The way ahead

The US must not abandon Israel in the face of relentless military and diplomatic attack.

By
March 21, 2010 22:11
3 minute read.
The way ahead

Clinton AIPAC. (photo credit: AP)

 
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One of the immediate outcomes of this month’s diplomatic spat between Israel and the US has been to set in bolder tones the boundaries of the rift that exists between American Jewry’s two pro-Israel camps.

On one side stand organizations such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now, which welcomed the avalanche of American criticism and allegations that Israel was all but betraying US interests. J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote that “the Obama administration’s reaction to the treatment of the vice president was both understandable and appropriate,” and is apparently hopeful of more attempted US coercion of Israel en route to and at the negotiating table.

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In contrast, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose annual policy conference began Sunday, protested the Obama administration’s reaction to the Ramat Shlomo dispute. So did the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League.

While both camps doubtless regard themselves as sincere in their endeavors to advance Israel’s best interests, AIPAC, the ADL and the Conference of Presidents were right to criticize the Obama administration for intentionally and disproportionately escalating the Ramat Shlomo affair, after Vice President Joe Biden had accepted Binyamin Netanyahu’s apologies and clarifications.

America’s response has been counterproductive to both the American and the Israeli interest of making progress with the Palestinians.

Evidence of this is clear from the Palestinian Authority’s response. Apparently emboldened by the US-Israel rift, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who has opposed direct talks with Israel since Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Hamas over a year ago, now says that he will not join proximity talks, though he had  promised he would, after being pressured by the Arab League.

BUT MORE significantly, there is a widespread perception that the administration’s critique of Israel is based on the pernicious premise that building in east Jerusalem, and more widely, the very fact of US support for an ostensibly intransigent Israel, undermines US interests in Iraq, Afghanistan or in Iran.



This perception stems in part from comments made last week by Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“The [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said.

“Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples . . . [and] al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world,” he said.

The upshot of Petraeus’s message, some believe, is that the US must accommodate the Arab world’s distorted view of reality – which places all of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish state, while refusing to acknowledge Palestinian intransigence and anti-Israel incitement.

According to this view, the US apparently must single out Israel for castigation in order to appease the bigoted Arab world. Implied as well is that none of the “moderate” Arab states buy into the notion that there is an inherent, objective justice in preventing radical Shi’ite Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb or that it is right to fight Muslim extremism in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

In fact, of course, the justness of these causes has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Israel decides to add 1,600 homes to a neighborhood populated by haredim, one of the fastest-growing populations not only in Israel but in the world.

In contrast, Israel does not need to be appeased by the US. Israel does not make its support for the US’s worldwide fight for democracy and freedom conditional upon American concessions of any kind. Israel, like the US, truly believes that the Iraqi people are entitled to freedom from an autocratic dictator, and that an Iran with atomic capabilities is a danger to the free world.

Washington understands this. It has shown over the decades that Israel – with its historic rights, its moral legitimacy, its determined upholding of democracy, its shared values and interests with the freedom-furthering West – must not be abandoned in the face of relentless military and diplomatic attack.

The AIPAC parley, at which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to speak on Monday, is the perfect venue for the Obama administration to get this message across. We hope Clinton will take advantage of the opportunity.

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