Pressure from fantasy land
By Moshe Arens
Once upon a time a president of the United States applied pressure on Israel – and brutal pressure at that. Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, threatened to impose sanctions on Israel if David Ben-Gurion did not order the Israel Defense Forces to withdraw from all the territories it occupied in the 1956 Suez Campaign. Ben-Gurion was not very conversant with the American political scene and assumed that he had no choice but to obey President Eisenhower’s command, and very unwillingly the IDF was withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip in 1957.
Actually, it just might have been possible to marshal sufficient support for Israel in Congress to bring about a softening of Eisenhower’s position, but it was never tried. After his retirement, Eisenhower admitted that his demand for Israel’s withdrawal had been a mistake.
That was the last time that Israel came under substantial pressure from the White House. The U.S.-Israel relationship has been improving steadily since the 1967 Six-Day War. There have been disagreements but no serious arm twisting. It looks like it is going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. But that does not mean that managing that relationship does not constitute an important challenge for the Israeli leadership.
With Israeli prime ministers making frequent visits to the U.S., and having become welcome guests in the White House, they have also come to feel themselves to be experts on the U.S. political scene. And almost invariably, they conclude that nothing matters except the man who sits in the White House.
Once they think they have established what they regard as a warm personal relationship with the president, they feel they have nothing more to learn about the U.S. Used to the Israeli political scene, where the Knesset is not much more than an ineffectual appendage to the government, they tend to disregard the U.S. Congress. Once enraptured by the man in the White House, they tend to forget that there are two political parties in the U.S., and that sooner or later another party’s candidate will occupy the White House.
They also tend to forget that unlike Israel, where politicians’ careers seem to stretch to infinity, in the U.S. the president wields power for four, or at the most eight years, and then somebody else takes over. This focus on the president, to the exclusion of the other parts of the American political system, was a mistake committed by Yitzhak Rabin, repeated by Ehud Barak when he was prime minister, and Ehud Olmert is following in their footsteps. Nobody is going to teach Olmert anything about America.
Olmert’s repeated assertion that what needs to achieved in the peace process has to be achieved while George W. Bush is in the White House is not very intelligent. There is no point in antagonizing the person who will move into the White House a year from now. Nor for that matter should one antagonize the members of the Democratic Party, who now control Congress and might run the administration a year from now.
The talk about the need to give in to American pressure comes straight out of fantasy land. There is no American pressure and there will be no American pressure for Israeli concessions. If unauthorized outposts in Judea and Samaria should be removed it is not because of a “commitment” Israel made to the U.S., but because these outposts are illegal under Israeli law.
To paint Israel as a servile obedient servant of the U.S. who has to dance to the tune dictated in Washington is both wrong and damaging to Israel’s long-term interests. Whatever “pressure” Olmert talks about is, in effect, pressure that he himself is inviting to be applied.
The Annapolis conference would never have taken place had Olmert not made it clear that he was looking forward to such a conference, where he could publicly state his view that the State of Israel is finished if a Palestinian state does not come into being. The slogans “two states for two peoples” and “the occupation must end” were launched in Israel and not Washington. The tail is wagging the dog.
Those Israelis eager to have Israel withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines don’t mind this masquerade at all. If it helps to convince the Israeli public that Israel has no choice but to withdraw to this line, because that is what the U.S. requires of Israel, so much the better. The end justifies the means.
But a government policy that is based on misconceptions and untruths is bound to founder sooner or later, even if Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu continues to provide the anchor that keeps it afloat for the time being.