The Price of Israel


There is a good article over at Foreign Policy about how most countries, including our European allies, are pretty much fed up with the United States’ constant pandering to even the most damaging, de-stabilizing Israeli dictates. The irony of course is that in doing Bibi’s bidding, the Obama administration is, in essence, validating right-wing Likud policies which absolutely oppose a two-state solution. That irony is not lost on our allies, who know that in vetoing the Palestinian bid for statehood, the U.S. is not acting in its own best interest or the best interest of the region, but rather playing the game of domestic politics which requires that a President up for re-election prove his pro-Israel bona fides by defending every Israeli demand and whim, no matter how disastrous the consequences are for U.S. interests in the Middle East.

From Foreign Policy:

The Obama administration has been engaged in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to persuade the Palestinians to halt their drive for member-state status at the United Nations. Its latest idea centers around a Middle East Quartet statement that would define the timelines for a beginning and an end to a new round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

[snip]

However, the administration has thus far failed to convince Abbas to halt his statehood drive at the United Nations. “We are going to the Security Council,” Abbas said today in Ramallah, setting up a showdown in New York next week that would lead to a U.S. veto. Abbas and Netanyahu are set to give dueling speeches at the U.N. on Friday, Sept. 23.

Behind the scenes, the U.S. and European governments are still working hard to find a path out of this impending diplomatic crisis. According to U.S. officials, European officials, and experts close to the process, the Western powers are considering a new statement from the Middle East Quartet, which is made up of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia. Two key items under negotiation are language referring to the Jewish character of Israel and a U.S. proposal to add timelines to the statement calling for new negotiations.

[snip]

“We’ve tried to have these discussions with [the Obama administration], but they won’t talk about it,” the European diplomat said about the General Assembly resolution, speculating that the White House is prioritizing its domestic political need to defend the Netanyahu administration. “Maybe from the White House perspective, the more they are isolated with Israel, the better.”

Meanwhile, all sides are involved in negotiating over language in the proposed Quartet statement that would acknowledge the Jewish character of the State of Israel. In July, the Quartet got stuck on the Obama administration’s insistence that the words “Jewish state” be contained in the resolution. This time, various other formulations are being floated. One of them is to use the phrase, “two states for two peoples, one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinian people.”

Lets be honest, even if the Palestinians don’t succeed, and they won’t with the Security Council, there is no denying they have finally found their backbone and run circles around the Obama administration. This is of course due to the embarrassment the Palestinian Authority suffered when the Palestine Papers were revealed and more importantly, due to the changes sweeping the Arab world.

The Arab Spring has formally arrived in Israel-Palestine and no amount of diplomacy is going to change that fact. That the US still remains shackled to Israel’s narrow, self-defeating dictates even at the cost of alienating and weakening the U.S. on the world stage, is telling indeed. It should cause rational people to question the price of the special relationship. People should begin asking why Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have to fall on their sword in return for what, exactly? It’s not like Bibi Netanyahu has done one damn thing that they have asked. No, the special relationship is very one-sided- Israel makes demands and screams “jump” and the world’s superpower is required to scream “how high?” It’s embarrassing.

While the Israeli and international media have been printing excellent articles, commentaries etc. on this issue, the parade of articles appearing in the MSM here in the U.S. are the predictable, dumbed-down analysis that starts with the assumption that there must be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel lest it provide an opportunity for Israel’s enemies. That song and dance is getting old. A recent NYT op-ed argued that the Obama administration MUST veto the Palestinian bid for statehood, saying that if they don’t there will be no chance for Mideast peace. This, quite frankly, is utter bullshit. Decades of unsuccessful negotiations and an intransigent Likud Israeli Prime Minister make it very unlikely that absent a radical diplomatic event (such as going to the United Nations) to make a meaningful effort at finally creating two states, there is zero incentive for Israel to stop building settlements and talk about concessions. Some have even argued that some degree of UN recognition could actually help the peace process.

To his credit, Tom Friedman has a good commentary (it’s not often you will hear me say that about Friedman) about the whole situation in today’s NYT and he calls out Israel for essentially being an ungrateful ally and making itself much less safe in the process. Lets be clear about something though- while Friedman and a few others are willing, at times, to take Israel to task for its enraging intransigence, they never take it to the next logical step and provide the administration with cover by calling for the U.S. to start exacting a price for Israel’s constant insistence that the US must engage in actions that directly conflict with our interests. No, they never go there. Instead, they just bemoan the tone-deaf, diplomatically-challenged, right-wing Israeli government, knowing full well the role that they (the media) play in ensuring that the U.S. citizenry views all issues pertaining to the Middle East through a decidedly Israeli lens.

