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U.S.-Israel Relations at Low Ebb, Where They Should Be

The right wing media was aghast that Obama didn't call to congratulate BiBi Netanyahu promptly on his re-election. Their commentators relentlessly criticize
Mike Luckovich, Atlanta-Journal Constitution

Obama as weak but they now tell us that the President should have meekly crawled back into Netanyahu's good graces because our presidents come and go, but we have an unbreakable bond with Israel, right or wrong. Former G. W. Bush Press Secretray Dana Perino said he should have been the first to call our "great ally". When Obama did call, Megyn Kelly on Fox couldn't imagine why he "responded with an attack on the prime minister's policies".

Natanyahu had just bypassed Obama and gone straight to our Congress (no phone call then from BiBi, we might note) to incite an insurrection against the President's efforts to forge an agreement with Iran. Yet Fox News, so biased against everything Obama as to not acknowledge Netanyahu's affront, cold find only Obama rude for not acquiescing to meet with Netanyahu while here.

Netanyahu's mission to Congress was a success. Less than a week later, out went the letter from 47 Republican senators telling Iran's leadership to not trust the United States, its president or its Congress. A week later, Kerry's negotiating team reported that the Iranians were indeed asking about intimations in the letter that put trust of America in doubt.

Should Barack have congratulated BiBi for setting that in motion?

To inspiring paranoia to get out the vote, Netanyahu blurted, "Right wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming huge quantities to the polling stations". Viewed as anti-ethnic by some including Obama, maybe he was just rallying his base, but it did have a whiff of an apartheid attitude.

In a pitch to the far right, Netanyahu then declared there would never be a two-state solution with the Palestinians as long as he is in office. The United States has for decades been indefatigable in its efforts to bring the two sides together only now to be told that it's all on the ash heap because Netanyahu getting himself re-elected outweighs all else. The prime minister then set a speed record for flip-flopping when two days later he said to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, "I haven't changed my policy. I don't want a one state solution. I want a peaceful, sustainable two-state solutions, but for that, circumstances have to change".

Which Netanyahu are we to believe?

The diplomacy manual may say that personal animosities should not enter into affairs of state, but they do. There have been incidents. In 2011, Netanyahu lectured Obama in the Oval Office with television cameras running, telling him his expectation for a Palestinian accord based on a return to the 1967 lines was "based on illusion". In 2012 Netanyahu openly backed Mitt Romney for president, welcoming him to Israel. During the Gaza war, he brusquely told the Obama administration "not to ever second guess me again".

So it looked like payback when, ignoring Netanyahu's attempt to walk back his ruling out a two-state solution, President Obama, in a public interview rather than privately, chastised Netanyahu for derailing any hope of the peace process and lectured him for his attempt to overcome the Arab vote, saying that "Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally". the takings

The settlements — the usurpation and even annexation of Palestinian occupied land — are viewed as illegal under international law and are the foremost impediment to any accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Netanyahu has repeatedly ignored President Obama's requests to end their expansion.

Five years ago, Vice President Biden vowed unyielding support upon landing in Israel to be greeted with the announcement of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, a diplomatic slap that had him saying the move was “precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now.” Settlements have continued and quickened in the past year. The Israeli government announced 1,500 new housing units surrounding Jerusalem in June; the appropriation in September of what was called the biggest land grab in a generation, 1,000 acres of virgin hills in the West Bank for the building of a new city; the planned construction announced in October of 1,000 new housing units in East Jerusalem, as the Israeli government pushes the Palestinians out of the city that they, too, claim as a center for their religion; and another 450 housing units in the West Bank announced just two months ago.

So captive are the pro-Israel sycophants in this country that columnist Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal recently called Netanyahu's 2009 10-month settlement expansion freeze "unprecedented", as if the theft of another people's land was the accepted norm and its suspension therefore an act of magnanimity.

The ongoing sabotage of any hope for a two-state solution has been our reward for the annual $3 billion we send to Tel Aviv to pay for the aircraft and ordnance that Israel unleashed against Gaza and for helping pay for its Iron Dome interceptors that so quashed the Hamas missile threat that only three Israelis were killed relative to the estimated 2,300 who died in Gaza — so disproportionate a retaliation that what we call our "most important ally in the Middle East" will again be brought up before the International Criminal Court for war crimes. Good thing we're not a signatory else we might have been charged as an accessory.

America professes a belief that a people should be free of oppression and have the right of self-determination, yet it supports a country that subjugates another people with a military occupation that is in its 48th year, disrupting the movement of Palestinians within their own land. Our hypocrisy is regularly on display at the United Nations, where we have used our Security Council veto 52 times to block resolutions other nations have aimed at Israel as reprimands for its conduct. At the end of 2012, in stark relief against 138 countries that voted "yes", we sided with Israel that the Palestinians should not even have “nonmember observer status” at the international body.

After over a year of talks collapsed almost a year ago, the Palestinians turned to the U.N. for recognition as a state as their only perceived alternative. And the European Union is said to be pressuring for a U.N. resolution condemning the settlements. In light of Netanyahu's statement against the two-state plan (before he said he was for it), his promise to right-wing voters that he would build more settlements, and his denigration of the 20% of Israel's population who are Arab, Obama is said to be reassessing and reevaluating our government's policy toward Israel. He should most certainly end the U.N. vetoes — an indefensible posture that has gone on for too long — so America's conduct can finally match what it stands for.

