America and the Middle East

The abstention by the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Security Council on December 23, 2016, from voting on Resolution 2334 that describes the Israeli settlements across the West Bank as a “flagrant violation of international laws” potentially created new and hopeful circumstances. I submit to any reader that in my view the American abstention faithfully serves American interests that encompass the entire Middle East as well as the world. Furthermore, the American abstention may have planted a fragile seedling that could grow to what in Hebrew is called “Etz Ha-Da’at” – the Tree of Wisdom. The fruits of wisdom which will finally bring upon a realization that if Israel is to survive as a thriving democratic state with a Jewish majority, if Israel is to truly become “Or La Goyim” (akin to President Reagan’s “Shining City on a Hill”) — it must avoid becoming a liability to the United States and it must divest itself from the notion that all of the ancient biblical territory known as Eretz Yisrael must be an exclusive domain of its Jewish people. This was explored in previous blog posts.

The current Israeli government and its prime minister appear to be convinced that Israel could never become a liability to American foreign policy. Reportedly, Mr. Netanyahu and most of his cabinet members believe that the Trump administration will deliver their ultimate salvation from the ill effects of the “betrayal” by President Obama. The reliance on any one president, regardless of how friendly to Israel he/she might be, is by default short-sighted. The constitution mandates presidential term limits that ensure that any successive American president is free to formulate his/her foreign policy that may differ from its predecessor’s. President-elect Trump says many things that could sound sweet to Israeli ears, but the vantage point from behind the desk at the Oval Office is likely to encourage some “second thoughts.” In addition, any of his policies may last only as long as he is the White House occupant. Israel may face the consequences of that short-sightedness later.

Of course, no one denies the deep cultural and religious ties of the Jewish people, in Israel and world-wide, to Eretz Yisrael, but at the same time no one should doubt that the non-Jewish (Arabs of Muslim and Christian faiths) population of the portion of Eretz Yisrael known as the West Bank would ever acquiesce to an eternal status of second-class people devoid of civic and political rights, serving the Israeli Jews as “Hotvey Etzim Ve Shoaveyi Mayim” – Tree Loggers and Water Carriers (laborers in layman’s language). In other words, be eternally subjugated to Jewish rulers. This feudalistic notion harbors the seeds for the destruction of the State of Israel. There will come a time when America will be forced to depart from its long-standing unconditional and nearly blinded support of Israel. The abstention from imposing a veto on Resolution 2334 may just be seen as a harbinger.

Eventualities in the Middle East and Europe will likely force a re-formulation of the American foreign policy and present the administration with a stark choice – continue and blindly support Israel or attend to perhaps more important American region-wide and world-wide concerns. No one suggests an abandonment of Israel by its American benefactors any time soon. However, the Israeli government and its recalcitrant prime minister must realize, for the sake of its own long-term vitality that there may come a time that any American administration will find it impossible to continue and support a state that espouses the subjugation of other people and flagrantly violates international laws. The devastating effects of such subjugation were explored in a previous post “The Fate of Israel.

Some passionately argue that America “stabbed” Israel in the back, betrayed its long-standing traditional support of the one sovereign and democratic state that embodies the Jewish salvation and ensures that what had happened in Europe during the Second World War would not happen again. Some in the Israeli press, particularly right-wing newspapers, compare the American abstention to an anti-Semitic act, and some further told their readers that President Obama’s views of Israel are tainted by a deep sense of personal vengeance against Mr. Netanyahu. A previous blog post addressed the personal relations between President Obama and Mr. Netanyahu.

But the condemnation of the US abstention is not shared by all. Other newspapers, such as “Maariv” and “Haaretz” lay the blame squarely at the prime minister’s doorsill.

In my view, President Obama and his National Security team erred in reading the geopolitical circumstances in the Middle East. President Obama’s visit to Cairo early in his first term and his ignorance of Jerusalem that is a mere 40-minute flight from Cairo was widely seen in Israel as an insult to Mr. Netanyahu and to Israel at large. Indeed, the refusal by President Obama to visit Israel was a mistake. President Obama, I believe, viewed his visit to Cairo as a step towards a wider foreign policy shift in favor of a more balanced approach to this troubled region. However, ignoring Israel failed that same purpose of his trip and demonstrated a clear tilt away from Israel. President Obama himself derailed his own quest for a more balanced approach. Of course, subsequent events in the Middle East presented a significant challenge to that approach.

In my opinion, his predecessor’s at the White House, George W. Bush, actions that culminated in a prolonged, disastrous and bloody military intervention in Iraq brought upon the upheavals that significantly contributed to the chaos that surrounds Israel. However, in fairness to President Bush it must be said that only an historic analysis of long-term implications, based on a much wider future perspective, will serve to justify his actions or deem them as catastrophic. But one cannot escape the notion that the American invasion of Iraq and the dismemberment of the Iraqi state institutions, disbanding of its military and ignorance of the deep religious and tribal schisms that typified its society for generations brought upon a chaos that emboldened Iran and quite simply catapulted Iran to a position of prominence.

