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In their 2007 book The Israel Lobby, Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that there exists a loose coalition of groups that attempts to steer American policy in a pro-Israel direction at a high cost to American national interests. Mearsheimer's and Walt's definition of pro-Israel was so broad and their sense of how injurious Israel's existence is to America so deep that, in their telling, the "Israel lobby" is both all-powerful and all-inclusive. Nevertheless, at the center of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel lobby" are American Jews - the villainous neo-cons and the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC chief among them.
The irony is that American Jews are demonstrably innocent of putting Israel's interests first - at least if its interests have anything to do with how they are defined by the overwhelming consensus of Jews living here.
While a vast majority of Israeli Jews would be prepared to cede a good deal of the West Bank in return for peace, the experience of the last 15 years has convinced them that peace cannot be obtained without a dramatic reformation of Palestinian society. From the standpoint of the Israeli consensus, the Obama administration's obsessive mantra about the necessity of Israel declaring its support for the "two-state solution" is misguided, for it sends the wrong messages to both Israelis and Palestinians.
By focusing on what Israel must do, that mantra ignores what it has already done and the lessons learned from its past actions. Withdrawals from the West Bank, southern Lebanon and Gaza resulted in their becoming launching pads for suicide bombers and rockets aimed at civilians. Those withdrawals did not even improve our international standing.
THE FOCUS on our next step ignores those never taken by the Palestinians - i.e., moving one iota from any of their positions as of the outset of Oslo. And it conveys the message that nothing is expected of them in the future, unlike the road map, which made their oft-promised end to incitement and terrorism preconditions for further negotiations.
Statehood, not peace, has become the watchword of American policy. And to that end, the Obama administration has indicated a willingness to impose a solution. National Security Adviser James Jones recently conveyed to a senior European official that "an endgame solution" would be formulated by the US, EU and moderate Arab states, with Israel and the Palestinians relegated to the role of bystanders. On a happy note, he allowed that we would "not be thrown under the bus." That same week the chief US arms negotiator called for us to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - a clear break with a 40-year understanding with the US and a clear indication of how nasty the pressure might get.
The theory of an imposed solution is that the final contours of a settlement are already well known, so it might as well be now. Even if the former proposition were true, the intention of the parties and their ability to perform would still be relevant. The Palestinians cannot run a state - certainly not one that Hamas would quickly take over - nor do they seek to. Human rights activist Bassam Eid declared after the Hamas-Fatah civil war in Gaza, "We do not deserve a state." Fatah prefers the present kleptocracy to a state. Statelessness allows Palestinians to attack Israel without being held responsible and so remain the world's favorite mendicants.
Meanwhile, the contrast between the Obama administration's urgency with respect to the Palestinian-Israel tract and its lackadaisical approach to Iran's nuclear ambitions could not be starker. The linkage of Iran to progress on the former is backward. No more than a year remains to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Peace will not first come to the region, when, after 61 years, there is still no Palestinian leader who can even recognize our right to be a Jewish state.
The Sunni states fear a nuclear Iran much more than us, and they are saying so. They will support an alliance against Iran because it is in their interest to do so, as long as they believe America will act decisively and not leave them to Iran's tender mercies.
WHAT HAS been the response of American Jewry and the vaunted Israel lobby? Silence. President Barack Obama's popularity among American Jews remains sky high and rising. Delegates at the recent AIPAC convention dutifully lobbied Congress for the two-state solution. Against whom, one wonders, was this feared group lobbying?
The overwhelming American Jewish support for Obama demonstrates how far the perspectives of Israeli and American Jews have diverged. For Israeli Jews survival remains the primary desideratum. For American Jews the simulacrum of peace, in the form of a treaty, any treaty, is primary. An ad in a recent Hadassah Magazine shows an attractive child over the caption: Will he be the one to lead Israel to peace? That caption wrongly presumes that it is within our power to bring peace, and its corollary: A failure to achieve peace is our fault.
For many American Jews, an Israel without peace is misbegotten, not worth the scorn it engenders in The New York Times and on Ivy League campuses. Daniel Gordis records, in his important new book How Israel Can Win a War That May Never End, being asked by an American Jewish friend: "Why has Israel given up hope? And with no genuine chance for peace, why forge on?" It is left to Gordis's teenage daughter Talia to set their visitor straight: The purpose of Israel is not to achieve peace with the Arabs, however devoutly such peace might be wished for. We have not given up hope, just on hope for peace in the near future.
American Jews remained largely quiescent during the Holocaust, in part because of their adulation of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could do no wrong in their eyes. Stephen Wise, the most influential voice in American Jewry, could not overcome his worship of FDR to challenge the latter's position that nothing could be done to save Jews other than win the war. (David Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews searingly details how much could have been done.) To avoid embarrassing or pressuring the president, in August 1942 Wise sat on a telegram from Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress detailing plans to exterminate 3 million to 4 million Jews in German-controlled Europe, until pressured by the Orthodox and Revisionist Zionists to do something.
American Jews are besotted again. This time the object of their affections is Obama, who has consciously fashioned himself the new FDR. And a little matter like Israel will not cool their ardor. Obama, like president Bill Clinton before him, has proven that a Democratic president can sell American Jewry any policy toward Israel, as long as it is packaged in sufficient expressions of concern for its well-being.
The Israel lobby of Walt's and Mearsheimer's febrile imaginations never existed. And never has that been so obvious as today.
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