All US Administrations have displayed a split personality when it comes to Israel.
On the one hand, US Administrations have been Israel’s unique ally, implementing the will of the American People and Congress since the 17th century, thus forging a mutually-beneficial two-way street security and commercial alliance, based on shared values, joint interests and mutual threats.
On the other hand, US Administrations have played the role of an honest broker between Israel and its Arab enemies. They usually follow the lead of the UN and Europe-oriented State Department bureaucracy, which has generally been at odds with the American People and Congress, opposing the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948, still not recognizing even western Jerusalem as Israeli territory, embracing Arafat, Saddam Hussein (until Kuwait’s invasion) and Khomeini (until the US Embassy takeover), and serving as Israel’s harshest critic in Washington.
The split personality of US Administrations radicalizes Arab positions, undermines US and Israeli national security, and impairs US-Israel relations. It attempts to establish a false moral equivalence between Israel – a role model of counterterrorism, democracy and unconditional alliance – and the Palestinian Authority – the role model of terrorism, hate education and alliance with America’s adversaries.
In 2009, former US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, cautioned Special Envoy George Mitchell against pressuring Israel for an unprecedented long-term freeze of construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. However, pressure was applied, Israel succumbed and Abu Mazen intensified his demands, thus causing the current impasse.
In August 1970, Israel and Egypt concluded a US-negotiated ceasefire agreement, which was summarily violated by Egypt by their construction of the most-advanced Soviet-made anti-aircraft system. The US Administration pressured Israel to tolerate such a dramatic violation, which played a key role in the devastating Israeli losses during the October 1973 War.
In 1977, Israel and Egypt launched a peace process, frustrating President Carter’s pursuit of an international conference and courting radical Arabs. In 1979, Israel and Egypt concluded a peace treaty, overruling Carter’s insistence to require Israeli concessions on the Palestinian and Jerusalem fronts.
In 1994, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty, totally independent of President Clinton’s involvement.
The deal-maker of the only two Israel-Arab peace accords was the direct initiative and dialogue between Israel, Egypt and Jordan. The deal-breaker of well-intentioned Presidential initiatives was the undermining of the direct dialogue, thus failing to produce a single peace accord.
Arab parties to US-led negotiation with Israel cannot be more moderate than the US Department of State. They consider Israel increasingly susceptible to pressure, thus upping the ante, which constitutes a tailwind to extremism and a headwind to peace.
The current US-led initiative aims to produce a resolution of the 100 year old Arab-Israeli conflict during the term of an incumbent President, subordinating long-term strategic interests to short-term gains. The time factor renders the President more vulnerable to pressure by Arab dictators who are not constrained by election cycles. The President is at ease pressuring Israel– a democracy which is susceptible to domestic and external lobbying – to assume more risks for peace, while the boiling Arab Street mandates less risks and more security!
The Arab-Israeli conflict has never been a top priority in domestic, regional, or global politics, lagging behind – and unrelated to – the challenges of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, the turmoil in all Arab lands, as well as the challenges of Russia, China, North Korea, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, nuclear proliferation, ballistic missiles defense, etc. Presidential preoccupation with Israel-Arab negotiations, while the globe is increasingly unpredictably threatening, undermines vital US economic and national security interests.
The more significant the US role as an “honest broker,” the less significant is its role as a “unique ally,” which has produced unique economic and security benefits to the American People by Israel, “the largest American aircraft carrier, which does not require a single American boot on board, deployed in the critical eastern flank of the Mediterranean, saving the American taxpayer $20BN annually.”
The smothering sandstorms emerging on the Arab Street behoove the US and Israel to enhance strategic cooperation, which should be top heavy on “unique alliance” and low on “honest brokerage.”