Time for an Israeli strategy for the next American administration

Don’t presume the next American president will be a better friend.

A MAN cleans up the floor after Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem in 2013 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN cleans up the floor after Barack Obama’s speech in Jerusalem in 2013
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinians have a strategy that is working. They see they don’t have to make any concessions or even gestures towards Israel, as time is on their side, and no serious consequences for their intransigence are ever imposed.
The executive branch, in the name of national security, usually overrides even the periodic withholding of American largess to the PA. The Palestinian leadership knows that the international community, including the United States, is slowly moving each day toward diplomatically isolating Israel.
So if the Palestinians have no incentive to compromise, or stop teaching and inciting violence, does it matter who the next American administration is, or what Israel does? It does matter, and here is why.
American support of Israel is NOT inevitable. Israel must begin to think differently, actively show that it is trying to be the partner for peace, and demonstrate that it will manage the situation instead just playing defense.
Within the pro-Israel community, there is a palpable sign of relief as the countdown to the end of the contentious eight-year reign of President Obama draws to a close. Much damage could still occur before the clock strikes 2017, as a Presidential parting final blow could occur if he chooses to abstain from a potential one-sided French resolution that would isolate Israel, up-end long-standing international law by supplanting Resolution UNSC 242, and prescribe the creation of a Palestinian State without any of the necessary security assurances to Israel.
The eight-year deterioration in the relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US president also coincided with the creation and meteoric rise of the harshly critical progressive Jewish voice J Street, which captured the imagination of young secular Jews raised on universalism, lacking basic information, and uncritically accepting the Palestinian narrative of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and apartheid.
The opinions and advice of J Street resonated in the ideologically sympathetic West Wing, while the iconic mainstream AIPAC organization received administration speakers at its convention, but has had little policy influence in the executive branch.
It is hard to remember, but just a few short years ago, only low-level administration officials would even go to a J Street convention, worried that the Democratic Party would be stigmatized by associating with an organization that offered a platform for pro-BDS voices, and left the Israeli side of the story in the shadows.
Yet this month, not only did Secretary of State John Kerry attend the J Street national conference, but Vice President Biden, who was the administration speaker at AIPAC, also graced the J Street stage. No clearer snub or moral equivalence could have been telegraphed to the Israeli government and people.
Biden, who supposedly had a good working relationship with PM Netanyahu, used the opportunity to trash the prime minister, and make it very clear that this administration holds Israel responsible for the impasse in the peace process. The harshness of the tone surpassed that used by this administration for the world’s bad actors, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia.
As Alan Dershowitz said, “This was payback from the White House and Joe Biden was just dead wrong… Netanyahu has offered repeatedly to sit down without preconditions and negotiate peace.
To create moral equivalence between Netanyahu and Abbas is to create a false equivalence.”
Dershowitz’s correct analysis fell on deaf ears, except with the mainstream and older pro-Israel world.
So after the craven Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deal, Obama’s infamous Cairo speech that linked Israel’s right to exist to the Holocaust, and his fulfilled goal of creating daylight between Israel and the United States, it is no wonder that many people who believe that the US-Israel relationship is beneficial for both nations’ interests are expecting a new day to dawn with whoever is the next American president.
And that assessment could be totally wrong.
Two years from now, with a President Trump or President Clinton, we may miss Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Robert Malley and Obama, who all believe that Israel is a liability worth sidelining to help strengthen Iran against the Sunni world.
Yes this rogues’ gallery of Israel bashers who use facts selectively and manipulated Congress during the Iran debate, believe it or not, may seem benign in comparison to what could happen in the next four or eight years. It could be worse – a lot worse.
And yes, Israel can and must do something about it.
Ben-Dror Yemini, writing in Yediot Aharonot said, “It wouldn’t be a mistake to say that 90 percent of US Jews have a hard time understanding the logic in the continued settlement project. And I’m talking about pro-Israel activists here. We need policy… we need a show of good will… why the heck does the Prime Minister of Israel not understand what Israel’s supporters around the world understand very well? Why does he insist on doing nothing? Why does he insist on helping the BDS movement?” TOO MANY Israeli leaders and American supporters have given up, feeling that it is like banging your head against the wall trying to explain that Israelis want peace, and that the Palestinian Arabs want Israel to not exist. You can state the facts of unreciprocated offers of land for peace by Israel, and the continued propagation of anti-Semitism demonization in the dysfunctional Palestinian society. But without Israeli action, you will continue to be perceived as the stronger party who has the ability to make things right and isn’t doing it.
It is time for the Israeli government to show leadership and start to manage the situation, instead of simply reacting to events.
The next administration, whether Democratic or Republican may be much less sympathetic to Israel’s fears, and may want to push a peace plan that Israel will be blamed for not accepting.
