America's friendship is Israel's most important political asset. The Jewish state's security and prosperity, and maybe even its survival, depend on American support. The problem is that the relationship between the two countries is based on a narrow foundation. Nobody has any doubt that George Bush is sympathetic to Israel but he won't serve forever, his popularity is in free fall and America is not only run from the White House.
That's the view prevalent among those in the Israeli establishment who deal with ties to the U.S. They are worried about demography, as America turns more Hispanic. They are worried about the dwindling Jewish community and the way its youth are distanced from Israel. They're worried about the hostility that has grown in the Pentagon, from the general fatigue in American public opinion regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict and the polite refusal to finance the unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon and Gaza. And lately, from the open criticism of the "Israel lobby," which seemed to have pushed America into the Iraqi morass and is now trying to entangle it in an assault on Iran.
In recent years, Israeli policy toward Washington has had one goal: getting backing for Israeli moves in the conflict with the Palestinians. Ariel Sharon attributed great importance to every American expression of support and avoiding any visible disagreement. That was the mission for his special envoy to America, Dov Weisglas, and Ambassador Danny Ayalon. The climax of Weisglas's achievements was the famous "Bush letter" from two years ago, which strengthened Israel's position in the permanent agreement. AIPAC promised that Congress would lend support.
Now Ehud Olmert wants to outdo his master and go to Washington with a ravenous "shipping basket": recognition of the separation fence as a permanent border, economic support, improved strategic relations with the U.S., defense against Iran. Common to all those ideas, are that they continue the tradition of "gimme, gimme," toward America. More aid, more weapons, another letter from the president. The Israeli establishment is completely petrified into that "gimme" tradition and doesn't stop to ask what the Americans get out of it. Once, they said that Israel gives them their wonderful intelligence. Presumably, there's a lot of exaggeration and now the stories are aimed against Israel, with its rivals accusing it of tendentious intelligence meant to promote its regional goals.
The time has come to change the diskette and broaden the basis of the ties, so they stand firm in the course of changing demographics, governments and public opinion. Slogans like "special relations" and "shared values" are not enough. Interests must be strengthened. The AIPAC model, which was a great success, should be copied in the American political system, to economics, academics, science and culture.
Here's an assignment for Tzipi Livni's Foreign Ministry: to make sure that in the next five years, the CEOs of all the Fortune 500 companies, the 100 presidents of the most prestigious universities, the heads of the most important research institutions and key artists and writers visit Israel; and to ensure that they leave here with joint projects, research plans and plots for new novels. It is possible that they'll need an encouraging word from their congressman to get them on their planes. But Israel has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to what it has to offer America, especially when compared to its Arab neighbors. And it will benefit from the closer ties to the most developed economy and educational system in the world. Olmert should think about this, and not only about the list of handouts he'll ask for from Bush, when he goes to America next month.
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