And the winners are . . .
The apparently escalating conflict between the US and Israel did not have to occur. It must be resolved now, before it does irreparable harm to prospects for peace.
The conflict was largely contrived by people with agendas. The initial impetus for the brouhaha was an ill-timed announcement that permits had been issued for building 1,600 additional residences in a part of Jerusalem that had been captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The Netanyahu government had been praised by President Obama for agreeing to a freeze on building permits on the West Bank, despite the fact that the freeze did not extend to any part of Jerusalem. Thus the announcement of new building permits did not violate any agreement by Israel. Nonetheless, the timing of the announcement embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden who was in Israel at the time. The timing was neither an accident nor was it purposely done by Prime Minister Netanyahu to embarrass Biden. Many believe that the announcement was purposely timed by opponents of the peace process in order to embarrass Netanyahu. Whatever the motivation, the announcement deserved a rebuke from Vice President Biden. It also warranted an apology and explanation from the Israeli government, which immediately came from Netanyahu. That should have ended the contretemps.
But some in the Obama Administration apparently decided that they too had an agenda beyond responding to the ill-timed announcement, and they decided to take advantage of Israel's gaffe. They began to pile on and on and on. Instead of it being a one day story, the controversy continues to escalate and harden positions on all sides to this day and perhaps beyond. The real victim is the peace process and the winners are those--like Iran, Hamas and extremist Israelis--who oppose the two-state solution.
The building permits themselves were for residences not in East Jerusalem, but rather in North Jerusalem, and not in an Arab section, but rather in an entirely Jewish neighborhood. This neighborhood, Ramat Shlomo, is part of the area that everybody acknowledges should and will remain part of Israel even if an agreement for a two state solution and the division of Jerusalem is eventually reached. In that respect, it is much like the ancient Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, which was illegally captured from the Jewish residents by the Jordanian army in the 1948 war. The Jordanians then desecrated Jewish holy places during its illegal occupation, and the Israelis legally recaptured it during the defensive war of 1967. No one in their right mind believes that Israel has any obligation to give up the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the holiest Jewish site in the world, despite the fact that it was recaptured during the 1967 war.
Because the Palestinians understand and acknowledge that these entirely Jewish areas of Jerusalem will remain part of the Jewish state even after an agreement, the ill-timed announcement of building permits during the Biden visit generated a relatively mild and routine complaint, rather than a bellicose response, from the Palestinian Authority leadership. The bellicose response came from the American leadership, which refused to let the issue go. Once this piling on occurred, the Palestinian leadership had no choice but to join the chorus of condemnation, lest they be perceived as being less Palestinian than the Obama Administration.
Now positions have hardened on both sides, due largely to the public and persistent nature of the American condemnation. This rebuke culminated in the very public dissing of Prime Minister Netanyahu by President Obama during their recent White House meeting. Obama treated Netanyahu far worse than he treated Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is corrupt to the core and who had invited Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to deliver an anti-American tirade inside Afghanistan's presidential palace. According to a high ranking Afghan source, Karzai "invited Ahmadinejad to spite the Americans." Nonetheless, President Obama flew to Afghanistan and had a very public dinner with Karzai, according him the red carpet treatment, thus granting him legitimacy following his fraudulent re-election.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, has been treated with disrespect in what many Israelis see as an effort to delegitimize him in the eyes of Israeli voters who know how important the US-Israeli relationship is in the Jewish state.
The shabby treatment accorded Israel's duly elected leader has also stimulated an ugly campaign by some of Israel's enemies to delegitimize the US-Israeli strategic relationship, and indeed the Jewish nation itself, in the eyes of American voters. The newest, and most dangerous, argument being offered by those who seek to damage the US-Israel alliance is that Israeli actions, such as issuing building permits in Jerusalem, endanger the lives of American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This phony argument--originally attributed to Vice President Biden and General David Petraeus but categorically denied by both of them--has now taken on a life of its own in the media. A CNN headline on the Rick Sanchez Show blared "Israel a danger to US Troops." Other headlines conveyed a similar message: "US Tells Israel: 'You're undermining America, endangering troops.'" Variations on this dangerous and false argument have been picked up by commentators such as Joe Klein in Time Magazine, Roger Cohen in The New York Times, DeWayne Wickham in USA Today and not surprisingly, Patrick Buchanan and Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.
It is a dangerous and false argument. It is dangerous because its goal is to reduce support for Israel among mainstream Americans who understandably worry about our troops fighting abroad. This is ironic since the major pillar of Israel's policy with regard to US troops is that Israel never wants to endanger our troops. That's why it has never asked US soldiers to fight for Israel, as other allies have asked our soldiers to fight for them. By seeking to scapegoat Israel for the death of American troops at the hands of Islamic terrorists, this argument blames those who love America for deaths caused by those who hate America.
Most of all, it is an entirely false argument. There is absolutely no correlation between Israeli actions and the safety of American troops--none.
No one has ever shown any relationship between what Israel does and the rate of American casualties, because there is no such relationship--none
Consider two significant time periods. The first is the end of 2000 and the beginning of 2001, when Israel offered the Palestinians virtually everything they could have wanted: a state on 100% of the Gaza and 97% of the West Bank, a capital in a divided Jerusalem and a $35 billion reparation package for refugees. Virtually the entire Arab world urged Arafat to accept this generous offer, but he declined it. During the very months that Israel was doing everything possible to promote peace with the Palestinians, Al Queda was planning its devastating attack on the World Trade Center. No correlation between Israeli actions and American casualties.
Then consider the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 when Israel was engaged in Operation Cast Lead, which caused significant Palestinian casualties. During that difficult period, there was no increase in American casualties. Again, no correlation.
Those offering up this phony empirical argument have an obligation to present evidence in support of this fallacious correlation, or else to stop making this bigoted argument.
The reason there is no correlation is because extremist Muslims who kill American troops are not outraged at what Israel does, but rather at what Israel is--a secular Jewish, democratic state. As long as Israel exists, there will be Islamic extremists who regard that fact as a provocation. The same is true of the United States: as long we continue to exist as a secular democracy with equal rights for women, Christians and Jews, the Osama Bin Laden's of the world will seek our destruction. Certainly as long as American troops remain in any part of the Arab world--whether it be Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Afghanistan--Muslim fanatics will try to kill our soldiers. Blame for the murder of American troops should be placed on those who kill them, rather than on those who stand for the same values of democracy and equality as America does.
In considering the relationship between the United states and Israel, several points must be kept in mind. First and foremost, the US and Israel are on the same side in the continuing struggle against Islamic extremists who endanger the lives of American troops and American civilians. Second, Israel is one of America's most important strategic allies, providing us with essential intelligence, research and developments and other important assets. Third, there is nothing that Israel or the United States can do that will turn these extremist enemies into friends. It is what we are, rather than what we do, that enrages those who wish to turn the entire world into an Islamic caliphate and subject us all to Islamic Sharia law. Fourth, any weakening of the alliance between the United States and Israel will make it far less likely that Israelis--who get to vote on these matters--will take significant risks for peace. Fifth, the Obama Administration's public attacks on Israel will harden Palestinian demand and make it less likely that they will accept a compromise peace. Sixth, if Israel's enemies were to lay down their arms and stop terrorist and rocket attacks against Israel, there would be peace. Seventh, if Israel were to lay down its arms, there would be genocide. And eighth, when the Palestinian leadership and population want their own state more than they want there not to be a Jewish state, there will be a two-state solution.
It is in the best interest of the United States, of the peace process and of Israel for disagreements between allies to be resolved quietly and constructively, so that progress can be made toward achieving a two-state solution that assures Israel's security and Palestinian statehood.