With You in War, but Not in Peace

Peace is an internal Israeli matter and has no political or even strategic significance in the United States.

Truly simpatico, the presumptive Democratic U.S. presidential nominee. His suit is well-tailored, his step is assured and his smile winning. Did you see in Sderot how he stood there looking at the exhibition of Qassam shrapnel, how at Yad Vashem he laid the wreath so appropriately and how he recited the words so carefully crafted by his advisers? He sidestepped every land mine, no question received an answer that deviated from the standard federal response. Condoleezza Rice - even George W. Bush - could have signed off on every word.

And that is precisely the problem. The American workshop casts its presidential candidates in a predetermined mold. It plants in their mouths well-programmed texts that will match the imaginary meeting point of the lines crossing the United States from New York to Los Angeles, from Minnesota to Texas. Foreign policy does not bring in the voters unless it is part of domestic policy. That is why Iraq and Afghanistan, which are taking the lives of American soldiers, are part of domestic policy. That is, they are taking part in the elections. On the other hand, the deployment of antitank missiles in Europe is of interest mainly to foreign-news editors, the Israeli-Arab conflict is of interest to many U.S. academics in a small number of universities and a few well-funded research institutions, and officials in the Pentagon and the State Department. They're not exactly a majority.

Let's be precise. Israel is definitely part of U.S. domestic policy, but its conflict is not. Supporting Israeli security means opposing the Holocaust, strengthening the Jewish people, embracing the Jewish vote and Jewish donors. If Israel goes off to war, it will have all the force of America at its side. If necessary, an airlift will be organized. If necessary, funds will be found, and, if necessary - enormous American pressure will be brought to bear on Israel's enemies, or a permanent veto of any anti-Israeli resolution proposed in the United Nations. War between Israel and someone else is perceived as an American issue; but peace is an internal Israeli matter, a subject for political disagreement between doves and hawks, between various streams within Zionism, between Zionists and non-Zionists. According to this approach, peace has no political or even strategic significance in the United States. It was former secretary of state James Baker who coined the immortal phrase since adopted by every successive U.S. administration: "The U.S. can't want peace more than the parties themselves."

This approach has been proved at a few historic events. For example, Washington was not aware of the preparations that led to the Oslo Accords, it opposed the tango between Israel and Syria and did not exactly succeed in advancing the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It is difficult to winnow out from the welter of Barack Obama's automatic sound bites any single statement indicating that he is willing, at this point, to commit to anything exceeding the boundaries of Baker, a Republican.

Obama, like his Republican counterpart, John McCain, needs the Jewish vote but not the Israeli vote. And the Jewish vote is struck dumb when Israel begins talking peace, lest it be identified with a political party and not with the nation. American Jews in general, and American Jewish organizations in particular, like to wear a suit of uniform tone bearing the slogan, "What's good for Israel is good for us."

So be it. Israelis don't exactly love it when American Jews give them advice. Israel has also tended to reject most American proposals for solving the conflict. Obama and his advisers know full well the history of these peace plans. They also see before them the still-warm body of Bush's latest initiative. Could Obama be expected to present to the region a new America, one that treats the Israeli-Arab conflict with unfathomable seriousness, like for example the economic crisis or the Iranian threat? Will Israel's withdrawal from the territories earn a status similar to that of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq?

The measured slogans uttered by Obama in Israel or in Jordan don't point to this. At this stage the candidate who is trying to gain the White House can be forgiven rather than judged over the exact ratio of salt to sugar in his speeches. But it is best to adopt a realistic approach. The U.S. will be there for Israel when the cannons roar. When it comes to peace, Israel will be on its own. No new American leadership, Democratic or Republican, will fight that war for it.