12 ways the US administration has failed its ally Israel

The Obama administration’s ongoing abrogation of leadership, logic and leverage

Washington’s rush to recognize the new Hamas-backed Palestinian government is only the latest in a dismal series of missteps, failures and betrayals

BY DAVID HOROVITZ, June 3, 2014, 4:23 pm

US Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Jerusalem, Thursday, June 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Mere hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a government backed by the Islamic extremist Hamas group, the US State Department legitimized the arrangement, declaring that it would work with the new government because it “does not include members affiliated with Hamas.”

What was saddest about Washington’s insistence on accepting Abbas’s paper-thin veneer over his government’s new nature — his “technocrat” ministers were all approved by Hamas — is that it represents only the Obama administration’s latest abrogation of leadership, logic and leverage at Israel’s expense. Rather than rushing to embrace a Palestinian government in which an unreformed Hamas is a central component, what was to stop the US conditioning its acceptance on a reform of Hamas? What was to stop Washington saying that it would be happy to work with Abbas’s new government, the moment its Hamas backers recognized Israel, accepted previous agreements and renounced terrorism? Not a particularly high bar. What was to stop the US making such a demand, one of tremendous importance to its ally Israel? Only its incomprehensible reluctance to do.

Unfortunately, however, such lapses and failures are not the exception when it comes to the US-Israel alliance of late. This administration has worked closely with Israel in ensuring the Jewish state maintains its vital military advantage in this treacherous neighborhood, partnering Israel in offensive and defensive initiatives, notably including missile defense. It has stood by Israel at diplomatic moments of truth. It has broadly demonstrated its friendship, as would be expected given America’s interest in promoting the well-being of the region’s sole, stable, dependable democracy. But the dash to recognize the Fatah-Hamas government was one more in a series of aberrations — words and deeds that would have been far better left unsaid or undone, misconceived strategies, minor betrayals.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) poses for a picture with the members of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, June 2, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

1. So, yes, where Hamas is concerned, you’d think that an ally would not legitimize, as part of the Palestinian government, an organization bent on the destruction of Israel, an organization declaredly refusing to change that goal, an organization with a proven, mass-murdering track-record.

2. Going back to the start of the latest failed peace effort, you’d think an ally would listen to the advice of well-meaning experts warning that attempting to do the same thing that failed in the past in the belief that it will turn out differently — in this case, strong-arming two hostile, untrusting parties into an acutely sensitive and complex agreement in a very short period — is the definition of insanity. Rather than setting an impossible nine-month timeframe for negotiating a permanent accord, when all reasonable evidence and past experience showed that this would fail, it would have been better for the US and its international allies to start working systematically, investing time, money and leverage in, among other spheres, education and media, in order to create a climate conducive to progress. Peacemaking is going to require a gradual process, grass-roots change; there is no quick fix. Every credible, peace-supporting voice on the ground here told the Americans exactly this before they set out. And was ignored. And now we all have to brace for the dangerous consequences of the all-too-predictable failure.

Palestinians rallying in Jabaliya Refugee Camp, demanding Egypt provide the Gaza Strip with electricity and diesel (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

3. While we’re talking about producing a more conducive climate, you’d think an ally would use its regional clout and leverage to work with partners in the region to rehouse Palestinian refugees, first of all in Gaza, where there is no Israeli military or civilian presence and no reason for the festering wound to be artificially maintained. This is humanitarian work of the highest order, to which no organization or individual genuinely committed to the well-being of the Palestinian people could object. It would be opposed only by those whose ostensible sympathy for the Palestinian plight is outweighed by their hostility to Israel.

Palestinians celebrate at the welcome reception for released Palestinian prisoners, at the Muqata'a in Ramallah, in the early hours of Tuesday, December 31, 2013 (photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

4. You’d think an ally would have made plain to the Palestinians that their demand, as a precondition for renewing peace talks, that Israel set free terrorists who have killed large numbers of its innocent citizens was outrageous and unacceptable, certainly at the outset of negotiations. Perhaps such prisoner releases might have some justification as the concluding act of a successful process. By contrast, freezing the expansion of settlements in areas that Israel does not envisage retaining under a permanent accord is a win-win — beginning the needed process of spelling out to Israelis, to the region and to the international community Israel’s vital territorial red lines. But this, the Americans did not demand. In short, a smart and firm ally would have rejected Abbas’s demand for killers to go free rather than pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept it, and insisted on at least a partial settlement freeze. Think you need to save us from ourselves? That’s the place to start.