Former Israeli peace negotiator Daniel Levy has a great article discussing the various options/pitfalls that the Palestinians could face at the U.N., which is worth a read, but he makes an important point about how the U.S. is the ultimate loser in all of this, no matter what happens:

Most of the points waiting to be notched up reside in Europe. If there is to be a U.N. vote, then the EU member states are the sought after prize. Europe could score something of a win itself if the EU can present a sufficiently unified front and hold true to its values, interests, and policies by supporting Palestinian statehood and negotiating a text with the Palestinians that also delivers certain strategic Israeli needs — even if these are neither acknowledged as such nor appreciated by the Netanyahu government. Alternatively, Europe will split and sulk back to its off-off-Broadway role as payer, not player.

Europe’s salience is a bi-product of America’s self-marginalization. Whatever the outcome, the United States is guaranteed to be the real loser in all of this. For domestic political reasons the Obama administration is committed to oppose any U.N. initiative not authorized by Israel and to cajole and convince other countries to do likewise. The United States will find itself isolated, blamed for its own vote and the “no’s” of others, weakening its Palestinian friends while frittering away further diplomatic capital, and all at such a delicate time in the Middle East. Having previously been aligned with Arab autocracies, the U.S. could have opened a new chapter post-Arab awakening. Instead, with Arab public opinion now a driving force, the United States will further alienate itself from popular sentiment by (again) trampling Palestinian rights. Making matters worse for President Obama, the relationship with Netanyahu is wholly unidirectional. According to ex- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Netanyahu is “ungrateful” and U.S. interests (let alone Obama’s own needs) do not figure in his calculations.

Those interests, and America’s regional alliances, are being stretched to snapping point by the excesses of Israeli belligerence toward the neighborhood and dismissiveness toward the Palestinians under its current coalition. Democratic Turkey and democratizing Egypt are increasingly unable or unwilling to feign indifference. Israeli hegemony faces new and serious challenges. The unraveling of Israel’s regional relations could make New York a sideshow, and a tame one at that. If Israel chooses to take punitive counter-measures against the Palestinians — withholding tax revenues belonging to the PA, annexing settlements, or responding violently to unarmed marches (and if the Uunited States joins suit by cutting its own PA funding) — then events could spiral in dangerous and unpredictable ways. The PLO move at the United Nations is not an incitement to violence by any reasonable measure — but the Netanyahu government’s response might become just that.

[emphasis added]

The price of our one-sided, unquestioning, unthinking relationship with Israel.

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9 Comments on “The Price of Israel”

  1. seamus6 Says:

    Great write-up. I certainly hope Europe pulls together and goes against the US on this but I don’t think they will- at least not all of them. It’s unlikely that Germany will go against Israel/the US. The UK isn’t showing its card yet, saying they still haven’t made a decision, which must be making the US very nervous. France seems inclined to support the Palestinians, as are Russia, China, Brazil, South Africa, all the Arab states etc.

    All I can say to the US is that your government brought this on themselves although they seem content to blame it all on the Palestinians because I guess there is no political price to pay for beating up on them.

    Reply

  2. Carolyn-Rodham Says:

    Sometimes I see my role here as asking the dumb questions, so here goes:

    What accounts for the power of the Jewish voter? I’m aware that four key states with significant Jewish populations account for 128 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win: California (55), New York (31), Florida (27), and New Jersey (15). But even in New York which has the highest percentage of Jewish voters, the percentage is only 9%. Nationwide, Jewish voters account for only 5% of all voters. Is it Jewish money? I’ve certainly read that a significant chunk of dollars contributed to the Democratic party come from Jewish donors, so is that what accounts for their influence? Some people are saying that with the Supreme Court’s relaxing of limitations on corporate advocacy donations, the Jewish proportion of overall donations is expected to decline. So if it isn’t the number of Jewish voters or the overall amount of their donations, what is it? Why do our elected officials jump when Israel tells them to? Has there ever been a documented case where Jewish voters turned against a particular nation-wide candidate and were proven to have tipped the balance in his opponent’s favor?

    Reply

    • Stacy Says:

      I think it’s a multitude of factors and while money is a big part of it, that’s not the only thing. As you noted, a significant amount of $$ comes from Jewish democrats compared to other groups and that certainly is an issue. Basically, the Jewish community punches above it’s weight politically.

