Dear Diplomat, Whose Side Are You Really On?

Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official, says U.S. acted as 'Israel's lawyer' in peace talks.

In his recent book, "The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace" (Bantam Books; scheduled to be published in Hebrew translation next week by Yedioth Books), Aaron David Miller relates the following anecdote about his father, Sam Miller: "He once challenged my brothers, sister, and me to name three of our non-Jewish friends who would hide us in the event the Nazis took over America." The black cloud of anti-Semitism constantly hovered over the head of the very successful real estate agent and Jewish philanthropist from Cleveland, whose parents had immigrated to America from Russia. Israel's victory in the Six-Day War of June 1967 filled his heart with pride. Sam Miller was on friendly terms with Israeli prime ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, and, like them, he believed that Israel could rely only on itself.

In the fall of 1990, his son, Aaron David Miller, a U.S. State Department official, met with a group of Jewish leaders in a Washington hotel. Miller, then the young deputy of Dennis Ross, head of the American peace team to the Middle East, reported progress being made under the leadership of James Baker, then secretary of state for George Bush, Sr. One reaction was very unpleasant: "'You're nothing but a self-hating Jew, and your boss is an anti-Semite,' a man from Atlanta shouted at me. 'You ought to be ashamed of yourself.'" (p. 87). As an American and as a Jew, Miller was deeply offended. "'Let's get out of the gutter,' I told Mr. Atlanta. 'If you have problems with U.S. policy, let's talk about them. But don't drag the secretary of state or his staff through the mud while you're doing it.'"

Miller writes that many ethnic groups, such as the Irish and the Cubans, are deeply involved in American foreign relations; however, no group in America can compete with the clout of the Jewish community with its influence on centers of power.

This former senior Jewish official is the first to accuse the U.S. administrations of the last 15 years, both Democratic and Republican, of a bias in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

A few years ago, Ross published a book on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East without making any references to the influence of domestic politics in general and the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in particular. Ross said he could not remember even one incident where the American Jewish community coerced the administration to make a move or refrain from making a move connected with the peace process. Although essentially confirming that statement, Miller qualifies it:

"But those of us advising the secretary of state and the president were very sensitive to what the pro-Israel community was thinking and, when it came to considering ideas Israel didn't like, too often engaged in a kind of preemptive self-censorship. That several of us happened to be Jewish was less important than the prevailing climate of pro-Israel sentiment that mushroomed under Bill Clinton as the new administration became determined to avoid what it believed to be the far too critical approach to Israel of its predecessors.

The emergence of Yitzhak Rabin and Clinton's unique relationship with him, Israel, and American Jews, contributed to sensitivity toward Israel. This affinity and the president's own empathy (he was remarkably sensitive to the Palestinians as well) undermined our willingness to be tough with Israel on settlement activity and made it hard to say no to bad Israeli ideas or to adopt our own, particularly in brokering final status agreements, until too late in the administration." (p. 123)

A celebrity in the Arab world

In May 2005, after leaving the State Department, Dr. Miller (he holds a Ph.D. in history) wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post with the provocative title, "Israel's Lawyer." Miller, who had been closely involved in the Israeli-Arab peace process over the past two decades, confessed: "Far too often the small group with whom I had worked in the Clinton administration, myself included, had acted as a lawyer for only one side, Israel." (p. 75) The title, "Israel's Lawyer," turned the former Jewish-American official into a celebrity in the Arab world. Two professors, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, were quick to add his confession to their harsh indictment of the impact of the American Jewish lobby on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

With Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, and Baker as his heroes, Miller's book will certainly become the topic of conversation in both the Middle East community and within the American Jewish choir. The veteran national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, admitted to Miller that the American Jewish community "wants to exercise power and influence, but we don't like it when people talk about it." (p. 77)

Miller says the importance of American domestic politics on U.S. Middle East policy should not be underestimated: "I think that it is time we start talking about it, but we need to do so in a way that is honest and clear and that doesn't engender conspiracies where there are none, or pretend that domestic politics doesn't influence our thinking about the Arab-Israeli issue when it does." (ibid.)

One of those theories concerns both the large number of Jewish officials in the administration's Middle East section and the sensitive issue of dual loyalty. In a telephone call I made to his office in Washington, Miller stated categorically that this point has never troubled him; he told me that he had always considered himself to be a Jewish American rather than a American Jew. "Today," he writes in his book, "the issue is no longer whether an American political leader is for or against Israel and a close U.S.-Israeli relationship but the degree to which they are." According to Miller, "Bill Clinton was the most pro-Israel Democratic president since Harry Truman, and George W. Bush is the most pro-Israel Republican president ever." (p. 79)

In 2002, then state secretary Colin Powell drafted a declaration that dared to hold Israel, and not just the Palestinians, responsible for bringing an end to the violence in the Middle East. At the very last minute, the National Security Council in the White House and the office of Vice President Richard Cheney vetoed Powell's initiative. "A senior administration official told me," relates Miller, "he heard Powell say, 'They're fucking telling me which way to take a piss and for how long.'" (p. 345)

Representing both sides

Miller, who collaborated on the first drafts of the road map, initiated by the Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia) comments: "But few people I know, and I'd put myself at the top of the list, really believed the road map had much of a chance to get the car out of the parking lot, let alone onto the highway." (p. 351) Powell once said to him that he - that is, Powell - was the only one in the administration who ever used the words "road map" or "the Quartet."

Regarding Bush, Miller notes: "Colin Powell summed up the president's view best for me: 'I don't want to do what Clinton did because it takes a lot of time. The prospects of success, rather than fear of failure, are really quite low ... and I got two wars going on. Why am I going to fuck around with these people?'"(p. 324)

In my conversation with him, Miller stressed he was not against America's special relationship with Israel. If it were not for that relationship, he argued, the telephone would never have rung in the State Department: The Arabs take into account Washington's bias toward Israel. That was one of the reasons, he claimed, why the late Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, wanted Carter to broker a deal between Egypt and Israel.

However, unlike Clinton and Bush, Carter - like Kissinger in an earlier era and Baker in a later one - played the role of the "mature adult." They understood Israel's needs; however, Miller said, instead of turning into Israel's lawyer, they served as a lawyer who represented both sides. Miller is convinced that, if Bush, Sr., and Baker had remained in the administration and if Rabin had not been assassinated, Israel would have signed at least one more peace agreement , with the Palestinians or with the Syrians.

Incidentally, Miller was never able to name three non-Jewish friends who would have hidden him if the Nazis took over America.

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