A construction site in the Gilo neighborhood in southern Jerusalem, August 13, 2013.  (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

5. Elaborating, you’d think an ally would want to distinguish between isolated settlements in the heart of Palestinian territory and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. By lumping all “settlements” together, and relentlessly criticizing all building, you alienate the Israeli middle ground, which supports the retention of Jewish neighborhoods built over the pre-1967 lines in Jerusalem, on the one hand, and would relinquish most West Bank settlements in the cause of a viable peace treaty, on the other. So the lack of subtlety and nuance on the settlement issue winds up complicating America’s own efforts to broker progress.

6. Trapped in the inevitable deadlock, with that nine-month deadline fast approaching, you would think that an allied president would eschewgiving an interview to the American media essentially accusing the prime minister of leading Israel to disaster at the very hour that said prime minister was on his way to a meeting at the White House. For one thing, such withering public comments are hardly likely to bolster the prime minister’s faith in the president’s judgment and solidarity — and thus are likely to undermine efforts to build his trust. For another, it’s downright rude.

US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk (Screen capture: Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

7. And when it all went conclusively pear-shaped, you’d think an ally would respect its own rules about not leaking the content of the negotiations. Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly urged the two sides to keep the content of their talks confidential, yet it was his own special envoy, Martin Indyk, reportedly, who gave a lengthy briefing to Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea, a respected columnist but one who is hardly empathetic to Netanyahu, which yielded an article that unsurprisingly placed overwhelming and at least somewhat unwarranted and distorted blame for the collapse of the process on the prime minister.

8. You’d think an ally would man up about its own dismal role in the frictions and misunderstandings that doomed the talks at the end of March. “The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released, and then another day passed and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof — that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in early April, by way of explanation for the impasse. Actually, “the prisoners were not released on the day they were supposed to be released” because Israel opposed freeing Arab Israeli convicts, whose fate it reasonably considered not to be any of the Palestinian Authority’s business. That issue only became problematic because Kerry had earlier misled the Palestinians into thinking that Israel was prepared to set them free. Furthermore, the announcement of the reissuing of an old tender to build 700 homes in Gilo was not a critical factor in the collapse — “poof” — of the talks.

Secretary of State Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 8, 2014, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his budget and the status of diplomatic hot spots. (photo credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

9. No matter how frustrated or defensive Kerry might have been feeling, you’d think a friend of Israel would know better than to lob the toxic term “apartheid” into the public debate over Israel’s future. Israel’s embattled democracy provides equal rights for its 25 percent non-Jewish minority, who enjoy freedom of religion, assembly and press. Arabic is an official language in this country. An Israeli Arab judge sent our president to jail. That’s only part of the story, of course: Ruling another people is already deeply corrosive; if we cannot separate from the Palestinians, if we annex the West Bank, still graver dangers await. Warning Israel privately of the threats posed to our democracy is the duty of a concerned friend. But publicly invoking the spectacularly loaded term “apartheid” in critiquing Israel is the lowest of blows — a gift to enemies who can be counted on to seize upon such comments to distort Israel’s reality and delegtimize its very existence.

10. Further afield, you’d think an ally would maintain an empathetic silence rather than repeatedly tell the world that Israel has struck weapons shipments in Syria en route to Hezbollah. This when Israel was deliberately avoiding acknowledging responsibility for such actions because of concern that President Bashar Assad would be provoked into counterattacks at Israel.

Supporters of Egypt's ousted President Mohammed Morsi pray at Nasr City, where protesters have installed a camp and hold daily rallies, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 28, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)

11. To the south, you’d think an ally would avoid rushing to support Islamic extremists (see a pattern here?) when they come to power in a neighboring state. The fact that the Israel-Egypt peace treaty survived the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief period of misrule in Cairo is a critical and inadequately appreciated success, achieveddespite Washington’s foolish embrace of the short-lived Morsi government.

12. And finally, you’d think a powerful ally would insist that a state that calls for, and works toward, the destruction of Israel be denied the capacity to achieve that goal. There is simply no justification for allowing Tehran a uranium enrichment capability. It lied to the international community about its nuclear program. It built secret facilities to advance towards the bomb. It has no “right” to enrichment. It can receive nuclear fuel, like well over a dozen nations worldwide, from legitimate nuclear powers for its ostensibly peaceful nuclear program. The central goal of US policy in this regard should not be merely denying Iran nuclear weapons but denying Iran the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Iran can be relied upon to abuse any leniency in this regard, with immense consequent threat to Israel and others in the region. The Obama administration’s curious disinclination to use its economic leverage to achieve a deal that dismantles Iran’s nuclear program leaves Israel in real danger, undermines the security of other US interests in the region, and risks sparking a Middle East nuclear arms race — the very opposite of the president’s cherished vision of eventual nuclear disarmament.