President Obama, being cool-headed, calculating and progressive-minded inherited an on-going military quagmire in Iraq and a just war in Afghanistan. His actions must be seen as an effort to first and foremost “bring our boys home safely” and to usher a new American understanding of the Middle East. He succeeded in bringing an end to the American blood-letting in Iraq and removed most of the American troops from Afghanistan — ascertaining that the sanctity of American lives was his paramount achievement. But at the same time, he followed in the footsteps of all of his predecessors at the White House in the past half-century and continued to shield Israel from adverse UN actions. Mr. Netanyahu apparently believed that his government could do as they please, continue their unmolested policy of expanding the Jewish settlements across the West Bank and subjugating the Palestinians under an eternal American protective umbrella.

On December 26, 2016, the Israeli newspaper Maariv quoted Mr. Gilad Ardan, Israel’s minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs, as saying that by allowing the UNSC resolution 2334 to go forward “Obama leaves a legacy of darkness over the entire Middle East”. Mr. Ardan is a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and is known for his nationalistic views although not as extreme as those expressed by some other zealot cabinet members. The chaotic events across Israel’s neighborhood are a source of major instability, security and humanitarian concerns and would continue to be as such regardless of any action by the United States on UNSC resolution 2334. In this context, Mr. Ardan’s statement can be interpreted as suggesting that only Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, relegating the Palestinian people to a second class status and expansion of the Jewish settlements there can bring upon the region a sense of stability and save the Middle East from the “darkness” of Obama’s legacy. I would argue that Mr. Ardan’s assertion is self-serving, baseless and devoid of any “strategic understanding”.

Nothing is further from the reality. It is clear to all to see that America’s interests would be best served if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be brought to a just and equitable end. Removal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the region’s and the world’s agenda, and from the agenda of Israel’s adversaries such as Iran, will allow the United States to formulate a foreign policy approach that is more balanced with a clear bias towards addressing American broader interests.

A continuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the ever-expanding Israeli buildup of settlements will vigorously fan the flames of hatred and incite uprisings, terror and constant resistance. The American administration will find itself time and again calling (in vain) for calm and cessation of violence, the Israeli government will use the events to demonstrate that the Palestinians are not interested in any peace agreement and that there is “no partner” for any peace talks. The Israeli government conveniently forgets that the so called “peace talks” cannot go on forever and that the Israeli settlement activities on Palestinian land must be viewed by the Palestinians as an obstacle to any peace agreement. The American foreign policy during the last half-century validates the Palestinian claim by consistently questioning the legitimacy of the Israeli settlements across the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu in his rhetoric, in Hebrew, voiced his defiance of the UNSC resolution and went on to say that the “Western Wall” in Jerusalem “is not an occupied territory”. This cynical and purely political statement clearly bears religious inflammatory overtones and is aimed at his ultra-nationalist religiously zealot political partners. No one, not even any US administration ever singled out the “Western Wall” in Jerusalem, the Jewish most sacred site on earth, as part of any future territory that might be returned to Palestinian jurisdiction.

America espouses a position of leadership that under current global, and likely future, circumstances cannot be claimed by any other nation. America’s projection of power and influence is not only a military fact, but more importantly it is based on its long tradition of economic resilience and the stability of its political structure under a constitution that enshrines democracy, freedom and prosperity. Of course, no one ignores some very dark and shameful chapters in American history but the fact that it survived a bloody civil war, served as the “arsenal of democracy” during the Second World War saving the world from the tyranny of the Nazi “Thousand Years Reich,” brought upon Germany its great post-war revival and later its reunification, and was instrumental in dismantling the former Soviet Union — all cemented its undeniable leadership position.

Some would argue that America’s days of leadership are waning in light of the rise of China, but it is my humble opinion that the fundamental structure of the American entity is superior to the Chinese authoritarian regime and thus America will continue to be viewed as a world leader. Just to name one fact: all of the international trade is valued by and conducted using American currency, not Chinese, not Euro or any other currency. This is a strong testament to the continued American leadership. There is no escape from prophesizing that there will come a time, perhaps sooner than later, when Israel will find itself a liability to the continued American global stance. It is my opinion that if America is to maintain its leadership stance around the world it should take concrete actions in convincing the Israeli governments, current and future, that Israel’s importance to America is not as it may be seen by the Israeli government or the Israeli public.

About the Author
Arie, a retired consulting engineer, had been born in Israel, served in the IDF and is a resident of Boston since 1978. lifelong interests include history of Israel (including the formerly Palestine) and US/Israel relations. Other interests include studies in philosophy and theology.