"What's Going On?! - Basic Facts on The State of Israel," edited by Prof. Ezra Zohar, August 01, 2002

Does the Department of State reflect the position of the US President, Congress and public toward Israel?

Does the US Administration express - exclusively or dominantly - the US position on Israel?

Does Israel's defiance of White House pressure undermine US-Israel relations, and are the bilateral relations advanced by Israeli submission to US pressure?


THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE LEADS THE EXECUTION OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY, BUT it acts under the President, and it is supervised by Congress.  THE DOVISH LEANING OF THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE SHEDS LIGHT ON THE DISCONNECT WITH MOST OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC.  Thus, the Department of State opposed the 1991 war on Saddam, which was supported by the public.  In contrast to US public opinion and to positions upheld by the majority in Congress, the Department of State opposed the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, it pressured Israel to cede the Negev and to internationalize Jerusalem, it has pressured Israel to withdraw to the 1949 Lines and it has been preoccupied with the establishment of a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River.


THE POSITIONS OF SECRETARY POWELL ON CHINA, RUSSIA, NO. KOREA, IRAQ, IRAN, BALLISTIC MISSILES, THE U.N., COMBATING TERRORISM, THE PLO, ISRAEL, etc. HAVE NOT BEEN CONSISTENT WITH THOSE OF THE PRESIDENT, VICE PRESIDENT, MOST OF THE PUBLIC AND CONGRESS. When Powell announced, early in 2001, his intentions to soften US policy on Iraq, President Bush reaction was expressed via a massive bombing of Iraqi military headquarters.  That was a loud and clear signal on the identity of the chief policy formulator.  The Department of State has opposed the White House attitudes toward Arafat and Israel's incursion into PLO-controlled areas, but it has had to accept a policy determined by those who espouse a non-Foggy Bottom world view.  Rarely has the influence of the Department of State been as limited as of the one headed by Powell, who lacks the special clout possessed by Baker, Schultz, Kissinger and even Albright.


NO ONE CAN DENY THE CENTRAL ROLE PLAYED BY THE PRESIDENT IN THE FORMULATION AND THE EXECUTION OF FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POLICY.  HOWEVER,  NO ONE SHOULD UNDERESTIMATE THE CRITICAL ROLE PLAYED BY CONGRESS IN POLICY-APPROPRIATION, POLICY-IMPLEMENTATION, as well as POLICY-INITIATION.  While the White House has been shifty on Israel since 1948, Congress has been a bastion of CONSISTENT FRIENDSHIP toward Israel since the establishment of the Jewish State, REFLECTING PUBLIC OPINION in the United States.  President Clinton aimed at cutting foreign aid to Israel beyond Israel's own voluntary phase-out ($60MN annually), but Congress prevented the excessive cut.  Congress played a similar role when Clinton suggested to reduce the funding of ballistic defense, including the US-Israel Arrow project.  The Administration rejected Israel's request, in 1991, for an emergency aid package, covering cost caused by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War. However, Congress forced the Administration to approve a comprehensive aid package, including a $650MN in cash and $700MN in military hardware (Drawndown Authority).  


UNLIKE THE ISRAELI/EUROPEAN POLITICAL SYSTEM, where the Prime Minister and Cabinet Members are the leading legislators, the US system prides itself with a genuine SEPARATION OF POWERS, CHECKS AND BALANCE and Independence of the legislature (legislators owe their election, mostly, to constituents rather than to the President).  While the President is the chief policy-shaper and executor, implementation of policy depends on Congressional Power of the Purse and the Power of Oversight.  Congress may approve a budget, cut, add or suspend it.  The Senate possesses the powers of Advise and Consent, Ratification and Confirmation, approving or rejecting treaties and top appointments.  Thus, the current Senate has opposed and precluded a series of judicial appointments, as was the fate of Clinton's appointments to the head of the CIA (Tony Lake), ambassador to Mexico (Gov. Weld), etc.  Congress has become much more assertive in the area of foreign policy, and has the privilege of SELF-EMPOWERMENT.  Congress may create/ban executive agencies, may delegate/suspend authority to the president, may obligate/stop foreign policy programs, may summon top administration officials for criss-cross investigation, may mandate the executive to submit periodical reports (as a precondition for policy implementation), may initiate policy, may trim/suspend/extend the duration of administration policies and programs, may approve/disapprove/'precondition or initiate the transfer/sale of military systems and the extension of foreign aid programs, may order the development of weaponry and the initiation of military cooperation programs, may establish/close military bases, may mandate studies on foreign policy and defense programs, etc.  SOME 12,000 PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL STAFF MEMBERS assist Congress in its oversight duties.