An Iranian worker at the Uranium Conversion Facility at Isfahan, 410 kilometers, south of Tehran. The conversion facility in Isfahan reprocesses uranium ore concentrate, known as yellowcake, into uranium hexaflouride gas. The gas is then taken to Natanz and fed into the centrifuges for enrichment. (photo credit: AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

You might think the above list is the least that Israel might reasonably expect from the US administration. But no. The peace process has collapsed and Israel is getting a disproportionate amount of the blame. Hamas, committed under its own charter to the obliteration of Israel, is now part of an internationally recognized Palestinian government. And the P5+1 nations, led by the US, are working toward a deal that will enshrine Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities. Israel may not be a perfect ally, but we deserve better than this.

June 3, 2014 | 14 Comments »

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14 Comments / 14 Comments

  1. Laura Said:

    I’m sick of this notion of America being accused of being an imperial power. We GAVE UP territory that was won in war

    America is an economic imperial power not territorial. They use economics backed up by military power to install where they can puppet and vassal regimes subservient to corporate America.

    India and Japan fine, but I would be very careful of any alliances with China and Russia. If you think American leadership kicks Israel around, China and Russia will be far more ruthless. Be careful what you wish for when advocating Israel trading dependency on America for far more nefarious powers.

    Israel need not be allied with anyone but to have independent bilateral relationships based on our interests and needs. Israel can’t compete with 350 million Arab Muslims and the energy wealth they or some of them control. We have niche advantages but big picture we can’t compete for the loyalty of any nation support for us when and where it counts most. That said I know of no nationa allied with either Russia and China who were betrayed and thrown under the bus bythems like England, France, all European countries and especially since the end of WW2 America.

    Confessions of an Economic Hitman w. John Perkins

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p5pXqQEGM4

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cora2zzVl3o

  2. I don’t think Arnold Harris “wishes” for “more nefarious powers.” I think he’s pointing out that the “decline” of America is a reason for considering other alliances. I’m sick of hearing Christians talking about America as if they’ve been nothing but a faithful friend to the State of Israel. And these “super powers” never are so obvious as to “kick around” anyone. They copy the British method of “ruling from afar.” Roosevelt himself said he had learned more about the “Jewish question” in five minutes with King Saud “than I could have learned by the exchange of a dozen letters [from Zionist Jews].” Loy Henderson, the director of the State Department’s Office of Near Eastern Affairs told President Truman that everyone in the Foreign Service was opposed to the creation of a Jewish state. Robert Kaplan relates in ‘The Arabists’ that these American statesmen regarded what would become a sovereign Jewish state as “an oil-poor impediment to good relations with the oil-rich and strategically located Arabs…” So please, get off your high horse: when it comes to the Middle East, America has behaved no differently than has Great Britain or France or Germany. You call it “American exceptionalism.” I call it “ruling from afar” and political treachery. The Obama Administration is behaving not much differently than the Democratic and Republican administrations before them. Israel is no more to the USA than the “dust of empire,” the same dust of empire as the “oil-rich” Arabs have been for them.

  3. I’m sick of this notion of America being accused of being an imperial power. We GAVE UP territory that was won in war.@ ArnoldHarris:

    Forget America and our fading empire. Build solid economic, political and possibly military relationships with China, india, Japan and Russia.

    India and Japan fine, but I would be very careful of any alliances with China and Russia. If you think American leadership kicks Israel around, China and Russia will be far more ruthless. Be careful what you wish for when advocating Israel trading dependency on America for far more nefarious powers.

  4. “We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in the history of the world. This war will indeed bring destruction upon civilization. But this is a civilization that merits annihilation and destruction.” -Chaim Kaplan, Warsaw, director of a Hebrew school, 1939

  5. “It’s about time you all stopped this crap about whining when these people kick you around. In the first place, Jewish complaints to leaders such as Obama and Kerry sound to them like nothing more than the rage of sheep.”

    Exactly, Mr. Harris.

