The future of US- Israel relations is a matter of concern for all of us. Crystal balls are cloudy, but these two predictions are probably right. The bad news is that the US will continue to pressure Israel regarding concessions to Palestinians - "bad for Israel," and they will do so regardless of whether such concessions can objectively lead to peace. The worse news is that the US is losing its stature in the Middle East, and that others will generate even greater pressures. We are like the kids at camp who complain about the food, "it's terrible and the portions are getting smaller."
Campaign rhetoric and actions are two different things. The most "pro-Israel" of the leading presidential candidates is John McCain. At least, he is currently touted as such. Bitter experience shows however, that we must discount much of what candidates say during elections, and look at who they are and what their overall record is. Two years ago, away from the limelight, McCain gave an interview to Amir Oren of Ha'aretz that probably represents his views, background and instincts regarding Israel. He has tried to back out of some of the things he wrote, but he can't deny who he is. He can't expect us to think that he is so totally brainless that he didn't study up on Israel and contemplate his policy before giving an interview. Here is an excerpt:
As president, McCain would "micromanage" U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because in his opinion, this is still the source of the ferment in the region: Every time an Arab leader wants to provide a distraction, he argues that the problem is due to Israel, and also in the matter of Iran, "we would not have been so concerned" over its nuclear program had it not threatened Israel with extinction. He is fed up with the evasiveness of the Arab states - and most of all with Egypt, which has not given adequate return for the extensive American aid it has received - with regard to helping to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine.
A McCain administration, alongside his close supervision from the White House, would send "the smartest guy I know" to the Middle East. And who is that? "Brent Scowcroft, or Jim Baker, though I know that you in Israel don't like Baker." This is a longing for the administration of the first president Bush, or even for the administration of president Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. In both of them, general Scowcroft was the national security adviser. McCain will act to bring peace, "but having studied what Clinton did at Camp David, perhaps not in one try, but rather step by step, and I would expect concessions and sacrifices by both sides." In general, a movement toward the June 4, 1967 armistice lines, with minor modifications? McCain nods in the affirmative.
Mention of Jim ("F--- the Jews") Baker is fairly alarming, but the truth is that there is nothing much new here, With or without Baker and his colorful language, every US administration for at least the last 30 years has pursued and is pursuing the same approximate goal, and has the same policies regarding Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. There are nuances - such as support for bilateral negotiations or international conferences, more or less Washington activity and the like, but the overall ideas remain the same. The current administration is no exception, as we can learn from briefings like this one. Like it or not, that's the policy. McCain, Obama or Clinton will do about the same things, even if they send Dennis Ross or someone else as the messenger instead of Jim Baker.
What is more, US policy is the most positive toward Israel of all the major powers. The decline of US influence will not be good for Israel. We - Israelis, Zionists and supporters had better prioritize our goals and have a good understanding of what we want and need from the US and others in terms of alliances and support. Our goals have to be realistic as well. We also have to arrive at a clear understanding of our "red lines." Is pressure to accept Hamas as a partner a red line? How about pressure to end the blockade? It might be coming soon, from this administration, not the next. Of course, it is silly to fight such pressure if we are only going to turn around and negotiate with Hamas ourselves.
We took bad 'advice' from the United States regarding allowing participation of the Hamas in Palestinian elections, and they are not being all that helpful about cleaning up the mess. We may be taking bad advice from them now about how to deal with Hamas and other issues. How much of this damage is part of the price we have to pay to 'get along,' and when do we say that the price is too dear?
Do we really want to advocate US military intervention in Iran? Do we understand the risk and the price? If it fails, there will surely be hell to pay, and we will be asked to pay it. If it succeeds, we will be asked to pay a price as well. Here is what McCain and Oren had to say about Iran:
Although he mentioned that the range of Iran's missiles also extends to European capitals, the main and deciding argument for thwarting the Iranian nuclear program - via a military operation, if softer means prove to no avail - is Iran's explicit threat to annihilate Israel.
In McCain's mind at least, Israel is the reason for attacking Iran. Never mind that they will throw the United States out of the Middle East. McCain of course, is not the only one who thinks that Israel is the reason for attacking Iran. America will do us a special favor by stopping Iran from taking over the Gulf, and never mind about Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the other Gulf states. It is all done just for Israel, because they love us, but of course, there will be an expected quid pro quo. How did we get maneuvered into this silly and dangerous position? For that matter, jow did we get painted as the reason for the Iraq war. It is a preposterous claim, but there is no lack of quotes from Israel 'supporters' to back it.
When we accept gifts, like $3 billion in aid or fancy aircraft or attacks on Iran, we have to understand that there are always strings attached. When some of us ask for "gifts" like a nice attack on Iraq, they have to be thinking of the price tag for Israel - especially if the attack goes wrong.
Israelis especially need to think carefully if we need the gifts, and what we lose by taking them. Likewise, when we set policy goals for Israel, we must understand that they may involve risk, and may come at a price. Clearly, iif the US or "World Opinion" pressures Israel to implement "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, we cannot accept that. But is it really "patriotic" or in the best interests of Israel to risk alienating all of our allies for some trailers in an illegal outpost? These problems will not be avoided by voting for "the right" candidate in a US election, because the potential conflicts are inherent in the inevitably different goals of Israeli policy about Israel, and that of other countries. That is what sovereignty is all about. Israel is not one of the 57 states of the union imagined by Barack Obama.
On issues that really are "do or die" national priorities, such as dealing with Hamas or Hezbollah, we need to keep in mind that what we do will probably be more important than what people say. It never pays to drop dead just to please someone else, as you will not be around to hear the eulogies anyhow.
We also must remember that countries that support us do so for good reasons that have nothing to do with flag waving, invocations of holy writ and the like. Our dear friends in Washington were not not half as solicitous of the welfare of Israel before the 6 Day War. God is on the side of the big battalions. If we become weak and dependent, and if we come to rely on others to solve our problems for us, we will be a liability. Nobody wants liabilities.
Israel is a small country and like all small countries, must learn to maneuver adroitly and subtly to get what it needs. Our cause is not helped by groups that try to do the negotiations for us and announce what Israeli concessions ought to be in advance. That is never a good way to strike a bargain, especially when the other side keeps saying, "my way or the highway." The trouble with the "tough love" idea advocated by J Street and its followers, the insistence that the US has to impose solutions, is that the US, and the people advocating these policies, have demonstrated time and again that they are clueless about crucial aspects of the Middle East - at least as clueless as anyone else. Nonetheless, they are willing to go charging ahead with their "solutions" like bulls in a china shop, and with the same results. Nor is our cause always helped by super-patriots who insist on raising issues that drive a wedge between the United States and Israel or portray Zionists as extremists.
The Jews are learning that freedom comes with responsibility and unpleasant choices, and that "freedom" is never absolute.
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