Sixty-eight years ago, on the eve of World War II, the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine faced an enormous tragedy. The British government, which been given a mandate over Palestine in order to create a homeland here, issued the 1939 White Paper, in which the mandate was repudiated, and the Jews of Europe were left without any refuge before the ominous advance of the Nazi armies. The tragedy was heightened by the fact that the Zionist organization had worked so hard to obtain the declaration and the British mandate, and had had such high hopes of their British friends, who presently abandoned the Jews.
Cynical, cowardly and incompetent politicians of a dying empire sealed the fate of hundreds of thousands of European Jews. They enacted a policy that was bad for Britain, bad for the Jews, immoral and dishonorable, appeasing the followers of the Palestinian Nazi Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini. Husseini rewarded his British benefactors by instigating a pro-Nazi coup in Iraq. Perhaps it was a just reward, but there was to be no justice for Palestine or the Jews. There is no act of compensation, retribution or punishment that can bring back the people who died because of Nazism, because of senseless Arab racism and cynical British incompetence. If the Jewish people had not understood until then, we should have learned the lesson then: our fate can never be left in the hands of others.
Less than a decade later, Israel was an independent state, after a bitter fight against British imperialism and the armies of the Arab states. After nearly two thousand years, the Jewish people could once again be a free people in their own land. No longer would we need to beg immigration certificates from the British. No longer would we need to depend on the British to defend our civilian population. No longer would our soldiers be arrested and imprisoned for defending Jews against Arab pogromists.
One would think that this hard-won independence would be guarded zealously. Indeed, whether by design or force of circumstances, Israeli policy pursued a relatively independent course during the initial decades of Israel's existence, allying with the British and French only briefly for the Suez invasion, offering friendship to all, listening politely to advice, and accepting only that advice that was deemed to be in the best interests of Israel. It is moot to discuss what would have happened, had the United States or the Soviet Union offered a genuine treaty of alliance with Israel, no strings attached. No such treaty was offered. The experts of the United States State Department believed that Israel was an unviable client state. United States government policy consisted of making friendly noises to Israel in order to mollify the supposedly powerful Jewish vote, while at the same time doing almost nothing at all to help Israel, and, on occasion, confronting it.
In the crisis leading to the 1967 Six Day War, United States diplomatic support had proven to be practically worthless. All the American professions of undying love for Israel proved to be mendacious political sloganeering. Israel was faced with threats of annihilation, yet the United States would not even respond to trivial requests for military supplies, and placed an embargo on military shipments to the Middle East, offensive or defensive. Gas masks for Israel had to be smuggled out of the United States from a forgotten hangar in an out-of-the-way airport.
Following the 1967 Six Day War, U.S. policy began to change. The "unviable client state" had defied the United States and won a brilliant military victory, using arms purchased from virtually everywhere except the United States. United States foreign policy gurus understood that they had little leverage on Israel, because the victory was won without U.S. help or U.S. arms. The U.S. would have to find ways to make Israel dependent upon it.
Over the years, albeit with reluctance on the part of Americans, the goal contemplated in 1967 was achieved. Israel came to be totally dependent on the United States for arms supply and diplomatic support. In effect, there is now a United States Mandate for Israel (or Palestine). Despite Israeli illusions, it is for the most part the same sort of United States that it was in 1967 or 1956. That is, it must, as any nation must, pursue policies that it feels are in its own best interests, not matter what it might say. Those interests in the Middle East involve oil, which is not in Israel, and at present, getting out of Iraq with honor. Israel cannot fault the United States for pursuing those interests; it is like faulting a tiger for not being a vegetarian. The United States must eat oil to live. That fact has not changed since 1956 or 1967. It has become more salient than ever. Along with conflicts of interest, we must also consider that the United States has more often than not demonstrated its lack of competence to deal with the Middle East, alternately appeasing and enraging allies and client states for no very good reason, applying force where diplomacy was needed and diplomacy where force is needed.
The United States Mandate for Palestine is a mandate deluxe for the mandatory power. The U.S. does not have to educate any natives to democracy or send any troops or invest much money. It gets to make the policy decisions, in accordance with it's national needs, and to reap any benefits of those policies, without taking a risks of any kind. The U.S. government decides and announces a Palestinian state, a roadmap and another roadmap plan. "His majesty's government view with favor the establishment of a national home for the Arabs in Palestine."
It was United States pressure that forced participation of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, but it is Israelis who must suffer the Qassam rockets in Sderot, and who must exercise restraint and evacuate Sderot, in order to comply with an unrealistic U.S. policy. Can anyone imagine that any country with Israel's military capabilies would, of their own volition, simply evacuate its citizens in the face of a rocket attack?
The only counsel of the United States State Department is "restraint." If the State Department had a bird, it would say "restraint." The State Department does not offer a solution to the problem it helped create or a way forward. It is proving Einstein's dictum, that you cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them. In this case, it was lack of thinking and lack of understanding of the Middle East that created the problems.
