netanyahu - GPO - May 20 2011
U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the White House Lawn. Photo by GPO
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It has become conventional wisdom since U.S. President Barack Obama assumed his position two-and-a-half years ago that tensions between Washington and Jerusalem were largely due to personality differences between the U.S. president and Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, a new report, published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, claims the challenge is much bigger than the lack of the personal chemistry between the two, and can't be dismissed as merely temporary turbulence.

CSIS Deputy Director of the Middle East Program Haim Malka warned in a new report titled “Crossroads: The Future of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership”, that "social and political trends in the United States and Israel are reshaping the politics of both societies".
The report expressed alarm over “ the erosion of the intangible elements of support, most importantly the ideal of shared values that had been the glue of the partnership long before the strategic alliance took shape".

Malka claimed that it is impossible that U.S. and Israeli interests be totally aligned, however he believes that "Israel has become a complicated domestic political issue" in the U.S. alienating younger liberal Jews that disapprove of Israel's handling of the conflict and lack of religious pluralism.

He also attributed these growing differences to changes within Israeli society, saying "today Israel’s Jewish population is more nationalistic, religiously conservative, and hawkish on foreign policy and security affairs than that of even a generation ago, and it would be unrecognizable to Israel’s founders.”

This, according to Malka, has reshaped Israeli politics and policies, increasingly estranging Israel’s Arab populace.

As these trends in both countries continue to take their course, diplomatic challenges "will likely intensify and spark additional U.S.-Israeli friction", the report said, necessitating a reevaluation of the relationship, instead of resting upon the ages-old mantra of shared values and interests.

Given United States’ financial straits, aid for Israel cannot be taken for granted in the future. The security cooperation between the countries has reached an all-times high - but this may not be something that can be taken for granted, given the growing differences in analysis of the strategic threats.

"Given the shifting political and strategic environments and strains on the U.S.-Israeli partnership, now is the time to ask hard questions about U.S. security guarantees", Malka wrote in the report.

The report discussed the pros and cons of solidifying a security agreement with Israel referring to prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace as well as the plausibility of presenting a united front against Iran.

Malka suggested that due to the diverging security and policy interests, it would be beneficial to both the United States as well as Israel to clarify terms to defuse the uncertainty over the future security cooperation.

He also suggested reshaping the relationship between the United States and Israel to fit the changing domestic and regional conditions. A new arrangement, according to Malka, must treat Israel "less as a dependent”, while containing “clearer commitments of what each side will do for the other—with an implicit understanding that there are limits to those commitments".

The report called for a rethinking of U.S, military aid to Israel, while "emphasizing Israel’s role as it grows from being a dependent to a more equal partner.” He called on both countries to recognize that their future relationship will not be like that of the past, calling on both sides to “ prepare for a time when the historic rationale for strong U.S.-Israeli ties may be less significant and when the politics in both countries may change the parameters of U.S.-Israeli cooperation.”

Malka concluded the report saying that while the U.S.-Israeli relationship is deep, “the challenges to it now are more profound than at any time in history.”