Biden is more than just 'a friend of Israel'

Biden says he knows that Israel wanted peace. About the Palestinians it was yet to be shown.

September 4, 2008 22:44
Biden is more than just 'a friend of Israel'

Biden stresses point 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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If one examines the formal records of American politicians - votes in Congress, speeches to Jewish groups - almost all of them can be called "friends of Israel." Especially near election day. Still, this shows (and it is confirmed by exhaustive polling data over the decades) that the United States as a polity and as a people has little sympathy for the Palestinians whose at once whining and belligerent politics has worn thin, very thin. The endemic violence of the Arab world and within various (but, let's make clear, not all) Muslim states has not only distanced but actually repelled the American people from the cultural and psychological fantasies of their actual politics. Blood flows easily among them. Then, of course, there is the legacy of Old Testament Protestantism that has in its heart a love for "God's people," out of which love emerged America's steadfast support over its history for the Jewish return to the ancient land. All of this is to the good, very much to the good. But it is not exactly strategic thinking. I've been pondering this in recent days since rumors have been circulating that Joe Biden once got into a verbal spat with Menachem Begin (chas v'challileh, a verbal spat about settlement policy, no less. Who ever heard of that?) and that Biden had pondered whether Israel might actually have to live with an Iranian bomb. The first story has a long history and goes back no less than a quarter century, 26 years, to be exact. The exchange was supposed to have occurred at an utterly undocumented (and therefore most unlikely) Senate hearing but was reported only in 1992 and now repeated in 2008 by Norman Podhoretz's son, John. The second urgent report is now widely accepted as being false, a sheer invention. I go through these tawdry details because if ever there was a true friend of Israel in the United States Senate it is Joe Biden. Oh yes, there were also Owen Brewster, Republican from Maine, and Guy Gillette, Democrat from Iowa. But that goes back to the very founding of the state. This is not hyperbole about Biden. It is true. And it is so not just on a philosophical basis but in deeds, too. Biden is a true friend on both a higher and a deeper level, and he has been that for three and a half decades. It is reckless for Jews to trifle with such allies. We have, as I've said, many friends. But what we do not have is many such allies - formidable, expert, truly passionate. A basic distinction between an ideological friend and a conscientious ally is in how the politician in question views the present predicament over negotiations. The ideological friend believes that with a bit more goodwill, perhaps a lot more energy and a decent amount of good luck in a tight corner the parties will all come to agree. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems to go one step further, maybe two: She thinks that Israel is simply obstructing the road to peace. Desperate as her last months and weeks go by, she been pressing Israel ever more to give up vital territory around Jerusalem and along the Jordan River that is absolutely necessary to the security of the state and for which Israel has shown that it will give other land in exchange. I wonder what John McCain and, for that matter, Joe Lieberman think of the secretary's record on this matter. Why am I cosseting George W. Bush from the meaning and consequences of what is, after all, his policy? Perhaps because we need to sustain the sense that he doesn't know what is really going on. But, then, he surely knows what, in his name, the secretary did about Lebanon at the United Nations in 2006. She forced Israel to accept United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, whose slippery terms allowed the rearmament of Hizbullah and guaranteed that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (which has been "interim" since 1978) neither does its job nor know what its job is. To the Bush administration belongs the calamity that now has Iran on both of Israel's northern borders and the collapse of Lebanon as even the figment of an independent state. So what does Bush's aspiring successor say about that? And why didn't he say it earlier when it might have counted? JOE BIDEN is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Barack Obama is a member of that body. In a way their roles have now been reversed. But, sitting on the committee, Obama actually was a student of Biden's. And so he heard Biden say on Meet the Press, for example, "I find it fascinating [when] people talk about has Israel gone too far. No one talks about whether Israel is justified in the first place." This is a punch at the solar plexus of Israel's adversaries. Biden said Thursday in Florida that he would not have agreed to be Barack Obama's running mate had he not been certain that he and the Democratic candidate were in the same place on Israel. Well, I, too, would not be supporting Obama were I not convinced that he understood the real underside of Israel's conflict with the Arabs or, more to the point, the Arabs' conflict with Israel. It is mostly about history, and Obama is a student of history. The Arabs simply would not accept the Jews' renaissance in their historic homeland, no matter how small their homeland would be. Recall that Chaim Weizmann once said that he would accept a tablecloth for a state. What was the essence of Obama's grasp of Israel's dilemma as people from every side push it to give up this and give up that and then give up another thing? In Iowa, where no one pressed him to speak about Israel, in Cleveland and Philadelphia, where many did, he expressed the crux of the issue. It was not the particulars that mattered. It was the general principle. He knew, Biden said, that Israel wanted peace. About the Palestinians it was yet to be shown. That is the case for Israel in a nutshell. Everybody knows that there is a consensus in the Jewish state around giving up much of the nation's historic heart and heartland. Nobody knows what the Palestinians, the fratricidal Palestinians, are truly willing to cede to Israel. Maybe from Tel Aviv's Rehov Ibn Givrol east. Maybe, in truth, not even that. And the Bush administration is color-coding the back roads of Jerusalem. Folly.

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