Israel’s Refusal to Extend the Settlement Freeze is an Unjustifiable Humiliation of the U.S. and is Harming our Vital National Security Interests
Israel is fond of claiming it has a special relationship with the U.S. and is a major partner in the war on terror. Israel’s actions belie those claims. If finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is a vital national security interest of the U.S., as President Obama and his advisors have repeatedly said, then it would seem that Israel, in accordance with its special relationship and major partnership with the U.S., would pull out all the stops in helping find a solution. Instead, Israel treats the U.S. and its vital national security interest with ill-disguised contempt.
For instance: President Obama has been almost begging the Israelis to extend the freeze on settlement building in the West Bank. Today, Netanyahu indicated no extension would be forthcoming because he gave his word to the settlement community that the freeze would end after 10 months. Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. has been touting that decision as honorable and as a sign that Netanyahu would keep his word to the Palestinians as well. Does Netanyahu think it is more important to keep his word to the settlers who are building illegal settlements in the West Bank and who have been violating the freeze from the get go, then to extend the freeze in order to preserve the negotiations aimed at solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Does Netanyahu believe U.S. vital national security interests must take a back seat to demands from the settlers? If he does then he is not behaving as if Israel is a major partner in a special relationship with the U.S.
Netanyahu also indicated he could extend the settlement freeze if the U.S. would be willing to release Jonathan Pollard, the U.S. spy who is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison for committing espionage against his country that may have been the most damaging to U.S. intelligence in its history. This distasteful ploy by Netanyahu is the diplomatic equivalent of telling a destitute relative that you can afford to loan him money but only if he will agree to letting you sleep with his daughter.
One would think that assisting a vital national security interest of the U.S. would be of far greater importance to Israel than the release of a major spy, and that attempting to extort the release of the spy from the U.S. in return for supporting a U.S. vital national security interests would be below the conduct acceptable to a major partner in a special relationship with the U.S. Apparently not.
At some point, President Obama needs to decide what his limit for humiliation by the Israelis is. He also needs to decide how far he is willing to go to protect U.S. vital national security interests. At this point Netanyahu has thumbed his nose at the U.S. and is currently rubbing our President’s nose in the ground. That humiliation, which has been ongoing for the past two years, is making the U.S. and its President look weak and ineffectual to its friends and adversaries, particularly since Israel is a very minor, third tier country with almost no vital resources or any other tangible benefit to the U.S.
Standing up to Israel, despite its powerful right-wing U.S. lobby, can be done. President Eisenhower did so in 1957, despite heavy pressure from both Israel, its lobby and Congress. Eisenhower told the Israelis they had to give back Gaza to Egypt which they had conquered and occupied during the 1956 Suez war. Israel refused and tried to apply pressure on Eisenhower to back down through its lobby and its influence on Congress and the media.
Unlike Obama’s current embarrassing kowtowing to the Israelis, President Eisenhower ignored the pressure, stood his ground and spoke to the nation saying:
“We are now faced with a fateful moment as the result of the failure of Israel to withdraw its forces behind the Armistice lines, as contemplated by the United Nations Resolutions on this subject.””I would, I feel, be untrue to the standards of the high office to which you have chosen me, if I were to lend the influence of the United States to the proposition that a nation which invades another should be permitted to exact conditions for withdrawal,” he continued. “I believe that in the interests of peace the United Nations has no choice but to exert pressure upon Israel to comply with the withdrawal resolutions.”
Eisenhower then threatened to cut off all U.S. aid to Israel, and access to U.S. tax-free donations. He also said the U.S. would support U.N. sanctions against Israel. Israel then backed down and withdrew its troops from Gaza, despite strong, ongoing support from Congress and the media.
President Obama needs to draw on the strength, integrity and moral courage of his predecessor, President Eisenhower. He needs to go public and explain to the American people why Israel’s settlement policy and settlements are illegal, and that Israel must withdraw from its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and enter into a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab nations that protects Israel’s security and allows the Palestinians to have the state and nation promised them 63 years ago in the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine. The vast majority of Americans, including Jewish Americans, believe Israel’s settlements are illegal, and feel the Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own, side by side with the state of Israel. I suspect most Americans would welcome strong, resolute action by their president to insure a rapid and fair resolution to the Israeli-Arab conflict over Palestine, particularly when they realize the lack of a solution is doing severe harm to the U.S. vital national security interests.