      The lobby has been very successful at having an outsized influence over foreign policy in part because of their ability to fundraise and reward and punish politicians who don’t step smartly to their dictates, but also because they have been very good at messaging and marshaling the larger Jewish community into unquestioning compliance- in part by fear-mongering, in part by laying on big guilt trips and in part out of appealing to a sense of cultural/religious loyalty etc. They have joined with strange allies at times, including far-right Christian Zionists of the Michele Bachmann variety even though the far-right Christians tend to have very different views on social issues.

      The Lobby has also been very good at reigning in and using the media to get their message out, to the point where no one in the media really dares to provide a truly balanced take on the Middle East as it pertains to Israel. No one wants to be called an anti-Semite. If you can control the message then you can pretty much control the populace. Despite finding the lobby to be thuggish and close-minded, I have to give them credit- they truly have done a great job at consolidating their power and using it to achieve their own ends (or should I say to the benefit of a foreign power?).

      The Jewish community is tight-knit, to its credit, and while anti-Semitism still exists, Jewish people have been able to access positions of power in politics, law, academia, media, finances/banking, science etc.- and don’t get me wrong, that’s a very good thing because it wasn’t always the case. Some historically discriminated groups have not been as successful and haven’t been able to have as big an impact on policy as a result (or perhaps, wealth). Having access to power and being in a position of power in society certainly gives one an advantage in crafting and influencing policy. Also, the Lobby has been very adroit at [cynically] using anti-Semitism as a weapon against any dissenters. And liberal Jews who speak out against Israeli policies are marginalized, criticized, called “self-hating” and in some instances, threatened and cast out of the community altogether (think Goldstone).

      Has the Jewish vote (or the issue of Israel) ever caused a Democrat to lose a big election? I don’t know (the bizarre NY9 election notwithstanding). But the media certainly looooooves to hype that threat. As soon as a politician says something the lobby doesn’t like, the media (and the lobby) start fear-mongering about losing the Jewish vote and Israeli leaders of course play a role in that.

      BTW, the book The Israel Lobby by Walt and Mersheimer is basically all about your question although they rightfully make clear that when they talk about the influence of “The Lobby” they are not talking about ‘The Jews.’ But they talk about how the Lobby was able to amass so much influence, the methods they use etc. It’s an excellent book, albeit controversial.

      Sorry about the long-winded response.

      Reply

      • Carolyn-Rodham Says:

        “Sorry”? Stacy, I rely on your long-winded responses to reduce complicated, multifaceted issues to clear, manageable proportions.

        Reply

  3. Stacy Says:

    BTW, yesterday evening Glenn Greenwald put up a good post about the book ‘The Israel Lobby’ and Tom Friedman’s opinion piece:

    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2011/09/18/friedman/index.html

    Reply

  4. Stacy Says:

    You probably saw this, but it’s more hype about Israel and the Jewish vote, which sort of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts:

    http://nymag.com/print/?/news/politics/israel-2011-9/

    Reply

    • Carolyn-Rodham Says:

      Thanks, I hadn’t seen thos. Actually, I thought this article was one of the more hard-hitting (critical of Israel) I’ve seen, or at least more even-handed in dispensing blame.

      I wonder whether the Lobby’s efforts to make Obama/Democrats toe the line (hard to imagine the Dems brown-nosing any more than they already do) by cozying up to Repulicans will backfire in the sense that at the national level, the
      Jewish vote will be split and ultimately
      less influential.

      Reply

      • thainjacobs Says:

        I think some Israelis are worried that if Israel is overly politicized they could lose support- opposition leader Tzipi Livni has said as much after Bibi’s grand oratory before Congress. Israeli commentators have also noted how he is using the GOP to undermine Obama.

        Democrats are probably worried. I think AIPAC understands that they do better when both parties are shamelessly beholden to Israel’s interests and that’s where their source of immense power comes from, to the detriment of the US unfortunately.

        I like to think American Jews aren’t going to flock to the GOP. While there are certainly Jewish people who are conservative on social issues the larger percentage of them are not. Do liberal Jews in NY who are pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-environmental protection, pro workers rights really want to vote for a Michele Bachmann who is against all those things? I certainly hope not. It DOES however seem like the liberalism doesn’t really extend to foreign policy, which is sort of annoying. But then again both parties are very hawkish on foreign policy.

        Given the democrats are as shamelessly beholden to Israel I don’t see why this should be an issue. There’s been a lot of fear mongering to try to stir up the Jewish vote but unless they are really really uniformed, American Jews should be able to see that Bibi has been calling the shots and leading Obama around by a very short leash for the past 3 years. Honestly, I don’t know what Jewish voters or the lobby are bitching about.

        Reply

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