A warning from America

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 22-Mar-06 | Source: Ha'aretz

"The centerpiece of U.S. Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel."

Two well-known American professors have released an article that has aroused great interest in the American and Israeli diplomatic communities. In the article, called "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," Professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write that the Israel lobby in Congress is causing a dangerous pro-Israel tilt in American policy and was a critical factor in the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. The writers' conclusion is that America's negative image in the Middle East stems from its overly supportive attitude toward Israel.

Even if the article involved an attempt to blame the Jews for developments that are unconnected to them, and even if the comments are rooted in increasing opposition to the war in Iraq and an attempt to search for hidden motives for what the writers see as an American foreign policy failure, it would be irresponsible to ignore the article's serious and disturbing message.

The conclusion that Israel can draw from the anti-Israel feeling expressed in the article is that it will not be immune for eternity. America's unhesitating support for Israel and its willingness to restrain itself over all of Israel's mistakes can be interpreted as conflicting with America's essential interests and are liable to prove burdensome. The fact that Israelis view the United States' support for and tremendous assistance to Israel as natural causes excess complacence, and it fails to take into account currents in public opinion that run deep and are liable to completely change American policy.

Instead of strengthening the Jewish and Israeli lobby and causing it to influence American policymakers to support Israel unreservedly, the Israeli government must understand that the world will not wait forever for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and that the opinions expressed in the article could take root in American politics if Israel does not change the political reality quickly. The unilateral withdrawal from Gaza did improve Israel's standing in the world, especially in Europe, but that is not enough.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to attempt to get widespread international support for the political program he will present, which is based on a significant withdrawal in the West Bank and the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers, is a wise and necessary step. It is impossible to set a border with the Palestinians in a unilateral manner if it is not accepted at least by the United States and Europe. In Gaza, Israel withdrew to an accepted international border, but in the West Bank, the intention is to maintain sovereignty over settlement blocs located in occupied territory.

A unilateral withdrawal that is not based on an agreement with the Palestinians will be meaningless if it does not win international support. Strengthening the ties between Israel and Europe and getting the United States involved in the process is a top-priority strategic necessity. The Jewish and Israeli lobby in America would do well to begin explaining the next withdrawal now, after years in which they primarily tried to win support for a continuation of the occupation and the settlement enterprise. Perhaps then it will be easier to explain Israeli policy and consolidate the true American and Israeli interests. The professors' article does not deserve condemnation; rather, it should serve as a warning sign.