Hard Truths of the U.S.-Israel Partnership

Much more than settlements fed into this week's fallout

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When Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel was undermined by Israel's surprise growth of settlements in Palestinian areas, the situation quickly spun out of control. Debate surged from questions of diplomacy to concern that the U.S.-Israeli partnership was fraying. But there's more to it than that. A number of complex factors play into the alliance: Notoriously complex Israeli politics, President Obama's wider Middle East agenda, and even unquestioned cultural assumptions have all fed this week's fallout.
  • Balancing Israel Against Middle East  The New York Times' Maureen Dowd points out that President Obama has worked hard to gain support among Middle East Arab nations. "Obama is so unpopular in Israel that he has nothing to lose by smacking our ally" over settlements and diplomacy. "But the president has a lot to gain with Arabs disillusioned by the failure of the pre-emptive Nobel Prize winner to make good on his vaunted Cairo promise to resolve the Palestinian issue."
  • U.S. Working In Domestic Israeli Politics  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg credits the White House with understanding and working within Israel's contentious domestic politics. "Obama is not trying to destroy America's relations with Israel; he's trying to organize Tzipi Livni's campaign for prime minister, or at least for her inclusion in a broad-based centrist government." Obama would "rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right."
  • Should America Escalate or Ignore Israel-Palestine Issues?  The Washington Post's Jackson Diehl shakes his head. "By seizing on the issue of Jewish settlement in Jerusalem, President Obama has, for the second time in a year, started one of the few fights that the United States cannot win with Israel. In so doing he has forced Palestinian and Arab leaders to toughen their own positions and threatened to create an impasse that would stop the indirect peace talks his diplomats just set up before they can begin."  Diehl says the U.S. should adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on issues like Israeli settlements.
  • America's Myopic Focus on Israel  The New Republic's Marty Peretz worries that, by focusing on Israel-U.S. tension, half of the Isreal-Palestine equation is ignored, undermining efforts on both sides. "Obama seems to think that he is the superego of the conflict and that his function is to hand out dicta on how to end it. But he has no dicta for the Palestinians and plenty for the Israelis. The Jewish state has many conditions under which it would be prepared to give more rather than less. Alas, the president can’t bring himself to publicly acknowledge this."
  • Why Can't Israel Back Moderate Palestinians?  The New York Times' Thomas Friedman sees a divergent set of Palestinian actors, with one half focused on diplomacy with Israel and the other, Iran-backed half focused on fomenting endless Muslim-Jewish war. Israel, with the U.S., could do a lot to cleave the two groups, alienate Iran's belligerent Palestinians, and promote a peace-seeking Palestinian movement. Unfortunately, Israel's leaders seem uniformly skeptical of Palestinians, but Friedman says much progress could be made if this changed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.