Bibi’s rhetorical skills will not win the day, as he has lost touch with for the need for a more effective American hasbara. Not only are the shekels allocated for foreign policy advocacy woefully inadequate, but also his judgment seems to have been clouded by walking directly into partisan minefields, where other options were available. This was evidenced by his timing of going to Congress last year during an Israeli election cycle to fight against the Iran deal. He simply had to wait until after the Israeli election, and then, if not welcomed as a visiting head of state, the administration would have been blamed for its bias against Israel. Instead, Bibi and Dermer miscalculated and accelerated the divide between pro- and anti-Israel Democrats, while confusing mainstream Americans, who simply needed a better explanation of why Iran was an American national security issue, not just a problem for Israel.
Better judgment is needed going forward, and the excuse that Bibi must manage his fragile 61-seat coalition by placating the hard right doesn’t cut it anymore. Israel, for the foreseeable future, needs America diplomatic and security support.
The next American president may decide to dictate a solution, pressure Israel as the only party that can be pressured, and an Israeli response that is responsive and defensive could lose the day.
If the next president is a Democrat, you will hear growing calls for a balanced “even-handed” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Bernie Sanders Democrats are on the ascendancy, and will be casting a large shadow on the party for the next generation.
In today’s progressive parlance, even-handed does not necessarily mean support for two states for two peoples.
Rather, it means to many of the “Palestinian Lives Matter” Democrats, two Palestinian states – one in what now comprises Israel within the 1949 armistice line, and one in the West Bank and Gaza. Too many well-meaning people have been hijacked by the BDS movement, being misled into believing that if Israel just left the West Bank, peace would break out. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Far too many in the Democratic Party now define Zionism by the terms of the anti-Zionists, challenging Israel’s right to exist, and defining it by the policies of the current democratically elected government. Does Israel have a right to exist only if it elects a Labor government? Does America only have a right to exist if it is lead by only one particular party and viewpoint? As for a possible Trump presidency, who knows? His egocentricity may actually make him believe that only he can solve this unsolvable conflict, and he may try to force a solution upon Israel.
He has already said that Israel should pay back all the money America has given Israel over the years. Serious pressure is a real possibility. If Israel for good reasons turns him down, he is certainly unpredictable, and he could lash out by a creating rupture in the relationship worse than Obama’s.
So what to do? Take to the offensive, put some plans down on the table as soon as there is a new administration, work with them, and then actively manage the situation and expectations.
Some ideas: Announce a readiness for an Israeli settlement freeze beyond the land swap areas (6%) in exchange for Palestinian, Arab League, UN recognition of a Jewish State as envisioned by UNGA Resolution 181, the end of the right of return, and acceptance of a totally demilitarized Judea and Samaria. Offer conditional recognition of a Palestinian state for a signed end of conflict agreement.
Consider convening an Israeli summit of the nation’s security and military leaders, past and present, to discuss the maximum land offer to the Palestinians that won’t endanger Israeli security interests. Put Bogie Ya’alon in charge, as he is one of the very few members of the government respected by much of the opposition. Other than the Jordan River Valley and the settlement blocs, there is much to discuss that would not endanger Israel.
Coordinate right from the beginning with the new administration and convince them that your offers are a basis for talks, and let them become your advocates. Go directly to the American people and make your case, with the help of bipartisan pro-Israel Congressional spokesmen.
As for the basket case of Hamas’ Gaza, offer a seaport in exchange for demilitarization with acceptance of all previous agreements. It won’t happen, but it may smooth the way for the Turkish-Israeli rapprochement that both nations need and want.
These conciliatory steps are all conditional; nothing will be given up if the Palestinians remain intransigent or if Israeli security is seen to be compromised.
The Palestinian Authority in all likelihood would not accept any of this, but that is not the point. The goal is to change the dynamic going forward, putting Israel on the diplomatic offensive to blunt the pro-BDS movement, and create a situation for an improved relationship with the American people, who do not understand why Israel is building in communities in the West Bank. America should simultaneously pressure the Gulf Cooperation Council to move towards a more public relationship with Israel, as Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Morocco now have.
Israel must invest time and resources into explaining to the American people the difference between communities in areas like Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim, and those in far-flung locations in Area C, even though Obama’s strategy to delegitimize all Israeli building over the 1949 armistice line has all but poisoned reasonable compromises, and made the Palestinian leadership even more intransigent.
The goal is to make the next administration embrace an Israel that is seen as the one who is making the painful compromises for a lasting peace, which could consume the next 10 years. This may be the best that one can hope for.
A Democratic or Republican administration in 2017 will remain tilted to the Israeli perspective with reasonable offers to the Palestinians even if unreciprocated, especially if the PA remains as stubborn, undemocratic and unwilling to accept any Jewish state as they are today.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.