Israel USA - vultures distrust
Crisis of confidence in US-Israel ties
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington on May 18 and, by all indications, for the first time in many decades his White House trip coincides with a growing crisis of confidence in relations between the United States and Israel.
Spoiled by eight years of unconditional support by the previous administration of George W Bush, who was hailed in Israel as the "staunchest pro-Israel US president" in Israel's 60-year history, the Israeli government must now face the reality that the US can no longer afford to support its policies against the Palestinians without suffering serious backlashes against its interests in the Middle East.
Already, the administration of President Barack Obama has signaled its determination to end the business-as-usual approach through a policy speech by Vice President Joseph Biden at the annual conference of the Jewish lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last week. Biden explicitly called for a halt to illegal Jewish settlements, the dismantling of roadblocks to allow the "free movement" of Palestinians in the West Bank and more security responsibility in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.
Also speaking at the AIPAC meeting, Israeli President Shimon Peres said, "Netanyahu knows history and wants to make history. In our tradition, making history is making peace, and I'm sure that peace is his priority."
Yet the right-wing Israeli government does not appear willing to do any of the things suggested by Biden, despite the lip service by Netanyahu on his "commitment to negotiations".
A clue to the changing tides not entirely to Israel's liking is that even the usually pro-Israel New York Times in an editorial on May 12 said that such statements by Netanyahu "ring hollow".
The Israeli daily Ha'aretz last week ran a main story under the headline "Obama will get tougher on Israel". According to the paper, the US is sending out strong messages about the need for a Palestinian state and the need to curb Israel's settlement activity.
About 60,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem are slated to have their homes destroyed. Israel is also building a subway near a Palestinian mosque, destroying the mosque in its wake. In the West Bank alone, more than 600 Israeli checkpoints make daily life difficult for the Palestinians. Many Palestinians, 11,000 to be exact, are in Israeli jails, mostly owing to the rising tensions due to the illegal expansion of Jewish settlements and the construction of a separation wall that chews up vast chunks of Palestinian lands.
In Gaza, on the other hand, life continues to be tough as Israel has refused to comply with United Nations resolution 1860 calling for open borders to allow unfettered humanitarian assistance. In March, the international community pledged US$4.5 billion for Gaza's reconstruction, yet urgently needed materials, such as cement and glass, are not allowed into the territory due to Israel's blockade.
Four months after the bloody Gaza conflict, during which 3,800 houses and two health centers were destroyed and 34,000 homes, 15 hospitals, 41 health-care centers and 282 schools damaged, only food and medicine is allowed into the territory.
"The time has come for Israel to fundamentally change its policies in this regard, as it has repeatedly promised to do, but not yet done," UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council on Monday. He added that "Palestinians continue to see unacceptable unilateral actions in East Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank, including house demolitions, intensified settlement activity, settler violence and oppressive restrictions on their movements".
Noted American peace activist Noam Chomsky has made the observation, "Israel could have security, normalization of relations and integration into the region. But it very clearly prefers illegal expansion, conflict and repeated exercises of violence ..."
As an apparent diversionary tactic, Netanyahu has now linked any progress on the "two-state" solution to progress in the talks on Iran's nuclear program. Few people in the international community buy this as anything other than another Israeli maneuver to deny the Palestinians rights.
According to a report by Jerrold Kessel and Pierre Klochendler of Inter Press Service, Netanyahu aides said his top priority was to get Obama to accept that before Israel committed to any far-reaching moves with the Palestinians, he had to be convinced that the Obama dialogue initiative with Iran won't allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapon capability.
Susan Rice, the US envoy to the UN, has called for re-invigorating the "road map", the "Annapolis process" and "integrating" the Saudi-led Arab peace plan into the US's Middle East policy. This is fine talk reminiscent of former president George W Bush's verbal commitments, yet such words must be backed with stern actions by the US against Israel. These could include a threat to cut off US aid to Israel should it refuse to take any tangible steps toward the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, something for which US envoy George Mitchell, who has visited the region three times already, has reportedly called.
Pope Benedict XVI, during his ongoing "pilgrimage of peace" to the Holy Land, has also called for a Palestinian homeland.
But the fact that the present US initiative is inherently insufficient can be surmised from the apt criticisms of the "road map" by Costa Rica's Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno, who in his speech before the UN Security Council noted the absence of "final-status parameters" in the present discussions.
"This international community must be committed to reaching a settlement, and not see it merely as an opportunity for some who are seeking diplomatic muscles to recover past glories or reap their own rewards, or even as a bill of exchange to be used in other chess matches ... This false logic has offered too many opportunities for those who live off intolerance and violence to sabotage the peace," Stagno stated.
It boils down to whether the Israeli government will amend its policies and, if not, whether the US will ignore the deepening Middle East crisis caused by such policies and continue to support Israel.
In light of Israel's considerable clout in Washington, and despite feeble White House rhetoric of a get-tough policy on Israel, it is most likely that Netanyahu and Obama, regardless of the chillier winds, will continue down the same path. Simply put, the White House is not ready or prepared to use the leverage of sanctions and the threat of cutting US assistance to Israel.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. His latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available.