Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Worm Turning Time

No pushover

From Ian Williams

Passionate Detachment, Middle East International, 1 April 2010

This column’s title is a play on George Washington’s famous dictum, cited by former Secretary of State George Ball for his book on the US-Israel relationship, that “a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils.”

Comparisons are odious, albeit often effective when the rhetoric purples the air about the need for ‘no space between the US and Israel’, as it did so notably at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) rally in Washington on 21-23 March, when over 7,000 Americans applauded a foreign prime minister’s determination to rebut a polite request from the US president not to continue breaking international law.

In contrast, in the last century, for better or worse, the US and Britain have fought two world wars side-by-side. It was only a few years back that Britain finished paying off its 60-year-old loans from the US for fighting World War II. Prime Minister Clement Attlee’s post-war government jeopardised Britain’s precarious economy, and possibly cost him re-election, by going into Korea with Truman. Britain made itself a nuclear target by hosting US bases during the Cold War. Britain was first with the US into Afghanistan and British troops led the advance earlier into Kosovo. Tony Blair lost his premiership (rightly) for going with the US into Iraq. In return, this year, Washington effectively blew off London over the Falkland Islands, to which Britain has a claim accepted by much of the world. There is no British Lobby in Washington.

Now, consider the country that has never fought side-by-side with American troops, but did, within living memory, try to sink a US ship and kill all on board, and whose actions in the Occupied Territories, in the estimation of senior Pentagon officers, are jeopardising US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US bankrolls its wars, regardless of whether it was consulted beforehand, and it insists that the superpower must back its every deed – with “no space between” – to retain territories to which not one other country in the world considers Israel has a valid claim.

But there are signs that the worm is finally turning: that Netanyahu’s chutzpah might get the retribution that he has been begging for. Israel had to apologise to Turkey for making its ambassador sit in a lower chair. In contrast, there have been, and will be, no apologies for Netanyahu almost being sent out through the tradesman’s entrance in the White House (with no photo-call or joint public appearance), and being left to cool his heels in an anteroom while the president went off to dine en famille elsewhere in the building.

Indeed, the massive AIPAC love-fest, with its standing ovation for Netanyahu even as he serially insulted the president and vice-president of the US, might inadvertently have really been a wake. Its attendees almost certainly swing to the Republican right and some of them probably belong to some of the lunatic fringe groups on the far right.

But outside in the real world, Obama’s victory in the healthcare bill re-fired the overwhelming support he has consistently maintained among American Jews. Their backing for Obama belies any claims AIPAC has to be the Jewish lobby. Rather, AIPAC reflects the apparent realisation of Israeli Jews that Obama might be tough with their government. In contrast, the upstart J-Street lobby group that wants to close settlements and advocates a two-state solution is far more representative of American Jewry and is creating political space for sanity, even in the pro-Israeli camp. Almost as much space, one might add, as the Netanyahu government’s arrogance.

From the beginning, I have alternated between the suspicion and the hope that Obama and his colleagues have been giving Netanyahu enough rope to hang himself while they attend to the more pressing domestic issues. Until now, Obama’s White House has had to cope with the very real possibility that some diehard pro-Israeli legislators would be single-minded enough to derail the healthcare reform that the president has made his signature domestic issue. Now he can devote more attention to his signature foreign policy issue. There could hardly be a better time.

Israel’s international standing has for some time been much higher than it has deserved to be. But the past year has deservedly been a watershed, as incident after incident suggests that it is a rogue state with an overweening sense of entitlement. Forged passports for murderers, defiance of Goldstone, diplomatic spats with Turkey, casual insults to the US administration, are all underlain with the perennial finger up the global nostrils represented by Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister.

The Israeli electorate would prefer a rubber-stamp administration in Washington, but is realistic enough to frown at a prime minister and a coalition who alienate the only country that can or would defend them if their sedulously-fed paranoid fears were realised. Israelis watched Obama’s White House snubs with interest, not least since most of them already suspected that the president was not the complaisant Clintonesque pushover they wanted. If Obama is serious about a lasting peace accord, Netanyahu’s maladministration is offering him a dual carriageway: domestic US support for financial or diplomatic sanctions against Israel, and a consequent collapse of the Israeli prime minister’s coalition.

Let us hope he follows through with some determination.


IrishBlog said...

Let's hope Obama is serious and has the nuts for it !

Rupa Shah said...

Let us hope he follows through with some determination.

'Amen' to that!

Excellent post.