Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Israeli Cooperation is Needed

Posted in Israel by Dan on June 15, 2009

June 8, 2009 by Daniel R. DePetris

As President Barack Obama caps his first trip to the Middle Eastern region in Cairo since his election, the state of Israel is continuing to implement policies that all but contradict the president’s reformed plan for the region.  Certainly more controversial, Israel is responding to the Obama administration’s plans for the Middle East with outright defiance.  In fact, not only are members of the Israeli Government beginning to criticize U.S. actions in an open forum, but are dangerously endorsing radical anti-Palestinian initiatives that all but threaten to disembark any prospects for a cordial relationship with a large Arab and Muslim community in the Holy Land.  The Jerusalem pledge of expanding Israel’s conquest of Palestinian land and its stark opposition to the formulation of an independent Palestinian state are dramatic examples of this newly-held political sentiment.   As President Obama was correct in declaring, it is crucial for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to gradually begin the halting of Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.  This would have a direct effect on the Palestinian leadership by showing Prime Minister Netanyahu genuine interest in negotiations.  More importantly, the move would be a symbolic and necessary gesture to Isreal’s Arab neighbors.  By slowing the growth rate of Jewish settlement activity, the Middle East may eventually perceive the Netanyahu coalition as a government that is finally respecting the universal human rights of all Palestinians.  Although these results may seem overly optimistic, Mr. Obama has recognized the settlement policy’s essential doctrine.  Indeed, the president reiterated these same conclusions this past week to the Israeli Prime Minister.  Of course, the presidents remarks have generated a number of hostile responses from pro-Israeli lobbyists.  In fact, many in Congress still hold the belief that the White House has a special responsibility to continue its unconditional support for an ally that is consistently threatened by Islamic terrorism.

Certainly, Mr. Netanyahu is unconvinced of such a U.S. demand, one that he has characterized as an unreasonable precondition for a possible peace plan with the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas movement. Israel’s continued construction along the West Bank of new settlements only adds testament to its unwillingness in compromising on the settlement issue: a problem of significant concern given the decades of stalled peace agreements between the Israelis and its Arab neighbors.

Scholars and students of international politics should certainly be surprised that Washington is slowly but surely acting contrary to what Netanyahu’s center-right government desires for a greater Israel in the Middle East. After all, previous administrations have been all too hesitant in establishing a set of pre-conditions necessary for a stable coexistence with Arabs and Palestinians alike. Rather, Obama’s predecessor has made it known throughout the international community that the United States is, and will always be, on the side of Israel: made all the more evident in Mr. Bush’s anti-Palestinian rhetoric.

It appears as if the eight years of unquestioned support towards the Jewish state has finally come home to roost. Israelis now expect the United States to unquestionably support their national-interests from hostile terrorist organizations, an assumption that is currently being rethought under President Obama’s direction for the Middle East.

There is no question that Israel is our most important friend in a region that has been historically dominated by ethnic and religious violence. There is a universal consensus around the world that the U.S.-Israeli alliance may strengthen as a result of Iran’s nuclear-program.   Yet, with this being said, it may be time for the Israeli’s to recognize their own actions in the context of a wider peace with the Palestinians.  Continuing the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank will only hinder the prospects of reconciliation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Just as Arabs are expected to modify their political behavior, so too should Israeli’s be expected to hold up their end of the bargain. Whether or not repeated American pressure on the settlement issue will change Israel’s stance remains to be seen. What is certain today, however, is that Obama’s desire to improve diplomacy between the west and the Muslim world may be at the expense of Washington’s most trusted friend.

-Information from Cynthia Osterman of the Reuters News Organization and Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy Magazine contributed to this blog

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