The United States also decided that Israel could not undertake negotiations with Syria, and then denied that they had made that decision. And now, apparently, they have reversed it. If the report is true, the U.S. attaches conditions to Israeli-Syrian negotiations that could only be made by people who have no knowledge or understanding of the Middle East. They warn Israel not to make promises regarding U.S. policy, but of course, Bashar Assad would never be stupid enough to believe that Israel could really influence U.S. policy. They warn that Israel must not negotiate in place of the U.S. on issues in which the U.S. has an interest, but on the other hand, the U.S. is not going to negotiate with Syria either. That includes:
"Syria's role in terrorism, the presence of terrorist organizations in Damascus and its involvement in smuggling weapons to Hezbollah and the Palestinian territories."
Of course, in that case, Israel has nothing to discuss with Syria. What American official could be foolish enough to imagine that Israel would withdraw a millimeter from the Golan heights without guarantees on all these issues? What would be the point?
The reason given for the U.S. reversal of policy, if it is correct, is indicative of extreme naivete at best: Syria attended a conference about the future of Iraq. For one attendance at a conference, Bashar Assad will get the Golan heights. If he sends representatives to ten conferences, he can have Haifa too according to the American way of thinking. The naive babble of current U.S. presidential candidates on both sides of the political divide indicates that nothing will change when the current administration is replaced. It never has. The U.S. was caught by surprise by the Six day war, and it was caught by surprise when the Shah was ousted. It stood by and did nothing when Iran was converted into an Islamist theocracy, it is doing nothing as Iran acquires nuclear weapons. In Lebanon, the U.S. was bested by Syrian military intelligence and the Iranians who organized the Hezbollah in 1982 (not 1984 as is often claimed) and the U.S. beat a hasty and cowardly retreat in the face of foreign organized suicide bombings. Everyone understood the message then. And the U.S. is being bested in Lebanon by Syria and the Iranians right now. Diplomacy will not save the Siniora government that Ms. Rice champions. Only the U.S. does not seem to understand the purpose of having an army.
The decision making process of the Israeli government is manipulated from Washington, by people who do not understand the Middle East, and who are in many cases beholden to the Saudi Aramco corporation and American business interests in Arab lands. It is not clear in each case, what decision would be the correct one. Should Israel negotiate with Syria? Should Israel invade Gaza? But the point is, that the decision should be made in Jerusalem and not in Washington. In democratic governments, the citizens and their leaders are allowed to make their own mistakes. Washington's failure to recognize Jerusalem is more than a diplomatic issue. It signals U.S. contempt for Israeli government. Israel was not an unviable client state in 1967. By now, it is certainly a client state. If not unviable, then certainly unenviable.
Having more or less absolute control over a country breeds contempt. Contempt breeds arrogance. Arrogance breeds stupidity. U.S. Ambassador Richard Jones delivered himself of remarks that could only be called "undiplomatic" in most reserved tones of understatement. He felt the urge to say of Jonathan Pollard
The fact that he wasn't executed is the mercy that Jonathan Pollard will receive."
The crime of which Pollard was convicted does not carry a death sentence, so it is not clear why or on what basis Jones made that remark. In fact, no spy has been executed in the U.S. in about half a century.
The remarks were unnecessary, cruel, thoughtless, unprofessional and yes, undiplomatic as well. Jones serves in one of the most sensitive diplomatic posts in the world. He is unsuited to his position, and a wise administration would ensure that he soon found that he had family or health obligations that forced his resignation. The fact that is he is not unceremoniously asked to leave is the mercy that Richard Jones will receive, and that only because in its arrogance, the United States can do as it pleases.
All aspects of the Pollard affair are best forgotten. The man did wrong, and his operators did wrong. But he did not sell the United States out to an enemy power. He has served a longer sentence than any other spy in modern times, because the United States government reneged on a plea bargain agreement. What conceivable positive purpose could have been served by Jones' remarks? His apology is worthless. The toothpaste cannot be put back into the tube. And of course, one must never say that the United States has, and has always had, intelligence "assets" in Israel, so we will not mention that embarrassing truism.
What next? Will the CIA whack Israeli leaders whom they consider inconvenient, as they did to Salvador Allende in Chile? The U.S. is slowly turning Israel into a banana republic. Perhaps we are not there yet. However, it did not seem remarkable when a U.S. State Department official propped up the corrupt and incompetent Olmert government, after the Winograd report, by remarking that the U.S. needs Olmert to further the peace efforts.
I write these words with great sadness. Were I a professional America basher, the situation I describe would be grist for an anti-imperialist mill. I am both an Israeli and an American, and I love both of my countries. But unpleasant truths must be recognized.
A banana republic at war becomes something like South Vietnam - a corrupt and indifferent leadership with an incompetent and unmotivated army like ARVN. Neither the United States nor Israel can afford to let that happen. Would the U.S. public like to send troops to prop up the regime of Ngo Dinh Olmert?
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