5 Comments for “U.S.-Israel Relations at Low Ebb, Where They Should Be”

  1. To me the continual theft of Palestinian land is one of the biggest disgraces of American policy. I’ve talked to Israelis about this and their entire justification for this is the Old Testament (the Torah). As usual, criminal justification is in God’s name. I’m not a religious person and my own beliefs are totally different from any organized religion (you can call me a Panatheist which Spinoza defined as everything being divine). I have many Arab friends and have the privilege of hearing a completely different view from that of the Israelis of whom I also know many). The Israelis often say I’m anti-Semite, but that is a distortion simply because I am not. But, I’m very definitely anti-Israel.

    • David Barnett, Ph.D.

      If not an antisemite, then misinformed because listening to an antisemitic narrative.

      To purchase land, and build on it, is not theft. (It probably comes as a surprise to you, that most of the “settlements” are on land bought from Arabs).

      Imagine if a black man in the US were to buy a piece of land, and then be told he could not build his house there because he is black. You, and all reasonable men, would condemn the bigots for what they are.

      So why is it OK for Arab bigots to object to Jews living on their own property, just because they are Jews?

      It is the objection to Jewish settlements which is the obstacle to peace. Having a racist hostile army close enough to shoot out the hotel widows in Tel Aviv with a rifle is simply not tolerable. Change that racist attitude, accept Jewish residents, and many things become possible.

      On the point of “international law”, Israel is the only legitimate successor state to the lands of the Palestine Mandate. Therefore, by definition, it is not an “occupier” under international law. All of which goes to show that talking of legality is not very helpful.

      Group versus group is the problem. Group prejudice, especially from the Arab side, makes peace impossible.

      Arab hostility to Israel is a tool of the Arab elites to oppress the Arab masses. Ironically, the hostility of people like you to Israel supports that oppression.

      If you really want to help the Palestinian Arab, start thinking in terms of individual rights rather than groups.

      • From Editors

        “Theft” occurred in the original article, so we should take the hit rather than Mr. Burden. Applying theft to all settlement land is incorrect, as you point out. (We have left the word in so as not to orphan your comment). There was an Israeli report eight-plus years ago (no update discovered) that found that 39% of the land occupied by settlements is on property taken from but still owned by Palestinians. But apart from settlement expansion, it should be realized that Israel has created homes for more than 500,000 Israelis on land it “seized” in the 1967 war. And Israel confiscated the lands and villages of some 700,000 Palestinians who in 1948 fled or were expelled by the Israeli military.
        To edify for other readers, the legality claim is based on the British Mandate of almost a hundred years ago in which land for a Jewish homeland was to be set aside. Even if somehow still relevant, we do not find where the disposition of all the land of the Mandate was ceded to Israel such that today’s military occupation of the West Bank is not an occupation.

        • David Barnett, Ph.D.

          For a nuanced view of the land issues, I recommend the works of Benny Morriss. Israel recognises that there have been injustices, many caused by what amounts to exercise of eminent domain for security reasons. Return to the status quo ante is not practical, but monetary compensation is. Only the state of war (and, more importantly, the threats of murder to recipients) has prevented execution of compensation settlements already.

          As I pointed out, legality arguments are not useful. But opponents of Israel are so very fond of citing “International Law”. For Israel to be an “occupier” in International Law requires that the land in question should have been taken from an entity with “title” to it. No such entity existed, because Jordan invaded, and illegally occupied, the land before one could be established under the U.N. partition scheme. [In fact the Arabs did not even prepare to create a state]. That left Israel alone as “legitimate” successor to the lands of Western Palestine.

          “Legality” is not relevant because the Arab residents of Judah and Samaria do not want to be ruled by Jews. Nor do the Jews want to rule them.

          But ethnic separation is neither desirable, nor practical, anywhere in the middle-east. And every “state” is inevitably an occupying empire there.

          What is needed is a radically different approach to middle-east governance. Almost certainly, it will require states to relinquish responsibility for anything but providing security services. The moment you allow state favours and “jobs for the boys”, control of the government becomes far too important an issue.

          Also, the idea of absolute sovereignty over territory must be abandoned, because the general assumption in the area (excepting Israel) is that the sovereign “owns” everything, including the residents. If you must be owned, wouldn’t your rather it be by one of your own? The middle-east mentality assumes “winner takes all”. That is the history of every country there (except Israel), so better make sure you are the winner!

          Politics is the problem. No wonder there is no political solution. Do you think “Let’s Fix This Country” might care to widen its perspective beyond politics?

          • From Editors

            Thank you for taking the time to provide so informative a comment. D’accord on Benny Morris, whose “Righteous Victims” gives a very balanced account of the Zionist-Arab conflict, a rather disheartening story on both sides. I haven’t read his more recent “One State, Two States”.
            As for international law, it would seem to rest on which law one prefers. You cite the lack of title. Our preference is for the 4th Geneva Convention, which is concerned with indigenous people; its covenants clearly classify the Israeli military presence and the settlements (“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”) as illegal.
            As for widening our perspective, we are constrained, one could say, by the title of this “publication”. This in this article we wrote about U.S.-Israel relations only under the rubric of U.S foreign policy. – Stephen Wilson

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