The Clash of Civilizations / Differing Interests - or Conflict of Interest

The joint Israeli-American world view seems to be that it is preferable not to give up anything and to keep what there is, to fortify ourselves for the upcoming Armageddon, and to steal from welfare and education and health so that we can arm ourselves to the teeth.

Yossi Beilin
Yossi Beilin
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Yossi Beilin
Yossi Beilin

The unwritten treaty between the United States and Israel is based on a similar world view. Both countries believe in democratic values, respect for human rights, solving conflicts through negotiation using rational and logical arguments, and both would like to see a better, more reasonable world living in peace and prosperity without oppressing people, while providing equal opportunities and exploiting the abilities of each and every person.

But this foundation is one of principles rather than a modus operandi, and the differences in the modus operandi derive mainly from the fact that the U.S. is a superpower with interests in the Middle East that are broader than the Israeli interest in living in security - and if possible, in peace - in a region that has never welcomed the Jewish state with open arms.

These differences already existed prior to the establishment of the State, and both countries knew how to live with them. Occasionally the U.S. managed to get Israel to adopt a policy that it favored, whether by means of an ultimatum (the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai in 1956), or through very active mediation (the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement that would not have been signed without the personal involvement of President Jimmy Carter; the cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in July 1981, which would not have been achieved without the mediation of Philip Habib, et al). Occasionally the Americans made an attempt that was not accepted by the two sides (the 1969 Rogers Plan, the 1982 Reagan Plan, and to a great extent the 2000 Clinton Plan as well).

In 2006, there is a genuine conflict of interest between Israel and the U.S., which is of unprecedented magnitude in the relations between the two countries. The Bush administration is in the midst of what it calls "a war against terror," which includes, among other things, a sharp distinction between the "axis of evil" and those that are not connected to it, an effort to establish democracies in undemocratic countries, and the use of force against anyone who endangers world peace.

Because of these principles, the U.S. forced Israel to allow Hamas to participate in the democratic elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council that were held this past January, and in the name of these principles, the U.S. is boycotting the Hamas government. And these are the principles that led the U.S. to prevent Israel from conducting negotiations with Syria without preconditions.

This is the situation at the start of the 21st century: The Arab League is calling on Israel to achieve an overall peace with its neighbors on the basis of the borders that existed between the sides on the eve of the Six-Day War, 40 years ago, promising full normalization of Israel's relations with the Arab world under these conditions; Syrian President Bashar Assad is calling on Israel to begin peace negotiations with him immediately without preconditions for the sake of a Syrian-Israeli peace; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is calling on Israel to begin negotiations for an Israeli-Palestinian peace and promises to bring the results of the negotiations to a national referendum.

Whereas the U.S. continues to refer to the "road map" - which nobody in the Middle East has lifted a finger to implement during the past four years - as though it were the 21st-century version of the Philosopher's Stone; it is boycotting Hamas and Syria, and is instructing Israel to do the same.

The magnitude of the present folly is reflected in one of the U.S. secretary of state's recent visits to the region during the course of the second war in Lebanon. Condoleezza Rice was very eager to help end the war in the region, both in the Gaza Strip and in Lebanon, but she was unable to meet with the Hamas representatives because the U.S. is boycotting them, she could not visit Syria, because the U.S. is boycotting Assad, she could not speak with Hezbollah representatives, whereas the Lebanese government was unwilling to meet with her because of the Israeli bombing that caused many civilian casualties in Qana. In the end Rice met with the Israeli leadership and returned home ...

A government such as that of the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin would have come to the U.S. and stated clearly that Israel has a national interest in completing the circle of peace, that democratization is important and dear to us but cannot be a condition for peace with the Arab world. A peace government would have done everything possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians with the indirect backing of Hamas, and to reach a peace agreement with the Syrians that involves giving up the Golan Heights.

The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which prefers to appoint a person like Avigdor Lieberman as the minister in charge of handling the Iranian threat, does not even consider demanding that the U.S. lift its veto against conducting negotiations with our immediate neighbors. On the contrary, the veto is even convenient for the government.

And anyone who does not want to solve the Middle East conflict because he is unwilling to pay the price of compromise, finds it convenient to hide behind slogans such as a war of religions or a war of cultures, in order to explain that the conflict is insoluble and that no territorial arrangement will satisfy the fighters for religion or culture. The conclusion: It is therefore preferable not to give up anything and to keep what there is, to fortify ourselves for the upcoming Armageddon, and to steal from welfare and education and health so that we can arm ourselves to the teeth.

The difference in interests has turned into a conflict of interests between the U.S. and Israel, but in its weakness, the Olmert government finds itself in a situation where it does not wish to and cannot protest against that. The price that we are all liable to pay could prove to be too high.