Posts

Everywhere But There

Concern. Apprehension. Suspicion. Mistrust.  Five years ago, it would have been an anathema to associate such words with an Israeli government’s attitude towards its closest ally, the United States. But, as the momentum has built towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin … Read More

By / May 18, 2009

Concern. Apprehension. Suspicion. Mistrust.  Five years ago, it would have been an anathema to associate such words with an Israeli government’s attitude towards its closest ally, the United States. But, as the momentum has built towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first meeting with US President Barack Obama, so have the keywords associated with the Israeli leadership’s criticisms of the Obama Administration’s policies in the Middle East.

Things didn’t used to be this way. While Israel and the US have certainly sparred over the years, sometimes quite fiercely, the level of skepticism displayed towards the present US administration and its diplomatic initiatives by the current Israeli government has at times exhibited signs of contempt. Unfortunately, this makes sense.  The two governments could not be more ideologically distinct from one another.

Rather than belabor the obvious differences between the respective leaderships – for example, their disagreements over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program – it would be far more productive to pick apart the significance of Israel’s official posturing, and what it might mean. Why? Because the Israeli side of this story is the real story here. Not that of the Obama Administration and its breaks, thus far, with the policies of its predecessors.

Irrespective of how things actually turn out, Israel’s repeated indications of its displeasure with the Americans gives voice to a desire to be far more independent from the United States than Israel actually is. That Israel has become more beholden to American interests and support in recent years, particularly during the Bush era, goes without question. One of the ironies of President Bush’s much criticized ‘hands off’ approach towards the peace process was his government’s simultaneous subordination of Israeli to American strategic interests.

Whatever was good for America in the Middle East was also good for Israel, and vice versa. Two democracies, yet one purpose, as the logic went. That Israel found itself able to justify consistently lining up behind Bush, even when the results were disastrous – such as during the Second Lebanon War – is one of the sad ironies of the situation that evolved at this time. That’s why present Israeli protestations against the Obama Administration seem both so understandable, and also so deeply misplaced.

On the one hand, they exhibit justifiable, if wrongly purposed, expressions of Israeli anxiety about having to rely so strongly on the United States for its security. Considering how badly Washington managed its own affairs in the Middle East since the Second World War, let alone between 9/11 and 2009, and one can understand why. The Americans have consistently shown either a remarkable lack of local savoir-faire, or a frustratingly self-serving and destructive regional policy.

Yet, for Israel to use its differences with this administration’s initiatives in the Mideast as an excuse to vent forty plus years of its frustration with American policy in the region is a non-starter. Not just because it does not seem to have any effect on the Americans. As the US has repeatedly shown, it can be highly independent of foreign opinion. Even that of Israel. Rather, because what the Americans have said to date about what they want to do in the region is the exact opposite of what they’ve always done, that has led to so many disasters, including those that have impacted Israel.

Israel has many reasons to feel ambivalent about Iran. Since the end of the Cold War, the Iranians have backed and supported Israel’s two primary enemies, Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as positioned themselves as their own military adversary, albeit one located much further away. There is no question about it: Iran is indeed an antagonist. But to use the continued threat that Iran poses in such a calculating way, as both a means to fight American policy initiatives aimed at containing Iran, and as a way of de-prioritizing resolving the Palestinian question is wrong.

Not only does it tie too many enormous foreign policy objects together incorrectly. By turning the Iranian nuclear threat, peace with the Palestinians, and the Obama’s Middle East policy into a single problem, Israel runs the risk of transforming the American government into a synonymous negative. Or, to be precise, to make indistinguishable Obama from Ahmadinejad from Meshal. They all become reduced, or so the excesses of the rhetoric suggest, into different instances of the same threat to Israel.

If there is something seriously troubling about the Israeli government’s disagreements with the Obama Administration’s Mideast policy, this is it. What makes it so loud, so to speak, so much a part of the debate about what to do about peace in the Middle East, is the nagging sense this imparts that there will never be any peace for Israel. That, no matter what we say or do, we will always find ways to help isolate ourselves above and beyond what the rest of the world has done to us already.

Tagged with: