. You became great not by taking, but by giving... America is a force for good... America and Israel should continue to work together to advance peace... Thank you for giving us the confidence to face the future.”
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and founder of the YaLa Young Leaders peace movement and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.