By William Pfaff
The relationship between the United States and Israel has always rested on a number of pretensions, politically useful to politicians on both sides, but because they are untrue, certain eventually to prove destructive to both countries.
The destruction has now begun, as the pretensions and hypocrisies begin to fall. The cause of this is external and unexpected. Preoccupied with its own interests, and by the expansionist forces inside its society of secular Zionism, expressed in the Likud Party, and the equivalent expansionism motivated by millenarian religion, the Benjamin Netanyahu government has made itself an obstacle to American military security and to the interests of U.S. military forces operating in the Islamic world.
This has been obvious for many years but has only now been acknowledged by military commanders. As Mark Perry has reported on the Foreign Policy magazine website, a team dispatched by Gen. David Petraeus of Central Command briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Jan. 16 to the effect that the conduct of Israel with respect to the Palestinians has now caused the Islamic forces cooperating with the United States, as well as those fighting it, to conclude that the U.S. is weak, and its military posture is subverted by American complicity with Israel’s intransigence on the Palestinian issue.
When this was conveyed to the White House, the shock was great. The message itself was not so much a surprise as the emphasis and urgency with which senior American commanders now regard the problem.
This lies behind the fury of Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week at the deliberate humiliation of the United States by the Netanyahu government in making the vice president’s visit to Israel the occasion for the announcement of the construction of 1,600 new residence units in East Jerusalem, in areas claimed by the Palestinians and under international law belonging to them. The Israeli prime minister added personal defiance to these announcements, regretting their “timing” but refusing to accept the American protests as valid.
Relations between the two countries, and the foreign-policy dialogue within both countries, have both for many years rested upon a very large dose of hypocrisy.
On Sept. 29, 2008, Ethan Brommer wrote in The New York Times, “(Outgoing) Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview ... that Israel must withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem to attain peace with the Palestinians.” This indeed had long been obvious to all realistic Israeli and American political observers, yet Olmert, a veteran Israeli politician, allowed himself to say this only after his political career had ended.
Ariel Sharon carried out the forced evacuation of Jewish settlers in Gaza for the same reason. He said Israel could not expect indefinitely to rule over a Palestinian population larger than the Israeli population. He was not long after struck down. (There undoubtedly are Orthodox rabbis who believe this the act of an outraged Old Testament God, converted to Zionism—originally a secular creed). Sharon remains in a coma.
Now Netanyahu has provoked what the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. calls the worst crisis between the two countries in three decades.
Until now, successive Israeli governments pretended to the world community that land seizures from the Palestinians would all be peacefully sorted out in a final two-states agreement (if one occurred!). The United States pretended that this was true, and that in the meantime its formal, legal refusal to acknowledge Israel’s claims on Jerusalem and on the Palestinian territories provided a substitute for a foreign policy.
The most important and dangerous pretense has been that American and Israeli interests in the Middle East coincide. They actually conflict in basic respects. The American interest in the region is permanent good relations with the oil-producing Arab states, which remain in doubt so long as the Palestine question is unresolved.
The American interest with respect to Israel is permanent peace between it and its neighbors. The obstacle to this is the unwillingness of most Islamic governments to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli state within its present borders, so long as there is no agreement with the Palestinians. Until then (as the Pentagon briefers said), the present enmity of Muslims, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia, toward the United States must be expected to mount, and the wars of the United States against Muslim groups will be seen as imperialist war against Islam.
Israel at present is unable to define what it really wants (even if it could have it) because its people are divided in interpreting their nation’s permanent interest. There is an alliance of expansionist secular Zionists with that part of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that believes that God, in the Book of Genesis, gave his people the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. They have no way at present to fulfill this prophecy, but they are patient. The vast majority of Israelis would probably welcome a settlement with the Arabs that assured them permanent security within their present frontiers—if only they could have that. They presumably can—under another government.
The annual conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is scheduled for next week. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary of State Clinton are both expected to speak. It will be an interesting occasion.
Visit William Pfaff’s website at www.williampfaff.com.
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