WHILE THE PRESIDENT ENJOYS A NATURAL EDGE, OVER CONGRESS, IN THE FORMULATION AND EXECUTION OF NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICIES, THE JEWISH STATE HAS NOT BEEN PERCEIVED AS A GENERIC FOREIGN POLICY ISSUE.  Israel has been perceived by most Americans, and therefore by most of the legislators on Capitol Hill, as well as by President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and other top administration officials, as a special domestic/international issue, embedded in the foundations of US culture, Judeo-Christian values, Western democracy, pluralism and patriotism, a role-model in the defiance of natural and ideological challenges and the willingness to sacrifice short-term convenience for long-term principles.


THE SEPTEMBER 2001 TRAUMA HAS BOLSTERED THE SPECIAL AFFINITY TOWARD, AND THE COMPREHENSION OF, ISRAEL'S OWN PREDICAMENT.  9/11 has further accentuated the gap between Foggy Bottom and the American public as far as worldview in general, and attitudes toward Israel in particular.  The traditional sources of anti-Israel sentiments (such as the major oil companies, some of the multi-national companies, etc.) have usually been outperformed by SHARED VALUES, JOINT INTERESTS and MUTUAL THREATS (Islamic terrorism, Iraq, Iran, ballistic missiles, etc.) binding together the leader of the Free World and its Sole Soul Ally in the Middle East, the Jewish State.


CONTRARY TO THE SUPERFICIAL OBSERVATION, succumbing to administration pressure has not necessarily led to the improvement of US-Israel relations, and standing up to pressure has not necessarily worsened the LONG-TERM binational ties.  For instance, the 1989 BOMBING OF IRAQ'S NUCLEAR REACTOR triggered a US military embargo on Israel, but - in the long run - it has dramatically enhanced the strategic status of Israel in Washington.  1948-1992 was characterized by a systematic disagreement between Israel and the US on the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  All Israeli prime ministers (from Ben Gurion to Shamir) have fended off administration attempts to coerce Israel to undertake painful, sweeping and reckless territorial concessions.  However, US-Israel LONG-TERM strategic relations were improved drastically during the same period, while bickering, tensions and SHORT-TERM crises featured frequently in the headlines of US and Israeli media.  The most comprehensive strategic agreement was signed in April 1988, at the height of the Intifada, while Israel and Prime Minister Shamir were castigated by US officials and media.  A major strategic agreement was concluded in 1983, while Israel was severely criticized for its war against PLO bases in Lebanon. Thus, short-term considerations were overtaken by mutual long-term principles and interests, and the wider regional and global context (USSR and radical threats) outshined the narrow context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  


US-ISRAEL RELATIONS HAVE NOT EVOLVED AROUND THE OSLO PROCESS OR THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT.  US-ISRAEL SPECIAL TIES HAVE BEEN NOURISHED BY A MUCH WIDER CONTEXT (HISTORICALLY, GEOGRAPHICALLY, CULTURALLY, RELIGIOUSLY, MILITARILY, EDUCATIONALLY AND POLITICALLY) OF SHARED VALUES, JOINT INTERESTS AND MUTUAL THREATS.  The US would not benefit from a wimpy ally, which can hardly withstand the pressure of the tiny Hizballah, the weakling Lebanese government, the regionally despised PLO/PA, despotic Egypt, etc.  The US would rather have, on a rainy day, an determined conviction-driven ally, willing to withstand any pressure (even that exercised by the administration), in order to pursuit its just principles and interests, and ready to pay ANY price for the preservation of its own sovereignty and long-term concerns.