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No Daylight with Israel? Which One?

January 22, 2013

With today's elections in Israel and the upcoming confirmation hearings for Obama Pentagon nominee Chuck Hagel, U.S.-Israeli relations will be very much in the news. For Republicans continuing their perpetual campaign to whittle away at the overwhelming Jewish support for Democrats, the response will be predictable. One of the many GOP leaders accusing President Obama of "throwing Israel under the bus," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has insisted, "We need to make sure that this president is also going to stand by Israel and not allow his administration to somehow speak contrary to what our ally thinks is in its best interest." As Mitt Romney put it a year ago, "We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel."
But when the likes of Mitt Romney argue that "the world must never see daylight" between the U.S. and Israel, they need to be more specific. Which Israel?
In recent years, their answer has been clear. For all intents and purposes, the GOP has become extension of the Likud Party. (That relationship was codified by Romney's boast in December 2011 that "I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do?'") But the closer than expected vote, the alliance of Likud with the party of disgraced foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, the rise of Naftali Bennett's hard-right Jewish Home, and the surprisingly strong showing of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid mean the nature of the next governing coalition still very much up in the air.
To be sure, an even more right-wing, irredentist Israeli government would represent a real challenge to U.S. policies in place since the Clinton administration. Expansion of West Bank settlements, consistently opposed by Clinton, Bush and Obama, has already reached the point where the creation of coherent, contiguous Palestinian state is almost impossible. And if Bennett's Jewish Home ends up in the government, the settler movement will be strengthened considerably. As David Remnick explained:

If Bennett becomes Prime Minister someday--and his ambition is as plump and glaring as a harvest moon--he intends to annex most of the West Bank and let Arab cities like Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin be "self-governing" but "under Israeli security."
"I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state," he says of the Palestinians. No more negotiations, "no more illusions."

As it is, the two-state solution prized by the United States is already on life support under Prime Minister Netanyahu. But even before Bibi green-lighted new construction in the controversial E1 area, his weak support of the two-state solution was undermined by his conditions past and present. As his late father Benzion put it, "He doesn't support [a Palestinian state]. He supports the sorts of conditions they [the Palestinians] will never accept." (For his part, candidate Romney told donors "there is just no way" to reach peace with the Palestinians, instead suggesting "we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it.")
But in Israel, if not in the Republican Party, support for the two-state solution remains strong even if doubts remain about the peace process itself. As a recent poll conducted by the pro-Netanyahu (and Sheldon Adelson owned) Israel Hayom found:

Almost 54 percent said they favoured the idea, and 38 percent rejected it, with the rest refusing to answer.
The survey's margin of error was 3.4 percentage points.
More than 54 percent of those surveyed, however, thought a peace deal with the Palestinians was impossible, the study said, and 55 percent did not consider Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas a "partner for peace."
A question on Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank almost split respondents down the middle, with 43.4 percent supporting it, and 43.5 percent in favour of a freeze on construction.

All of which suggests an interesting thought experiment. Imagine for the moment that a center-left coalition including Kadima, Labor and Yesh Atid won a surprise victory in today's (or a future) election. If that new Israeli government negotiated a two-state agreement with the Palestinians along the lines of the Barak or Olmert plans, would Republican leaders still demand "the world must never see daylight between our two nations?" Would they still insist "We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel?"
Certainly not among the GOP supporters of the Christian Zionist movement. It's not just Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich who mocked Palestinian culture and the very idea of Palestinian national identity. Former Baptist Minister and ex-Governor turned Fox News host Mike Huckabee has repeatedly insisted there should be no deals for Judea and Samaria. Huckabee has repeatedly insisted there should be no deals for Judea and Samaria. "The two-state solution is no solution," he said, "but will cause only problems." On another occasion, he explained:

"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."

Unrealistic, that is, if those who see Israel's permanent possession of the West Bank as biblically mandated. While Texas Governor Rick Perry declared, "it's their land; it's their right." He's not alone in claiming that "as a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel." His fellow failed Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann explained, "Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist." Perhaps referring to the Tribulation ahead, Sarah Palin announced, "More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." In 2006, Pastor John Hagee explained why Israel and the United States had to take such a hardline towards the Palestinians and Iran:

"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West...a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."

A potential conflict with Iran will certainly be part of the upcoming confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel. (Discussion of the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ probably will not.) But while President Obama has suggested that when it comes to settlement policy and the peace process "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are," Netanyahu government doesn't seem too concerned with American interests at all. As the Washington Post editorial board pointed out on Tuesday:

Evidently, Mr. Netanyahu calculates that being seen to stand up to this U.S. president is good politics in Israel -- and he may be right. A recent poll showed that half of Israelis believes the prime minister should pursue his policies even if they lead to conflict with the United States. The big story of the campaign has been the surge of far-right parties that reject not only Mr. Obama's view of Israel but also the two-state solution that has been U.S. policy for more than a decade.

Put another way, Israel like any country will act in what it perceives as its national interest. But the same goes for the United States as well. (President Eisenhower's denunciation of the 1956 Sinai attack, Ronald Reagan's criticism of the Israeli strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981 and President George H.W. Bush' s opposition to U.S. loan guarantees for expanding Israeli settlements are just a few examples.) Our ally Israel will decide whether (and some would argue, effectively has decided) a one-state solution is its path forward. (Whether it would be both Jewish and democratic would remain to be seen.) That doesn't mean what's best for Israel is what's best for the United States. That is to say, whether or not any daylight separates Washington and Jerusalem ultimately depends on which, or more accurately, what kind of Israel America's close ally becomes.

3 comments on “No Daylight with Israel? Which One?”

  1. Israel is intractable??? The Arab peace initiative of 2002 proposed a peace deal along the lines of the 1967 borders but with the additional prviso that all Palestinians have the right of return. That was a complete non starter as Israel is not going to take in some 4 1/2 million Palestinians. The Palestinian proposal today is exactly the same. The Palestinian leadership has made exactly zero concrete suggestions that might lead to peace.

  2. You represent the Israeli position perfectly, Joe. Might makes right, so international law that would return Israel to within borders they busted out of when they started the war is a non-starter.(Yes, they did. You can call it "pre-emptive" or whatever other BS you want but it's a fact.) Same goes for the "right of return", which is fine for me (who's connection to the land reaches bacjk thousands of years, is genetically questionalble -- see Shlomo Sands -- and even rejecting that, based on book of self-justifying fables) but not for thee, who has actual title to property and was born there. Do I have that right?

  3. You have very interesting and clear cut views of the whole issue. Initially, I don't know much about the whole deal between Israel and America (well I happen to choose to be indifferent to politics sometimes) but now, after reading your piece, I think I have become rather curious about this that I plan on being updated in the future.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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