The Impact of the Likud Referendum on US-Israel Ties

Ynet Hebrew Edition, April 30, 2004

In 1973, President Nixon accorded a top priority to Israel's retreat from certain areas in Sinai and to the lifting of the siege over Egypt's Third Brigade. Therefore, he did not limit himself to the recycling of very friendly, yet ambiguous and non-binding declarations, but increased the military grant to Israel three folds ($983MN) and extended a $4.15BN loan.


In 1979, President Carter viewed Israel's full withdrawal from Sinai as a key US policy. Hence the offer - to Israel - of a $3BN grant (Prime Minister Begin insisted that $2.2BN would be a loan).


In 2000, President Clinton considered Israel's withdrawal from So. Lebanon a trigger to a peace accord among Israel, Syria and Lebanon.  Thus, he offered Israel a $800MN grant, which was never implemented due to obvious and strict congressional budgetary constraints.


However, in 2004, President Bush does NOT accord a top priority to Prime Minister Sharon's plan of retreat from Palestinian terrorism in Northern Samaria and Gaza.  He, therefore, limits Sharon's welcome to Washington to the recycling of very friendly, yet ambiguous and non-binding declarations.  Bush's welcome reflects the fact that Sharon's plan was imposed on him by Israel's Prime Minister, while the US Commander-In-Chief has been preoccupied with the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the November election, with the commission of inquiry and with the continued recovery of the US economy. Israel's friend at the White House did not wish to embarrass Israel's prime minister - especially not a few months before November - but at the same time would not ignore US order of priorities.  Hence, no tangible financial, military or industrial commitments to Israel in exchange for a proposed Israeli retreat from terrorism, which was not initiated by the US.


Sharon's plan of retreat from terrorism contradicts the world view of Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and key Congressional leaders.  They contend that the retreat would contrast US own counter-terrorism doctrine: Offensive preemption on - and control of - the enemy's own ground (rather than defense and retaliation); Swift and traumatic defeat of the enemy (rather than a protracted war); Destruction of the enemy's political, financial and ideological infrastructure (rather than co-existence and containment). They assert that Israel's retreat from Lebanon in 2000 has propelled Hizballah from a local - to regional - terror organization, with footprints in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further retreat from terrorism would add more fuel to the Mideast fire of anti-US terrorism. Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Israel's leading friends on Capitol Hill have been concerned about Sharon's policy (embracing the RoadMap to the establishment of a Palestinian State, the swap deal with Hizballah terrorists and the retreat from Northern Samaria and Gaza), which has played into the hands of their ideological rivals, Foggy Bottom and the CIA, which have attempted to push Israel back to the 1949 Lines.


Washington would not view a referendum victory of the opponents to Sharon's plan as a set back to US-Israel relations or to Israel's own democracy. In fact, it would be consistent with the US' own democracy, which has been founded on the principles of the limits to the power of the Executive, checks and balance and separation of powers. For instance, Presidents Clinton, Bush 41st and Reagan were able to pass only 62%, 52% and 62% respectively of their proposed legislation, with the balance rejected by Congress. Moreover, according to the US Constitution, no presidential declaration or commitment made to a foreign country is binding, unless backed by a congressional legislation or by a ratification by 2/3 of the Senate. In 1999, Clinton signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Senate did not ratify, which was a reaffirmation to the fact that the US constitutes a democracy and not a dictatorship of the Executive.   


The contention that a victory of the opponents would undermine US-Israel relations has ignored the uniquely strong foundation of Shared Values, Joint Regional Interests and Mutual Regional Threats (and not the Arab-Israeli conflict) between the two countries, which has withstood periodical confrontations, rifts and tensions, even when issues of vital importance to the US were at stake. During 1948-1992, Israeli prime ministers frequently stood up to US initiatives concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict.  However, US-Israel ties expanded dramatically during the same period, precisely because Israel withstood the pressure, due to solid Judeo-Christian foundation binding the two Peoples, and due to Israel's unique contribution to the US war on terrorism, against rogue regimes and against ballistic missiles.


The US does not seek allies, which retreat in face of terrorism and pressure (which is non-existent in this case).  The US seeks allies, which combat terrorism and defy pressure.  Sharon's plan of retreat from Palestinian terrorism in Northern Samaria and Gaza has re-entrenched the concern - among Israel's staunchest friends in Washington - that Israel may be gradually transforming from a role model of counter-terrorism to a role model of vacillation in face of terrorism.