Obama should take heed of the failing legacy of Mideast 'reassessment'

The last time a “reassessment” took place was also in March, and the year was 1975.

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March 25, 2015 02:19
2 minute read.
Former US President Gerald Ford

Former US President Gerald Ford was rebuffed by Congress in his attempts to "reassess" relations with Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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There’s something about the month of March that brings out tensions in US-Israel relations, tensions felt aplenty this month: First with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to US Congress, and then – after Netanyahu’s victory – with Washington’s threat to reassess its Middle East policy.

The last time a “reassessment” took place was also in March, and the year was 1975.

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March 1975 was less than two years since the Yom Kippur War, and then secretary of state Henry Kissinger – after successfully brokering a disengagement agreement between Israel and Egypt in Sinai, and between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights – embarked on another round of shuttle diplomacy with the aim of brokering a second Sinai disengagement deal.

But it did not go well at all, and then president Gerald Ford blamed Israel and it’s new prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, for the problems. There was a particularly stormy meeting in Jerusalem between Kissinger and Rabin, after which Ford wrote Rabin an angry letter.

“I wish to express my profound disappointment over Israel’s attitude during the course of the negotiations,” he wrote. “I have given instructions for a reassessment of United States policy in the region, including our relations with Israel, with the aim of ensuring that our overall American interests are protected.”

And Ford meant it. The US held up arms transfers to Israel, suspended talks for further weapons sales, and canceled high-level visits of Israeli officials.

Then, as now, the Senate was in the hands of one party, and the presidency in the other. But then, as opposed to now, the Democrats controlled senate, and the Republicans the presidency.



Rabin, who previously served as ambassador to the US, turned to Congress. On May 25, some 76 senators – 51 Democrats and 25 Republicans – signed a letter expressing displeasure at the reassessment policy and the administration’s placing the blame on Israel for the breakdown of the shuttle diplomacy.

“Since 1967, it has been American policy that the Arab-Israeli conflict should be settled on the basis of secure and recognized boundaries that are defensible, and direct negotiations between the nations involved,” the letter read. “We believe that this approach continues to offer the best hope for a just and lasting peace.”

The strongly worded letter continued: “Within the next several weeks, the Congress expects to receive your foreign aid requests for fiscal year 1976.

We trust that your recommendations will be responsive to Israel’s urgent military and economic needs. We urge you to make it clear, as we do, that the United States acting in its own national interests stands firmly with Israel in the search for peace in future negotiations, and that this premise is the basis of the current reassessment of US policy in the Middle East.”

That letter has been credited by some with being among the factors that led Ford to abandon the “reassessment.”

Among the senators who signed it was a first term senator from Delaware: Joe Biden, currently the vice president.



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