Is there a risk of a real US-Israel rift?

This op-ed in today’s NYT by a Princeton academic draws an analogy between US-Israel relations today and France-Israel relations 1967.

Generally speaking, people seem to take the rift between Obama and Netanyahu (or between the US and Israel, if one wants to depersonalize things) more seriously than I would have expected them to do. The real problem, as I see it, is that, supposing that Obama were prepared to oppose Israel in the UN and to vote against her, for example, a lot of US Jews who have been reliable Democratic donors and voters, perhaps the majority of such people, switch to the Republicans, putting New York and New Jersey into play, probably ceding Florida, it’s a hugely risky move in terms of domestic national politics. Instead of altering US-Israel relations, one ends up altering the balance of power in US domestic politics. It is almost as though one has to convince neocons that things have to change, that Israel is sailing the US down the river in strategic terms, where “strategic” is just a euphemism for energy supplies. I do not think that David Frum or Charles Krauthammer can be convinced, not ever.

Robert Kagan left a small opening the other day when speaking to Robert Wright about US-Israel relations on bloggingheadstv, but he probably can’t be convinced either.


My sense is that this NYT piece is a fantasy, written because it could be written and published.

My own view is that the US Jewish community is putting world Jewry in a terrible position by virtue of its unflagging support for Israel. It is creating conditions for virulent world-wide anti-Semitism from which Israel will not be able to save the Jews. Jews in France, and there are a lot of us, would be particularly vulnerable. Essentially, the US Jews have bought into the macho Israeli mentality of peace through strength, but it’s a losing long-term strategy, it simply can’t work in the end, given where all the fossil fuels happen to be. It might have worked in a unipolar world completely dominated by the US, but we are not in that world. And it could well be the case that if more US Jews had actually had to fight in a war, instead of just talking about fighting in wars, things would be different.
I can barely imagine Obama confronting his problem with the US Jews in a second term, but it’s not likely. Staunch supporters of Israel will complain about double standards and terrible political conditions in the Arab world. Such complaints are both valid and largely irrelevant. Things are as they are in the world, and are unlikely to change in Israel’s favor. To the contrary, there is every likelihood that the world will turn against Israel before it addresses more important and intractable problems, like climate change. No one forced Israel to embark upon occupation, but she will be forced to end it eventually, one way or the other. It would be better for all concerned if the occupation were ended in a way that had the support of the industrialized world.

America’s relations with Israel

My friend Chris asked via email whether I think that Hillary Clinton’s recent 43-minute phone call to Netanyahu, in which the latter was apparently rebuked for the embarrassing authorization of over 600 new housing units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, represents an important turn in US-Israel relations.  My answer is that I doubt it.  My suspicion is that what the Obama Administration was most upset about were the optics and timing of the authorization, coinciding as it did with Biden’s visit to Israel.  There is as yet no evidence that Obama is prepared to stand up to America’s Israel lobby, and, until that happens, nothing is likely to alter Israel’s intransigence or apparent intention to annex ever more territory in Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

I remain puzzled about what advantages the US derives from its “strategic alliance” with Israel.  This is the question raised by the intervention of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt into the debate about America’s relations with Israel.  Robert Wright missed a golden opportunity to address this question while talking to prominent neo-con David Frum recently on bloggingheadstv.…7:49&out=40:36

I am as puzzled by Wright’s failure to address the Realpolitik of America’s relations with Israel as I am by the question of what the calculations actually are which lead America to support Israel so unfailingly, once one leaves the outsized influence of the Israel lobby to one side.

Here, in slightly edited form (edited primarily to remove things specific to the forum, but also to add the value of Israeli intelligence to the US), is what I had to say about this discussion in the bloggingheadstv forums.

“Frum contends that the reason the US should not pressure Israel to concede more to the Palestinians than the relative strength of military forces of Israel v. Palestinians would dictate is that the US has nothing to gain from the application of such pressure. But wait. A lof of people think that the US has much to gain in the Mideast from getting this dispute off the table, more or less. What advantage does the US get from the status quo, or from having Israel as an ally? The most I can come up with is the military advantage of the use of Israel’s air bases and air capability in a future resource war, coupled with intelligence sharing. Frum asserts that such advantages exist, he does not say what they are, and Wright did not press him on this. But that’s a terrible oversight by Wright. The whole point of the Mearsheimer-Walt point of view is that `the strategic alliance’ between the US and Israel is probably no longer in the US interest. Instead of engaging the Realpolitik question, Wright allows the discussion to divagate into the muddy waters of legality, morality, and history of the conflict.

On the question of what happens to the West Bank in the absence of a mediated two-state solution in the near term, it seems to me that a two-state outcome is de facto still more likely than one state, one ends up with two-state by default, that the international community says enough is enough, they prevent wholesale genocide on the West Bank, they cannot disarm Israel, they create a Palestinian state, and so on. In a showdown between Israel’s nuclear capacity and that of the rest of the world, Israel will back down, that’s my bet. It’s just two-state deferred, the only salient point being that the US could never broker a deal because it was prevented by domestic politics from doing so. And the only thing standing in the way of this `inevitable’ outcome, which strikes me as more inevitable than one state, is that there could well be a serious military cataclysm that precedes the solution imposed by the exhausted international community.”

Great column on Mideast peace by Roger Cohen

I agree with everything said in this column, written by a somewhat unlikely source, because I think of Cohen as being very slightly left of center.  He is a British Jew.

The American Jewish community must come to its senses, but it shows every sign of not doing so, year after year.  The reason is obvious.  Just as Western guilt for its complicity in the Holocaust allowed Israel to be created, guilt of the American Jewish community for leading its own successful and largely soft and secular life in America while the Israelis tough it out in the desert with their mandatory draft have led the American Jewish community to bankroll Israel in a big way and to bankroll America’s Mideast policy and to dictate its terms.   What this demonstrates to me is the superficiality of the American Jewish community, the vacuousness at its core.  I don’t have many good things to say about this “culture” in which I sort of grew up, except that it produced some good fiction writers, although these belong to an earlier generation, the generation of my parents.  If only Jewish kids were actually taught something in Sunday school.  I am myself so ignorant of Jewish theology, traditions, and history that I am embarrassed.

Here is what I believe.  Two-state  solution.   The Palestinian state cannot be cantonized, it must be mostly contiguous territory.  It would be demilitarized, with international oversight.  Jerusalem would have divided sovereignty.  There would be either no right of Palestinian return, or the cases in which such a right exerts itself would be very limited.  There would be some form of financial compensation for people who were demonstrably expropriated, possibly with international sponsorship.

But bravo Roger Cohen.  You have said what virtually no Jewish person with claims to having a voice in the centrist establishment of the American Jewish Community dares to say, or even wants to say.  But what you have said is morally correct.  No other position is possible for a responsible person.