woensdag 5 december 2012

Is the relationship between the US and Israel tilting?

Protest against the Israeli atack on the Palestinians held at the State Library 4 January 2009.
Photo: Takver / Wikimedia Commons

There are indications that a new reality in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is in the making. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be losing out to President Obama. Under a re-elected Obama opportunities for Palestinians could return.
“For the last forty years I have specialized, both in my writing and teaching, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and as a consequence I now regard Israel as a moral disaster--a betrayer of what we have long believed to be Jewish rationalism, enlightenment, and commitment to the highest values of civilization. It is a disgraceful state, and an increasingly ignorant and in many ways disgraceful society, a pariah state that fully deserves its pariah status. Aside from its moral evil, it is also insanely self-destructive, and it will be something of a miracle if it survives. I am no longer in a tiny minority in holding these views; they have become increasingly common among American Jewish intellectuals, and indeed among the best Israelis.”
That is what Jerome Slater said in an email exchange with New York Times' chief Israeli correspondent Jodi Rudoren. A retired political science professor, Slater is a seasoned observer. He has taught and written about U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly 50 years. In his correspondence with Rudoren he criticizes her for biased and too rosy reporting about Israel. The fact that Israel has turned so far away from Herzl's vision is a nightmare to him. Don’t simply discard my observations as mere ideology, he says, “the facts about Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians are overwhelming. There is no prospect of serious change in Israeli policies in the absence of serious U.S. pressures, and there is no prospect of such pressures in the absence of change in the views of the American Jewish community”. Such disaster could also take the form of the collapse of liberal democracy, says Slater. His message is: come to grips with the reality and rouse your readers from their ignorance.
Haaretz editor Tal Niv joins Slater in his concern over the fate of the Zionist project. She sees the bankruptcy of a country where children are subject to an upbringing that preaches violence and hatred against the indigenous population, hatred that takes the form of lethal violence. It is clear to her that something has become twisted in a country that witnesses a surge of violence among its future citizens. Violence that seeks to expunge anyone who is not a Jew, that is continually occupied with educating children to feel superior because of their nationality instead of instilling pluralistic ideals. Violence that puts the Zionist project itself in doubt, a project that is turning its back on human rights. Israel may survive as an armed state of Jewish law in which Jews and the children of Jews do as they please to Arabs by divine right, but this is no longer the kind of Zionist state that Herzl envisioned, a state in which a decent person could live, says Niv.
If the Zionist project is a failure, then what is on the horizon for Israel and the Palestinian population in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Diaspora? That is the big question for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. For decades, Israel has campaigned for recognition in the Arab world. But when in early 2002 the Arab League adopted the Saudi initiative that provided for recognition of Israel within the 1967 borders, peace seemed suddenly not so attractive. In that scenario, the prime minister would be faced with the uncomfortable choice between a unitary state with equal rights for settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank, or a binational state for Jews and Palestinians, but with different political institutions. The first option would challenge the Jewish character of Israel, the second constitutional democracy. With the Israeli political landscape shifting to the right and more than 600,000 hyper assertive settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has colonised the two-state solution into oblivion.
Jerome Slater believes that public opinion in the U.S. could be mobilized and a change of U.S. policy brought about by highlighting both sides of the conflict. Veteran Middle East expert Alan Hart sees opportunities for Palestine, too. Hart suggests the discharge of the impotent Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas - whose mandate ended on 9 January 2009 - and the re-establishment of a Palestinian National Council in exile. Having become responsible for the administration of the land it occupies, the occupier can be held to account on international platforms. Hart also suggests for all Palestinians around the world to mobilize. In addition to the 1.5 million in Israel, 2.4 in the West Bank and 1.6 in Gaza, there are 7.5 million Palestinians in the diaspora. Numerically, the total 12.8 million Palestinians have a case that the international community can no longer ignore, says Hart. But in the short term, only the attitude of superpower America, which lends massive military, financial and diplomatic support to Israel, can make the difference.
There are indications that the changed U.S. policy which Slater envisions is emerging. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported a new reality in the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Following Washington’s decision to postpone joint U.S.-Israeli military exercises this spring, this fall it will only delegate a token minimum of American forces. And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey warned that the United States will not be “complicit” in an Israeli military strike on Iran. The message is: you are on your own. Israel Hayom, the newspaper which is closely linked to the Prime Minister, has already abandoned the war rhetoric against Iran. In their game of bluff, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak appear to have overplayed their hand, the newspaper said. Other observers point to the efforts of Netanyahu to outmaneuver the U.S. president and to the consequences a changed U.S. policy would have for the survival of the Netanyahu-administration.
But a real change can come if the U.S. backs off from the Middle East. According to American historican Victor Davis Hanson America is in the midst of the greatest domestic gas and oil revolution since the early 20th century. If even guarded predictions about new North American reserves are accurate, the entire continent may become energy-independent, says Hanson. Is the US preparing for a post-Israel Middle East?”, law professor Franklin Lamb wonders, referring to a recent analysis commissioned by the U.S. government. The 82-page paper entitled “Preparing For A Post Israel Middle East” reportedly proposes a revision of relations with Israel. The analysis concludes that Israel is currently the greatest threat to US national interests because its nature and actions prevent normal US relations with Arab and Muslim countries and the wider international community.
The indications that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is tilting are strong. Such pivot may gather momentum under a reelected President Obama. The fate of the Palestinians can only benefit from such a development.

A version in Dutch of this article first appeared on De Wereld Morgen and Geopolitiek in perspectief
Een Nederlandstalige versie van dit artikel verscheen eerder op DeWereld Morgen en Geopolitiek in perspectief

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