Israel and America: Going from ‘shared-values’ to ‘added-value’?
There’s almost complete agreement among serious political analysts that Israel’s next government will not last out its term.
There will simply be too much external pressure on Israel to advance a meaningful peace process with the Palestinians, and too much internal coalition pressure to advance meaningful socio-economic structural reforms [equal sharing of the burden].
The one caveat to this is a drawn-out security situation, like war with Iran and/ or intense skirmishes along the Sinai, Golan, and Jordan borders with Islamists. Assuming the latter doesn’t happen, the next government will most likely be made up of Likud-Beytenu, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and UTJ parties, Habayit Hayehudi led by Naftali Bennett, and perhaps a ‘fig leaf’ party from the center left [Lapid's Yesh Atid, Livni's Hatnuah, and Kadima if it passes the electoral threshold].
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main messages, as outlined in weekend interviews, are that the settlement issue is not the central factor blocking Israeli-Palestinian peace [contrary to world opinion], and furthermore, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not central to the upheavals and processes playing out in the Arab world and Iran – processes which are much more important and fateful than the Palestinian issue.
While some in the Likud apparatus say that US President Barack Obama’s comments to Jeffrey Goldberg [Israel doesn't know what its best interests are…Netanyahu is a political coward] are the result of encouragement by Livni and Ehud Olmert, and constitute meddling in Israeli elections, another school of thought posits that Obama’s comments, when taken at face value, constitute an attitude of benign neglect emanating from past disappointments and future priorities.
Obama has bigger fish to fry: his economy, his economy, his economy, Afghanistan, China, Russia, Pakistan, and Iran. Obama’s attention is elsewhere, and so if Israel wants to make its mistakes, it should be allowed to do so. This is a sentiment shared by Olmert too, who believes the next government will fall quickly, and fall hard, and that Israelis should be allowed to make this mistake for themselves and, hopefully, learn from it.
Make no mistake, security and intelligence cooperation will continue, and will continue to expand. These relations have never been better. And that’s what worries me: that we are increasingly basing our relationship with America on “added-values” interests instead of “shared-value” interests.
Take this comment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in today’s Israel Hayom:
”The relationship between Israel and the U.S. is very strong. We are in full cooperation on defense and intelligence. David Ben-Gurion had disagreements with U.S. Secretary of State [George] Marshall when he announced the establishment of the State of Israel. [Prime Minister Levi] Eshkol had disagreements with [U.S. President Lyndon] Johnson over lifting the blockade on the eve of the Six-Day War. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin had disagreements with [U.S. President Gerald] Ford over American demands for unilateral withdrawal from Sinai. [Prime Minister Menachem] Begin had disagreements with [U.S. President Ronald] Reagan over Iraq as well as the Reagan administration’s diplomacy plan. [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon had disagreements with [U.S. President George W.] Bush over immediately ending Operation Defensive Shield. Despite all these disagreements, the relations between the two countries only grew closer, because the shared interests and shared values are stronger.”
Yes, Prime Minister. There have been disagreements in the past. But the examples mentioned above had more to do with security and diplomatic issues, not with the core “shared-values” matrix.
With Obama saying that every time the Israeli government announces settlement expansion it moves itself further into “near-total isolation” and goes against “its own interests” – we are no longer talking about just security and diplomacy. We are talking about an American administration which sees its “shared-values” relationship with Israel declining. We are talking about a president who is losing interest in that relationship. We are talking about vetoes at the Security Council. We are talking about the declining perception of Israel as a democratic bastion in a wild neighborhood. We are talking about a polarization of Israel in American political discourse, with the president and his senior circle on the side that thinks “Israel doesn’t know what its own interests are.”
What worries me now is that the Israeli political establishment is paying lip service to the strength of the shared values relationship. And every time our shared-values relationship takes a hit, politicians here, and in America, talk up our “added-values” relationship, i.e. security, intelligence and economic cooperation. They talk about “Israel’s unique contributions to U.S. national security and the economy as a matchless source of cutting-edge technologies, a sterling beachhead in a vital region, a battle-tested laboratory, and the largest U.S. aircraft carrier which does not require U.S. boots on board,” as one conservative columnist puts it.
Even our former military attaché to Washington, Gadi Shamni, believes that the US will always ensure Israel’s military advantage. Political differences pose no threat to “very deep” defense ties, says Shamni. This seems to be a given, and thank God for that. But even Shamni concedes that the impasse with the Palestinians is causing problems for Israel in Washington. “I think we have no choice but reach a deal [with the Palestinians] because both of us are going to be here forever,” he says.
So increasingly, the chatter is not about shared liberal democratic values anymore [the values that Obama believes got him reelected], it’s about our distinctive ‘added value’ as an aircraft carrier here: intelligence-sharing, counter-terrorism, homeland security, missile defense, training, battle tactics, joint exercises, pre-positioning of military hardware, medical treatment of soldiers and civilians, research and development, space, commercial and defense industries and high tech in general.
I’m not knocking these things. They’re vital in and of themselves and we’ve earned this added value with blood, sweat and tears. I’m just pointing out that increasingly, our relationship with America is becoming more about this, and less about that.
And that worries me.
What if America successfully pivots to Asia and cuts its defense budget; will its ‘reliance’ on Israeli battle tech and intelligence increase or decrease? It could increase, and wouldn’t that be a good thing? Yes it would, to the extent that it increases in tandem with the shared-values relationship. Is it a positive or negative thing that the American administration increasingly defines its relationship with Israel along “added-value” lines, like battle tech? If Obama is not going to invest political capital in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather leave us all to our own devices, will Israelis and Palestinians be able to come to a two-state solution by themselves – the only solution, in my opinion, that allows Israel to be a Jewish and Democratic state [i.e. to hold onto the "shared-values" part of the relationship with America].
And if, God forbid, one day our relationship with America is no longer based on shared values, but rather on ‘added-value’, will it last? What if America no longer needs our added-value because it has largely disengaged from our region, focusing instead entirely on the Gulf and Asia? Or what if our ‘added-value’ takes a big hit, like it did after the Second Lebanon War? What happens to our relationship then? So while our strategic dialogue with the Americans is strong and getting stronger, our shared-values dialogue is decreasing.
While I personally believe that the Palestinians are far, far more to blame for the death of the peace process [no to Barak, no to Olmert, ignoring Netanyahu's settlement freeze], and I believe it is important to deepen our cultural and historic ties to our ancestral homeland, I don’t think the American administration shares this view. For an America, whose gaze is becoming fixed over to the Far East, the Near East is going out of focus – and those Israelis and Palestinians are still going at it.
How do you say Two-State-Solution in Chinese?
- Likud Campaign: We Are the “Answer to Obama” (algemeiner.com)
- Obama sees Israel’s Netanyahu as a ‘political coward’ (theprovince.com)
- Obama, Netanyahu Seem Headed for US-Israel Clash (abcnews.go.com)