The growing challenge to Israel

Scott McConnell writes:

[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.”

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2 thoughts on “The growing challenge to Israel

  1. pabelmont

    If the president has no sympathy with Palestinians or has but scant sympathy, there could still be progress if the Petraeus-argument prevails. without Petraeus, no US president can “opt” for a law-based (or human-rights-based) approach, because, overall, the US policy is opposed to both, whatever may sometimes be said. 60 years of US ignoring Palestinian refugees will not suddenly be corrected because of a new president’s human-rights concerns. 43 years of US ignoring of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories, the same.

    However, if the Petraeus argument prevails (that failure to resolve I/P harms the US war or diplomacy efforts or both), then an expressed concern for human rights could be advanced, spurious or not, as an explanation to be tendered to the US public for why the US/Israel partnership must be revised and some strong-arming adopted if Israeli proves recalcitrant.

    The president needs to consider that he may need several non-verbal pushes to Israel to get to an acceptable peace. These pushes must be real action (or the credible threat of real action), because Israel has never responded to mere words. Therefore, if threats to be made later are to be credible, the first “push” must be a strong action which the president can make and for which he can find support (before or after the fact) from the Congress and American people.

    I suggest that what is needed, therefore, is some extensive teaching. He must teach the Petraeus lesson to the American people so they can teach it to the Congress (at the next elections). He should also teach about the international law that makes Israel’s settlements and wall illegal. He should let the public simmer about 40 years of Israeli ignoring repeated US requests not to build settlements and should somehow let the public see that principled presidential foreign policy initiatives were stymied by Congress over all those years, again setting the stage for public redirection of Congress. He can raise the question of whether the right US policy should be a call for stopping new Israeli settlements (and stopping Israel destruction of existing Palestinian housing) or whether it should be a call for a rollback of all existing Israeli settlements, with repatriation of all settlers. By getting the US public ready for a “push” with respect to the settlements, he can make a “push” in that direction credible before the fact and politically manageable when he needs to do it. He can, without any difficulty, teach that the settlements never advanced any US interest and that Israel built them despite this fact and in the face of repeated requests from presidents refrain from building settlements.

    I believe that the American public will be a far better ally for the president than the Congress, at least initially, and recall that it was the public and not the Congress that stopped the VietNam war. I also believe that Jewish Americans will support these policies when they see that the president is not working to destroy or to delegitimize Israel but merely to end the occupation and make an Israeli/Palestinian peace which is 43 years late, but still possible, at the small cost of the Israeli greater-Israel project.

  2. Lysander

    Equitable settlement for Palestinians will not really come, at least not directly, from US changes in attitude towards Israel. It will come from from a change in the regional balance of power to Israel’s disfavor. The argument Petraeus is making, that unconditional support for Israel hinders American imperial interests, is an old one. It has been made in various forms since George Marshal was secretary of state. What is new now isn’t so much that a famous military figure is making it, although that is significant. But rather that the argument is more true and stronger now than it has been in decades. Iran is much stronger than before. So is Hezbollah, so is Syria. The US is loosing 2 wars. It is in serious debt. Oil is much more expensive. Petraeus is saying that if these trends continue, the US will not be able to guarantee Israel’s maximalist positions and the regional hegemony required for them.

    So now they want a settlement. The problem is, we are well past the point of a settlement freeze being of much help. Petraeus and others are still thinking in terms of a fig leaf for the “moderate Arabs.” If only Israel will give them that, everything would be ok. Israel will only have to make the most marginal of compromises. A peace deal will be had. The bad boy resistance camp will be de-fanged. It will be several more years before the US realizes it simply can’t play the same game anymore, or even variations of it.

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