It is almost a year now that a certain ritual has marked the public discourse between Washington and Jerusalem. Israel gets a good slap in the face and a few days later someone in Washington announces that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is rock-solid. The Israeli prime minister is demeaned in Washington and a day later he declares that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is firm as ever.
Anybody who has been involved in fostering the U.S.-Israeli relationship over the years, so important to both countries, knows that things are not as they have been for the past 50 years. The relationship, which on occasion is being described in Washington as “unshakable and unbreakable,” has for the past year been shaken up quite a bit. The administration in Washington is trying to force on Israel a peace settlement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a settlement that would involve Israel withdrawing to the 1949 armistice lines that were established after it repelled the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, which were attempting to destroy the newborn state.
They want to set the clock back, seemingly oblivious of the many wars and acts of terror that were launched against Israel in the years since then, the serious threats that are being directed against Israel at present, the dramatic changes that have taken place in the past 61 years, and the Jewish people’s internationally recognized rights to their ancient homeland. This bitter medicine needs to be taken by the people of Israel, it is argued, because it serves the interests of the United States, and in addition, the administration in Washington believes that it is also good for Israel.
For many years the differences between the United States and Israel were discussed in intimate forums and not taken public, in the common realization that venting in public the inevitable differences even among the best of friends would only harm the interests of both countries and give comfort and encouragement to their common enemies. Not since Dwight Eisenhower demanded that David Ben-Gurion withdraw the Israel Defense Forces from the Sinai and the Gaza Strip in 1957 has the White House openly challenged Israel. Now, the administration in Washington has no compunction about publicly airing its displeasure with Israel.
The recent visit of the U.S. vice president and the routine approval during his stay by a local planning body of construction plans in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem was turned into an “insult to the United States.” It was followed by an angry telephone call by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a subsequent attack on Israel in Clinton’s appearance on U.S. television.
In the interim, soothing words were heard from Washington until Netanyahu’s visit to the White House, where he was duly humiliated. Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist close to the White House, reminded Israel in a recent interview of the generosity of the United States in granting Israel $3 billion annually for military assistance while America contends with a severe economic crisis. What for years was seen in Washington and Jerusalem as assistance that served the interests of both countries is now being depicted as largesse for which Israel needs to express its gratitude by accepting American demands.
The Netanyahu government has chosen to act as if nothing has changed, and that the occasional signs of displeasure coming from Washington can be appeased by minor or temporary Israeli concessions. The result seems to be the opposite. The Israeli government is seen in Washington as disingenuous and attempting to outsmart the White House.
The time has come to stop pretending. Whatever chance that may exist to conduct productive negotiations with Abbas is being hampered by the demands being made on Israel by Washington. They only provide excuses for Abbas to refuse to enter serious negotiations until these demands are met. He cannot be expected to be less of a Palestinian than U.S. President Barack Obama. While objective difficulties exist in any case because of Hamas’ control of Gaza and Abbas’ tenuous position in Judea and Samaria, outside pressure only makes things more difficult. Peace cannot be imposed. There is little doubt that the administration in Washington will learn this lesson sooner or later.
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