Tzippi Livni doesn't get it

Yoram Ettinger, August 14, 2011

Kadima Chairwoman, Livni "endorsed the idea that pressure from President Obama on Prime Minister Netanyahu is a service to Israel."

In an August 5, 2011 "Atlantic Magazine" interview, Livni demonstrated miscomprehension of Israel's maneuverability under US pressure, the impact of the Palestinian issue on US-Israel relations, the ideological gap between Obama and the US public and Congress and the fundamentals of the US political system.

According to Livni, the Netanyahu-Obama disagreement "puts [US Jews] in a situation in which they need to choose a side….It's a nightmare….This is something new…." Really?

US pressure has been an integral part of US-Israel relations since 1948.  The US imposed a military embargo and considered financial sanctions, prodding Prime Minister Ben Gurion to refrain from the declaration of independence, to accept a UN trusteeship and Jerusalem's internationalization, to end "occupation of the Negev" and to absorb and compensate Palestinian refugees.  In 1967, President Johnson warned Prime Minister Eshkol against pre-emptive war, annexation of Jerusalem and constructing Ramat Eshkol.  In 1981, Reagan threatened Prime Minister Begin with an embargo and a diplomatic crisis should Israel bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor.  During 1948-1992, Israeli Prime Ministers generally defied US pressure, but (and therefore) strategic cooperation surged dramatically.  The US prefers allies that produce – rather than consume - national security, irrespective of defiance.

Livni considers the Palestinian issue a central axis of US-Israel relations. But, these relations evolve around the axis of shared values, interests and threats. Hence, the upgraded security cooperation following the 1970 Israeli-induced rollback of Syria's invasion of Jordan, notwithstanding the rift over the 1949 lines "Rogers Plan."  Two major strategic memoranda of understanding and a series of legislation were signed between 1983 and 1992, in spite of disagreements over the 1982 War in Lebanon, the "Reagan Plan," the 1st Intifada and the Bush-Baker hostility toward Israel, but due to Israel's contribution to the US defense industries, war on terrorism, missile defense and posture of deterrence. A critical mass of the US policy-makers realizes that US-Israel ties constitute a two-way mutually-beneficial street, regardless of the Palestinian issue.

Livni is oblivious to the impact of Obama's worldview on US-Israel relations.  Obama considers the Holocaust – and not the 4,000 year history – as Israel's moral foundation, classifying Israel as part of the "exploiting" Western World and the Arabs part of the "exploited" Third World. He is moving closer to the Muslim World and the UN and aims at clipping Israel's wings morally, strategically and territorially. He does not view Israel as a strategic asset and believes that the prescription for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict consists of the 1949 lines, exchange of land, repartitioning of Jerusalem, dismantling all Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights and the resettlement of some Palestinian refugees in Israel.

Contrary to Jerusalem's conventional wisdom, a US President is not omnipotent in national security affairs and is not "the government," but only one among three equal arms of government. Congress – a bastion of support of Israel - has the "power of the purse" and can initiate, suspend, change and turn around policy. Its power is most evident during economic crises and as we approach the 2012 election. In 2010, the US constituent – the chief axis of US democracy and a systematic supporter of Israel – stated that Obama's worldview represented a minority among voters and elected officials.

In order to advance US-Israel relations, Israel's political elite is advised to study the US political system, upgrade ties with Congress – the most authentic representative of the public – and refrain from statements which add fuel to the fire of US pressure on Israel.