Romney, Condi, and the meme that pro-Israel must be anti-peace
In theory, it should make no difference whether voters see Mitt Romney's prospective choice of a vice-presidential candidate, as 'pro-Israel' or not.
Studies have shown that among American voters, Israel as an issue does not figure significantly in decision-making at the ballot box – even for Jews.
It shouldn't matter, but it could. One step down the wrong slippery slope - a cross-border war, perhaps, or a spiral of civilian deaths in terrorism and air strikes, or, in the nightmare scenario, a conflagration involving Iran – and Israel could become very much an American campaign issue.
Since the 2008 campaign, when nearly 80 percent of Jewish voters chose Obama, diverting a significant fraction of those votes to the GOP has been an aim of Republican strategists.
Some Republican activists may, however, be going about this the wrong way.
A clue to this emerges from a recent Commentary piece titled, "Condi could KO Romney's Jewish appeal."
While playing down recent speculation that Romney might tap Condoleezza Rice as his vice-presidential candidate, Commentary senior editor Jonathan S. Tobin argues that Rice as a running mate could hurt Romney's chances of eroding the "historic Democratic monopoly on the Jewish vote."
"During her tenure as National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State during the George W. Bush administration," Tobin writes, "Rice consistently took stands that were viewed with suspicion by the pro-Israel community."
Apparently, in Tobin's view, the "pro-Israel community" opposes sincere efforts to forge peace agreements – even if the Israeli government during Rice's tenure was strongly in favor.
"It could be said that during Bush’s last two years of office, which was the period during which (she) was ascendant on foreign policy, Rice had reversed the president’s tilt toward Israel as she embarked upon another failed attempt to revive the peace process." And again he writes, Rice "foolishly sought to revive the peace process despite a lack of interest in the idea on the part of the Palestinians."
The assumption is that "Pro-Israel" has become synonymous with heading off and blocking efforts toward an equitable, workable peace between Israel and the Palestinians, based on a two-state solution. The assumption is that Pro-Israel has become synonymous with pro-settlement. The assumption is that to be truly Pro-Israel is to be anti-peace.
Absent from this account is the stance of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose peace moves – shredded by two disastrously ill-conceived and brutal wars as well as Olmert's legal woes - were coordinated with Rice and the Bush administration. Olmert also proposed far-reaching Israeli concessions of precisely the sort that neo-conservatives have taken pains to condemn.
More importantly, absent is the question of the long-standing and consistent policy position of Israel's closest, most crucial, and often its only real ally, the United States.
For nearly three decades, since Ronald Reagan announced a Middle East peace plan in a speech on September 1, 1982, it has been the position of the United States of America that settlement expansion is directly detrimental to the pursuit of a solution, and that peace cannot be achieved "on the basis of Israeli sovereignty or permanent control over the West Bank and Gaza."
For nearly two decades, since Israel and the Palestinians signed a peace agreement at the White House in September, 1993, it has been U.S. policy that two independent states, Israel and Palestine, should exist side by side in the Holy Land.
Since the second Bush administration, it has been the position of the United States that the independent Palestinian state should arise on the land of the West Bank, with exchanges of Israeli territory compensating for settlement blocs incorporated into Israel.
"It is the United States position that, in return for peace, the withdrawal provision of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza," Reagan declared in 1982.
Reagan also called for a settlement freeze that went beyond the Obama measure. Envisioning, at the time, a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation to give Palestinians self-determination, Reagan said "Indeed, the immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel, more than any other action, could create the confidence needed for wider participation in these talks.
"Further settlement activity is in no way necessary for the security of Israel and only diminishes the confidence of the Arabs that a final outcome can be freely and fairly negotiated."
Which Israel is it, then, that Tobin's "pro-Israel community" supports? And, for that matter, which America?
Given that Tobin himself sees American Jews traditionally and overwhelmingly voting for liberal candidates, what causes him to believe that most Jews would oppose efforts toward a two-state peace – something that, in any case, every White House for the last 20 years has supported, regardless of party?
Could it be that Tobin defines the "pro-Israel community" of as that minority segment of American Jews which supports settlement expansion, and opposes peace moves and the very concept of an independent Palestine?
There's no getting around it: In the language of American policy, regardless of party, the way you pronounce "Israel-Palestinian peace," remains "A Two State Solution."
Commentary is, without doubt, a standard-bearer of a certain pro-Israel community. But for the majority of American Jews, whose outlook remains liberal, the message that resonates is not that of neo-conservatism, but simply this:
Peace is pro-Israel. Peace is also pro-American.
Polls show that by a commanding margin, the community of American Jews wants to see an Israel living at peace with an independent Palestine, much more than it wants to see settlements expand, and flourish, and make peace finally, inarguably impossible.
Two states is harder than one. Whoever is elected president in November will face this challenge. There's a reason why every administration, regardless of party, pushes for it. Because it is fundamentally a democratic Israel, not a recipe for permanent strife, that the White House needs as its ally.