    ‘…in Western Europe, the Jews believed in the validity of abstract principles and universal values, “in a world inhabited by civilized Cartesian phantoms” (Primo Levi); in other words they believed in the rule of law, even in the rule of German law. Law offered a stable framework for facing ordeals and planning everyday life and long-term survival, in other words–the future. Thus the Jews were unaware that “the Jew” was outside the domain of natural and contractual ties and obligations, a situation that the German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt defined in her wartime essay “the Jew as Pariah” by borrowing a sentence from Franz Kafka’s The Castle: “You are not of the castle, you are not of the village, you are nothing.” ‘ -Saul Freidlander, from ‘Nazi Germany and the Jews, The Years of Extermination’

  6. Do any of you think, or at least imagine, that the time will come when Israel and the Jewish nation shall have learned to pursue their own independent future and drop all this nonsense about being one of America’s “allies”?

    Because you are no such thing. The USA is a now-fading imperium that reached its peak in early August 1945 with the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War 2 in an overwhelming victory that left this country all but drunk with power. The leadership class of this country may well include a number of Jews. But the only Jews admitted to that charmed circle are those that lick the asses of the real imperial wire-pullers. They and the non-Jewish political chieftains here regard Israel and the Jews not as allies as little more than an international nuisance. That was why they and the British agreed to do more or less nothing to break the assembly-line mass murder system of the European Jews in the war.

    It’s about time you all stopped this crap about whining when these people kick you around. In the first place, Jewish complaints to leaders such as Obama and Kerry sound to them like nothing more than the rage of sheep.

    If you want to do something constructive, find some way to annex Area C and retake military control over the rest of Shomron and Yehuda, and start an instant program of massive Judaization of those territories. Don’t ask the USA for permission. Just shut you collective mouths and do it.

    What are the Jews of Israel afraid of? That they will kick you out of the UNO? If you all had the kind of self-respect that haShem thought you had during that trek across the Sinai desert, your government would have quit the UNO years ago.

    Forget America and our fading empire. Build solid economic, political and possibly military relationships with China, india, Japan and Russia. They have no fear of America; so why should you? And never forget for even a minute that they, and not the USA, will be dominating most of this planet. The social fabric of this country, along with its economy and its fiscal system, is dissolving with each passing year; sort of like a revisitation of the decay of the Roman Empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Obama did not cause this decay; the decay made it possible for him to be elected president.

    And while you are at it, start thinking of some way to replace your present Judenrat with a real Jewish nationalist government. My wife Stefi, who was born and raised in Tito’s Jugoslavija, tells me the Israeli leadership seems to be as crooked as the gang that ran Jugoslavija when you was a schoolgirl in Zagreb. If that is so, it means that some of your big-shots are get fed on stipends from America. Which gives them both the necessity and opportunity to act as local agents of the asses of the gang that runs this country. One way or another, rid yourselves of them by whatever means necessary.

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI

  7. Given the detachment of the White House from reality, perhaps it’s time now to double down on the demand that the White House not be trusted to make a deal with Iran without Congress carefully vetting the terms of that deal. The United States and regional states will have to live with whatever Obama’s negotiators decide, but Obama’s team has clearly demonstrated that they have little sense of strategic consequences. Perhaps if there’s any lesson that can be learned from the Bergdahl debacle, it can be that it provides warning that Obama left to his own devices uses secrecy to shield himself from criticism, but is prone to damaging American credibility. What’s at stake with Iran’s nuclear program is simply too important to defer to Obama’s judgment alone.

    Michael Rubin 6-3–14

  8. Israel is not currently of major importance to Obama.

    Obama reacts from crisis to crisis as his preconceived worldview before he took office has not worked. His latest foreign policy statement at West Point was basically a retroactive rationalization of his actions or lack thereof and trying to answer his critics.

    Israel can realistically only hope that Obama does not cause it any major headaches before his term expires. He certainly is not going to do anything that we the Israpundit commentators/readers would applaud.

    Israel could use help with blowing up Irans’ nuke program. Does anyone believe he will actually use force, with Iran if they are not stupid enough to blow up a USA ship or something similarly arrogant?

  9. This article is true but also naive. U.S. policy has been consistent. The U.S. provides some support for Israel to pacify Israel’s American friends and to also make Israel dependent on the U.S. But the U.S. administrations remain determined to force Israel all the way back to May 1967. That was when Egypt and Syria threatened to ‘push the Jews into the sea’. Recall that the U.S. did NOT warn the Arabs not to attack but pressured Israel to remain quiet. President Johnson would not honor Eisenhower’s commitment to keep the Straits of Tiran Open. After the war Johnson had the U.S. military and CIA determine the minimum territory that Israel needed to be secure. The U.s. government then tried to keep that map secret because it justified Israel retaining much of what it captured.
    The U.S administrations have been constant in their treachery while Israeli leaders have also been consistent in their cowardice, corruption and stupidity. No one seems to ever learn anything from history.