Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk believes the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will try to avoid public confrontations with the Biden administration – unlike the policy advanced by the previous premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, in his dealings with the Obama administration.
“There is a desire to get past the tensions that characterized relations between previous Democratic administrations in the U.S. and right-wing governments in Israel,” Indyk said, speaking during a panel discussion at the Haaretz-UCLA Israeli national security conference.
The panel was hosted by the center’s director, Prof. Dov Waxman.
Indyk said that the notion of “no daylight” between Israel and the United States was a fiction, and that it was unrealistic to expect two countries with different interests, even if they are close allies, not to have any disagreements.
“Israel is a small yet powerful state in a volatile region,” Indyk said, while the U.S. is a global power with “interests across the globe. Inevitably, the priorities of each country will be different from time to time.” The important question, he said, was how both governments chose to handle those disagreements. He predicted that under the current leaderships in Jerusalem and Washington, the relationship will be “strong” despite inevitable strains.
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, presented polling he had directed over the years that shows a growing partisan and generational divide in the U.S. regarding Israel. Telhami emphasized that “there is a change in American public opinion, mostly among Democrats – but also among other groups such as young evangelicals.” He said “the proposition that it’s only progressives who have grown more critical of Israel is inaccurate, at least at the level of public opinion.”
Participants in this panel were invited to this specific discussion and were not consulted on the conference’s wider speaker lineup.
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Shira Efron, a special adviser on Israel with the RAND Corporation, broke down the current trends regarding Israel in the U.S. Jewish community. She said that “the younger people are, you see more liberal and progressive views, and less affinity to Israel.”
Former Congressman Robert Wexler, president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, stressed that the vast majority of members of Congress from both parties remain strongly committed to the U.S.-Israel relationship, citing as an example the recent vote in the House of Representatives on Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
“That said,” he cautioned, there is a shift in the conversation surrounding Israel, which he attributed to lack of progress in recent years toward a two-state outcome to the conflict and the failures of previous negotiating rounds between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a panel on different approaches to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hosted by Haaretz journalist Noa Landau, former Israeli peace negotiator Gilead Sher argued that despite the failure of previous talks, the two-state solution remains the best option for solving the conflict. “We have to deal with the core issues, and maybe later, after we have a partition of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea into two nation states, we can proceed toward a structure more like a confederation or other ideas.”
Sher, who was chief of staff to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, was joined by author Micah Goodman, who has been advancing the concept, adopted by current Prime Minister Bennett, of “shrinking” the conflict; and Ameer Fakhoury, director of the research center at Neve Shalom (Wahat al Salam) and an adviser to joint society projects, who advocated for a confederation alternative to the two-state solution, in the spirit of the “two states one homeland” initiative.