Right of Reply: US is sticking to its principles

The Obama White House can say it has gone to great lengths to maintain US-Israel relations. Can the government led by Netanyahu say the same?

December 10, 2010 15:37
3 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

obama and netanyahu_521. (photo credit: Bloomberg)

Daniel Gordis’s recent op-ed “When expediency becomes principle” (November 19) offers the correct analysis – we need more action, less talk – but attacks the wrong target.

Hailing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his recent comments in support of Israel and against anti-Semitism, Gordis then argues that the Obama administration has not done enough in this regard. “All that talk about Washington’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security has been just that,” he writes, and he charges that under President Barack Obama the US is in danger of “turn[ing] its back on the Jewish people.”Gordis is just the latest voice in a misleading chorus against President Obama.

Consider the following:

In addition to significantly expanding trade with Israel, Obama played an important behindthe- scenes role in bringing it into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a long sought-after goal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, “US military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year,” from the result of policy directives the White House gave the Pentagon early in Obama’s presidency to “deepen and expand the quantity and intensity of cooperation to the fullest extent.”

Obama raised the amount of US military aid to Israel, making it the single largest expense of the 2010 foreign aid budget. He also authorized $205 million to enable the completion the Iron Dome missile defense.

The Obama administration has also significantly increased the level of strategic dialogue and the depth of intelligence coordination, particularly regarding Iran, and has successfully led international efforts to intensify pressure against the Iranian regime over its nuclear program.

In September, Obama went before the UN General Assembly and challenged the international community to support Arab-Israeli peace. He declared, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and assured the world that “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakable opposition of the United States.”

CONSIDERING THESE facts, I do not see how anyone can seriously conclude that the Obama administration is treating Israel’s legitimacy as a bargaining chip. If anything, the opposite is true: Obama has been more action than talk when it comes to Israel’s security and his administration has maintained and enhanced the special relationship. Furthermore, it has done so in the face of intense hostility among Arab and Muslim publics, at a time when US efforts to withdraw from Iraq and stabilize the region greatly depend on their support. Contrary to Gordis’s claims, the US is sticking to its principles, even if it is not expedient to do so.

Obama’s opposition to West Bank settlement construction – the immediate source of Gordis’s ire – is not new. His policy here demonstrates the consistency of US foreign policy on this topic – his stance mirrors that of every president, Democratic and Republican alike, since Lyndon Johnson. What has changed is that unlike previous administrations, which have either ignored, tacitly approved or, in the case of George H. W. Bush, attempted to discourage such construction by withholding aid, Obama is now offering significant incentives to halt construction – for just 90 days.

There has been a range of reports as to what the US has offered. To wildly speculate, as Gordis does, that it has now made its commitment to fighting the assault on Israel’s legitimacy dependent on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s cooperation is nothing short of outrageous. One can only wonder how Gordis can leap from this speculation to an utterly baseless statement that “this administration will protect the Jews and their state only if the Jews accede to American demands.”

Furthermore, Gordis’ suggestion that the administration’s approach to Iran is contingent on a settlement freeze is not only fallacious, it is dangerous. Working to halt Iran’s ambitions to obtain a nuclear weapon is not a favor the US is doing for Israel. To suggest as much fundamentally misreads the Obama White House or American interests in the region, and also plays into the hands of anti-Israel elements who wish to paint US policy as being engineered in Jerusalem.

Preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, safeguarding Israel’s security and achieving a comprehensive Middle East peace are key US policy objectives. In pursuing these objectives, the Obama White House can confidently say that it has gone to great lengths to maintain and strengthen the US-Israel relationship.

Can the government led by Netanyahu say the same?

The writer is president emeritus of Israel Policy Forum and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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