Shai Franklin
Partner with Gotham Government Relations

Americans stopped caring…that’s the GOOD news?

My right-wing friends are very pleased with new polling results, showing that fewer Americans now support the idea of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. As a reality check, before anyone pops those Champagne corks, a few points seem worth mentioning:

  1. The poll doesn’t elaborate on why fewer Americans now support the two-state solution. At times, it has seemed as if Prime Minister Netanyahu’s primary peace message is that a two-state solution won’t work, Israel has no partner for peace, “no deal is better than a bad deal.” So congratulations, it’s worked.
  1. Israel without promise of a two-state solution is a lesser U.S. asset. Thanks to the rhetoric of successive left-wing and right-wing Israeli governments, for Americans who don’t get their news from FoxNews, a two-state solution is the solution. When U.S. support for a two-state solution declines, then Israel becomes less part of the solution and more part of the problem. This is not to be celebrated.
  1. When a U.S. administration effectively washes its hands of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, then Israel stops being the center of attention for U.S. Middle East diplomacy and strategy. For over 30 years, the essential premise of pro-Israel advocacy has been that Israel is the crucible for U.S. interests in the Middle East. When the President and Secretary of State no longer devote significant time and attention to Israel, then Israel becomes more of a footnote and political prop for vengeful Republicans, and less of a bedrock U.S. policy priority.
  1. What have you done for me lately? While President Obama is confronting militant Islamist insurgencies and addressing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Israel’s leadership has been promoting itself as the oasis in the storm while loudly complaining about international efforts against Iran. Rather than merely declining as a part of the solution, Israel is rebranding itself as part of the problem. And no, most Americans don’t consider expanding settlements and sidelining the moderate Palestinian leadership to be part of any solution.
  1. This latest poll is hardly a surprise. When the Prime Minister of Israel stakes the future of U.S. relations on a Republican-sponsored speech to Congress denouncing the U.S. President’s negotiations with Iran – with barely a mention of what his own Mossad chief called the “greatest threat to Israel,” the Palestinians – that opens a file. When he unambiguously rules out any two-state solution on his watch, he clarifies what many Americans, including Secretary of State Kerry, had willfully ignored for so many months – that Israeli actions are rapidly eroding the potential for even attempting a two-state solution in our lifetime.
  1. American and even Israeli attitudes won’t save Israel from the Palestinian reality. We can all convince ourselves that Palestinians will eventually ‘get with the program’, or that Jews and Palestinians will swap birth rates, or that Israel always has more immediate concerns. But the branding of Hamas as the brave voice of Palestinians, and the settlements as facts on the ground, are only accelerating an eventuality that even the spin of FoxNews and Arutz 7 cannot forestall. Consider climate change…
  1. There’s a fundamental imbalance in U.S.-Israel relations. All claims of obliviousness aside, Israelis pay far greater attention to U.S. attitudes than vice-versa, because Israel needs America far more than America needs Israel. The Bibi-Putin bromance is cute, and the idea of a new Israeli-Saudi alliance is amusing, but in reality, Israel has no place else to go for a reliable, respectable, likeminded patron. And yes, America is a patron, and Israelis should care what Americans really think, beyond a few answers to an opinion poll.
  1. If Israelis do care what Americans think, then they should really care what Americans think, including our President and Secretary of State. Americans think Israel’s Prime Minister insulted our President and our entire political process. Thanks largely to a succession of Netanyahu speeches to Congress and the United Nations, Americans think Iran is an Israeli problem, not an American one. Americans are real people, and as we continue to send our own best and bravest into battle around the Middle East, we’re happy to have allies who will help and not hinder or mock our efforts. If Israelis care at all about U.S. public opinion, and the impact it has on our current and future policies, then the latest data should be seen as a failing grade for Israel-U.S. relations.

Finally, some advice for Israel’s incoming government: Stop trying to convince Americans or Israelis, and get back to finding or empowering real, sustainable solutions. U.S.-Israel relations remain strong overall, but convincing Americans there’s no Palestinian problem – or that Israel has some as-yet-unrevealed alternative to a two-state solution, or that the current trajectory may miraculously produce more moderate Palestinians down the road – will not solve anyone’s problems. And most Americans aren’t even convinced, we’re simply despondent. The rest are indifferent.

About the Author
Shai Franklin, a consultant and lobbyist with U.S. and overseas clients, has served as an executive with American and international Jewish organizations.
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