ADL chief: Flawed U.S. policy is undermining Mideast peace
'The argument that Palestinian-Israeli peace is the key to Mideast peace is an American myth.'
Abraham Foxman has headed the Anti-Defamation League since the 1980s, serving often as an unofficial spokesman for the American Jewish community on issues of anti-Semitism and other affairs.
Who is to blame for the current crisis in the U.S.-Israeli relationship?
In the short term Israel is, but in the long term - the U.S. This is a flawed policy that we are seeing in the Middle East, that we were very much concerned about in the beginning of this administration, and that is to what extent this linkage will play in the policy and in the strategy of this administration. There are a lot of people in this administration who had advocated linkage - that all you have to do to resolve all the problems in the Arab Middle East is to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And it's a fantasy and an illusion that has been out there for a long time. But this administration has bought into this concept - even [Vice President Joe] Biden's language, that if we don't resolve this conflict American soldiers will die - that's the worst of that fallacy. When the secretary of state then says that it harms the bilateral relationship - what happens between the Palestinians and Israelis impacts American security. The solution of the problem is in Baghdad, Kabul, Tehran, maybe in Riyadh and Cairo. Not in Jerusalem.
The continuation of the crisis is the fault of the U.S. Whatever happened, the prime minister apologized publicly and privately, issued a statement, the interior minister issued a statement, Israel did an al-het, [Biden] even accepted it. And then to wake up in the morning and to find [State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley saying these terrible words - and this is not only the secretary of state, this is the president - and what's worse, - with this linkage is also a belief that you can appease the Arabs, that all you must do is to placate them by giving them settlements.
Do you believe that if Netanyahu, as Martin Indyk suggested, announces a stop to all provocative actions in East Jerusalem, it will repair the damage?
So what's the next price? The belief that you can bring peace by placating the Arab position is wrong. Whatever you give, the answer is "no, come back with more." If freezing settlements is not enough, now it's Jerusalem. And then what? I don't understand why the U.S. doesn't say to the Palestinians: "Isn't peace in your interest? Why does Israel have to pay the price for the proximity talks?" Isn't talking to Israel in [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas'] interest so he can see what can or cannot be done?"
It's not the first time Israel's right wing government has embarrassed American officials.
But what troubles me is that the U.S. is sophisticated enough to understand political bureaucracy, the non-functional elements in Israeli democracy. How come they understand it in Pakistan, Egypt - and they don't understand it in Israel? Everybody thought the issue was resolved.
Do you believe with the current level of mistrust between the U.S. and Israel can still effectively coordinate on the Iranian nuclear program issue?
I believe that can be separated, because when we talk about American and Israeli security there are a lot of things that we share and the intelligence world and the military world understand how close that link is. I think there is more trust and understanding in this part of the bilateral relationship than the political. I am not sure that the U.S. and Israel stand on the same page in this issue, but there are some sincere and respectful differences.
The question whether the U.S. will actually do anything in its power to prevent Iran from going nuclear - that's the issue today. That's part of the discussion, and it's not becoming a political issue in this country as well. I do believe that at the end of the day the way to repair is to go back to the bipartisan approach that worked for years. I am concerned that it might become a political football ... I hope it's a temporary crisis."
Some American analysts state that the settlements policy gradually distances the American Jewish community from Israel.
I don't think it's true. The majority of the American Jewish community is not happy with settlements. But it also isn't happy when the U.S. president tells the Israeli prime minister what to do. I think that in the beginning the president received advice that if you take the settlements issue public you don't have anything to lose, because the American Jews don't like settlements, and the Israelis as well, and this is a win-win. But the American Jews don't like the American administration dictating to Israel what it should or shouldn't do. And now it was the U.S. to raise the issue of Jerusalem, and not Israel. The U.S. raised the stakes on Jerusalem. And that's where we are now, and the Palestinians detect weakness in the hope of separating Israel.
During the previous crisis the U.S. administration finally retracted on the settlements issue, and as some described it, left Abu-Mazen out on a limb.
I hope it will happen this time as well. The irony is that if the U.S. wants Israel to make compromises, to take political risks, it needs to be closer to Israel, not to distance itself from Israel. Be careful what you ask for - Biden went [to Israel] because a lot of American Jews pressed this administration that the President must go to Israel and talk directly to the Israeli people. This administration compromised and sent the Vice President. On the one hand the speech is wonderful - but on the other hand what happened on Friday has totally undone all the good work. Because Amr Musa dictated to Abu Mazen to withdraw from the proximity talks and I don't know why the U.S. didn't tell Abu Mazen: "We are your friends and we believe that it is in the interest of the Palestinians, the Americans and the Israelis - rather than go to Israel and say, "You've got to give him something."
I am also disturbed that in this whole year there hasn't been one specific condemnation by the American administration about anything that the Palestinian Authority leadership has done or said. Not once! And how many times was Israel publicly criticized, condemned, in all kinds of places? I found this very troubling, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority goes with the torch to burn Israeli food products, and the American administration doesn't say boo? The president of the Palestinian Authority threatens with religious war - and the states doesn't say boo. They dedicate a stage to the suicide bomber - and the U.S. doesn't say boo, because they believe placating will work - but it doesn't work. They wait for Israel to compromise, to take risks - but the U.S. continues to be the closest friend and ally. And what happened in the last 48 hours put it in a big question."
So do you think Biden is a true friend of Israel?
Yes. I think President Obama is a friend of Israel too. But I think it's a mistaken and counterproductive strategy and flawed analysis of what is in the best interest of the U.S. Support of Israel has served the U.S. interests more than supporting anyone else in the world.
Should Obama visit Israel himself in the near future?
I don't think we should count too much on that. When we made too much of it we got the vice president, and look what happened.
I've heard one analyst suggesting Israelis don't like Obama because of his color and middle name.
I think Israelis are not happy with him because of his policy. I think it has nothing to do with his name or his color.
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