What will happen between us and the Americans? President Barack Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to explain the framework agreement reached with Iran. Netanyahu bitterly disagreed.
Every day there is something new. The White House chief of staff declares that the occupation must come to an end.
Somebody in the administration tells The Wall Street Journal that Israel spies on America, and that with the material it gathers it briefs members of Congress.
Israel denies this.
The president himself explains calmly that this is not a personal dispute with the prime minister, but rather a disagreement on policy. Obama wanted an agreement with Iran, and so far has gotten his wish. He believes it represents significant progress toward a lasting solution that cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. Netanyahu is vehemently against it and told Obama that an Iranian nuclear framework agreement could put Israel’s future at risk.
Obama seems to enjoy criticizing Netanyahu.
Apparently somebody in the administration pressed the “go” button and authorized attacking Israel and its prime minister from all possible angles.
Obviously, this is not the first disagreement between the US and Israel. In the late sixties and early seventies secretary of state William Rogers presented three separate plans to resolve the Middle East conflict. The Palestinians had not yet been given their own voice and the Rogers plans offered agreements between Israel and Jordan that were based on Israel’s return to the 1967 lines and an international solution to the holy places in Jerusalem. Israel, still euphoric following the 1967 Six Day War, rejected the Rogers plans and the US was furious.
Another American attempt to solve the Palestinian problem through Jordan took place in 1987. Foreign minister Shimon Peres went to Great Britain and signed “the London agreement” with king Hussein of Jordan. This scheme was supposed to return the West Bank to the king and let him deal with the Palestinians instead of Israel. The Americans adopted this plan and supported it.
As prime minister Shamir’s diplomatic adviser I was present in Shamir’s office when US ambassador Thomas Pickering brought him “The London Agreement” and described it as American document.
Shamir categorically rejected this plan and the Americans were furious again.
Shamir had another serious dispute with the US. The Soviet Jews arrived in Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Israel asked Washington for loan guaranties to enable it to get relatively cheap loans from Wall Street to resettle these hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
President George Bush Sr. demanded certain Israeli concessions regarding the West Bank settlements. Shamir refused.
The guaranties were withheld and eventually given only to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who defeated Shamir in the 1992 election. There were additional high-level Israeli-American falling outs. The above-mentioned are merely a sample.
The current disagreement however seems to be different from its predecessors.
It is more personal. Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress is seen by Obama as a personal offense and he is in no hurry to get back to normal, although he insists that it’s not personal.
The American position is not free of hypocrisy. Washington accused Netanyahu of publicly rejecting the twostate solution before the Israeli elections and supporting it afterwards. Is this really the first time the Americans have heard of a politician who says one thing before an election, to enhance his chances, and something different once he is elected? Some of the leading figures of the current American administration have been accused in the past of similar political tactics.
So what are we to expect? Obviously not an eternal dispute between the two allies. The fundamentals have not changed, as they say on Wall Street, and a good stock is still a good investment.
Israel is still the size of New Jersey, the third smallest state in the Union.
Nonetheless, it continues to be the only democracy in the Middle East. The basic values of the two peoples have not changed and most Americans know and appreciate these facts and support Israel.
The turbulence in the Middle East continues.
Islamic State, Syria, Yemen, Libya and of course Iran and its allies – these issues demand close American-Israeli cooperation and consultation. Ehud Barak’s description of Israel as “a villa in the jungle” has never been more valid.
Obviously, Israel has no alternative to “our best friend and ally.” The veto umbrella at the UN Security Council, the annual three billion dollars and the constant support for decades are indispensable.
Without the Americans Israel would not have achieved as much as it had. All Israeli leaders, including of course Netanyahu, highly appreciate this relationship and are eager to proceed on the same path of cooperation.
The relations with the US are very high on the scale of Israel’s national interests.
How will this saga end? When both partners in a marriage want it to continue there will be no divorce.
Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other. This is an understatement and it will not change. However, one would hope that the two serious and reasonable leaders would put national interests ahead of personal feelings and dislikes.
Under any circumstances they have to cooperate for almost two more years, until Obama leaves the White House on January 20, 2017.
The ball is now in the American court.
The administration is eager to reach a final agreement with Iran by the end of June. President Obama, like all his predecessors, is already thinking about his legacy and apparently believes that an agreement with Iran regarding it nuclear aspirations will be remembered as a positive step, that will give him credit and transfer the problem to his successor or successors. History will judge if he was right.
But what about the Middle East peace process? Strangely this continues to be the term attached to the fruitless efforts to resolve the Palestinian problem, as if this were the only regional issue that needs a “peace process.” Netanyahu now publicly supports the two-state solution. Obama is clearly skeptical, but it is up to Obama to decide to believe the Israeli leader and give him the benefit of the doubt while they proceed on the difficult and treacherous course known as the “peace process.”
All American presidents since the late 1960s believed that their legacy would benefit significantly if they successfully solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that such an achievement would open for them the gate to history.
Bill Clinton tried, but surprisingly in 1993 the parties preferred Oslo over Washington. Not to stay behind, Clinton invited Rabin and Yasser Arafat to the White House to bask in their glory.
Jimmy Carter did not solve the Palestinian issue, but he is very proud – and rightly so – of masterminding the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. As consul general in Atlanta, I had many discussions with president Carter, who resides there. The Camp David Accords continue to be his claim to fame and are his only significant foreign policy achievement.
Now it’s President Obama’s turn. It is safe to assume that once Netanyahu forms a new government he will get still another phone call from Obama, who will congratulate him and invite him to Washington, this time as his guest.
Some weeks later Prime Minister Netanyahu will travel to Washington. There will be a lot of fanfare, and Obama will urge Netanyahu to continue with the “peace process.” He will present him with a new American road map laying out how to do it. The two-state solution will again be the major ingredient of the plan.
The ball will then return to the Israeli court. The prime minister will have to decide if he is willing and ready to promote the American ideas. If Netanyahu and his cabinet choose not to accept Washington’s ideas, a new round of disagreements will begin.The author served as prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s diplomatic adviser and as consul general to New York and Atlanta as well as deputy permanent representative to the UN and ambassador to Greece. He is currently a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.