We are currently being subjected to a chorus of proclamations by government spokesmen, American Jewish leaders and Obama administration representatives reassuring us that Israeli-US relations are back on track. Ironically, these frenetic denials that any problem exists merely highlight the severity of the crisis.
Having recently gained direct insight into the American political scene and met a wide cross-section of American Jewish leaders and opinion makers, it is frustrating to observe how in response to a few friendly strokes and reassuring words, we still grasp straws to avoid facing unpleasant realities and accept at face value meaningless incantations that all is well.
The truth is that there is no tangible evidence that the US has diverted from its policy of “engaging” or appeasing Islam by distancing itself from us.
It is however reassuring that contrary to the predictions of President Barack Obama’s Jewish advisers, American Jewish protest at grassroots levels has emerged, deploring the bias and hostility displayed toward the Netanyahu government.
This contrasted with Jewish leaders most of whom privately expressed dismay with Obama breaching his pre-election commitments relating to Israel but refused to publicly reprimand their president. It was somewhat bizarre to hear traditionally highly vocal American Jewish leaders rationalizing their inaction on the grounds that protests would have been counterproductive and that it was preferable to operate quietly behind the scenes.
In fact, aside from Abe Foxman of the ADL, a curtain of silence initially enveloped the shocked Jewish establishment. Only weeks later did a number of high-profile Democratic supporters like Alan Dershowitz and former New York mayor Ed Koch publicly express their protest. Subsequently World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder, Elie Wiesel and, most recently on Jerusalem Day, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also gave vent to their feelings in full-page newspaper advertisements.
It was only then that the administration grasped the extent of the backlash against Obama’s Middle East policies and realized that the Democratic Party was in danger of losing the support of committed Jewish voters and donors.
The concerns of the administration were further heightened when opinion polls showed that the broad American public opposed Obama’s Middle East policies and strongly supported Israel – even displaying overwhelming support for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. This was reaffirmed in petitions signed by the vast majority of members from both Houses of Congress calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to end the public disputations against Israel.
This led to frantic efforts by the administration to reassure the public that Obama had not betrayed Israel. In contrast to insults meted to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was given the royal treatment, with Obama even “dropping in unexpectedly” in the course of his meetings with other officials. The president and virtually all senior administration officials began repeatedly chanting the mantra that US-Israel relations are stronger than ever.
Ambassador Michael Oren, who had initially stated that the rift with the US represented the greatest crisis Israel had ever experienced, assured American Jews that “relationships are as good or better between the US and Israel than under any other president.”
Wiesel after being charmed by Obama at a kosher luncheon naively proclaimed that “the tension is over” and quoted Obama denying that there had ever been any policy change.
PROCLAMATIONS OF support for Israel by the administration are of course welcome. But regrettably there is no evidence of any change in US policy. Pressure continues to be exerted on Israel to make further unilateral concessions with no commensurate effort to modify Palestinian intransigency. The administration seems to have given up on preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and instead appears to be implicitly endorsing efforts to neutralize Israel’s ambiguous nuclear deterrent.
Furthermore, the State Department has begun ominously threatening to hold “to account” any parties indulging in acts “of provocation” leading to a breakdown in the proximity talks. Yet the incitement, repeated aggressive initiatives and breaches of existing commitments by Palestinian Authority leaders, including the recent effort to block Israel’s entry into the OECD, continue to be ignored.
The situation is aggravated when government circles which hitherto denied an imprimatur for J Street suddenly conceded that the organization is becoming “mainstream.”
It is surely not “mainstream” for a Jewish organization to lobby the US government to pressure Israel to make unilateral concessions. In fact only a few days ago, J Street posted messages to its members reiterating the damaging demagogic statement that the Arab-Israeli conflict was endangering US troops and called on congressmen to sign a petition calling on Obama to continue pressuring Israel.
It is thus surely time for Israeli leaders, including the prime minister, to spell out the truth. One cannot expect the American public or even American Jews to be critical of the policies of their government while Israeli leaders express unqualified praise for an administration which fails to act evenhandedly.
The harsh reality is that despite all the babble about peace, there is currently no light at the end of the tunnel and these wretched proximity talks in lieu of direct negotiations make prospects for a genuine settlement more remote than ever.
Alas, even if PA President Mahmoud Abbas had the power or inclination to genuinely reach a settlement, no Israeli government could accommodate the more intransigent demands being promoted on the basis of undertakings allegedly received from the Americans.
Unless the Palestinians once again shoot themselves in the foot, the almost inevitable outcome is that the talks will collapse and Israel will be blamed and depicted as the obstacle to peace.
Obama has already suggested that if the talks collapse, he would convene an international conference with the Quartet. In the climate of the Goldstone Report and intensified efforts to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state, the US and the Europeans would seek to impose a solution and unilaterally create a Palestinian state.
Moreover, the US has already hinted that if Israel fails to extend the settlement freeze after September, it should no longer take for granted that the US would continue exercising its veto to neutralize hostile resolutions at the UN Security Council.
What should Israel do? Instead of shadowboxing and understating the problems, Netanyahu should proclaim support for coexisting with a Palestinian state with the provisos that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state, accept demilitarization, relinquish the right of return of Arab refugees and end the bloody incitement. He should stress that in the absence of such conditions, trading land for peace merely becomes transformed into a vehicle for the Arab dismemberment of Israel in stages.
Netanyahu may be surprised at the positive response he gains from the American public if he tells the truth and reiterates that the vast majority of Israelis are desperate to separate themselves from the Palestinians. But this cannot be achieved by once again gambling with our security by making concessions without reciprocity to those committed to our destruction.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post