[T]wo streams of anti-settlement, pro-peace-process discourse have begun to merge and reinforce one another. The realist argument about Israel—which can be traced from President Truman’s secretary of state George Marshall through Kennedy and Johnson aide George Ball to Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer—now appears to have the patronage of American’s most respected military commander [Gen David Petraeus]. The pretense that America’s and Israel’s interests in the Middle East coincide completely is being challenged at the highest level and may never recover.
At the same time, the humanitarian argument, rooted in observation of Israeli oppression and Palestinian suffering, is disseminated more widely than ever. It reaches Americans through the Internet, through congressional visits, through the work of Israeli peace and human-rights monitoring groups, through the burgeoning communities of international solidarity workers, through church groups, through Richard Goldstone. Expressions of unconditional solidarity with Israel—such as Joseph Lieberman’s claim that we must not quarrel in public because Israel is “family”—are of course as common as ever. But they often give off the musty scent of Soviet bloc boilerplate in the 1970s and ’80s—words that many recite ritualistically but fewer and fewer say with conviction.
A gap in the line has been opened, but no one yet knows whether Obama will push through it. Chas Freeman, the veteran diplomat whose appointment to chair the National Intelligence Council was scuttled by objections from Israel lobbyists, says, “The president gets it”—that his appreciation of the centrality of these issues was manifest in his Ankara and Cairo speeches. Freeman views the showdown as an historic juncture: “the first time anything resembling an assault on an entrenched interest that many have recognized is contrary to American interests” has taken place. The moment has the potential to unite “Obama as the commander in chief with the visionary who spoke in Cairo.” But Obama’s track record is not reassuring, Freeman admits. He notes that the president has a “pattern of laying out a sensible strategic doctrine followed by delegating its implementation to people who may work to subvert it or who have their own agendas.”