- America, Israel, and Missed Opportunities for Peace
1) Will America’s now troubled “alliance” with Israel prevail and flourish as peace process negotiator and presidential advisor Dennis Ross argues and advocates in his book? Or are fundamental differences between the two nations over a two-state peace with Palestine and other tensions undermining this relationship?
2) Are Palestinians to blame for the impasse with Israel by “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace,” as Israelis often claim? Professor Elie Podeh of the Hebrew University offers a scholarly approach to this debate.
Dennis Ross’s book on relations between the United States and Israel arrived at a time of growing trouble in the two countries’ historic relationship. But Ross thinks close, cooperative ties, based on shared values and interests, if managed wisely, will endure and even flourish. Ross draws on his unique experience as a chief US negotiator in the Oslo peace process and senior policy advisor under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Ross’s confidence that US-Israel relations can remain strong without major changes in Israeli policy seems too optimistic. Today’s rift is not just a passing quarrel. It looks more like an acceleration of a deep policy clash over Israel’s 48-year resistance to America’s foremost Middle East policy goal: a two-state Israel-Palestine peace.
This goal is now in grave danger, if not foreclosed, by Israel’s aggressive expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories occupied by Israel in 1967. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s frantic attempt to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s other top priority, by conspiring with Republicans and blindsiding the President with a speech to a joint session of Congress, has deepened this alienation.
Nevertheless, Ross thinks there are overriding common values and interests that can keep relations on keel, even in stormy weather. His analysis does not acknowledge how deeply Israel’s occupation, settlement, and repression of Palestinians have offended core American values of justice, equality, and democracy. Occupation has also changed Israel itself — for the worse. Netanyahu’s nationalist, religious, right-wing government is hostile to dissent and pluralism. It harasses peace and human rights workers as unpatriotic, and even as traitors.1 It has politicized key state institutions, threatening the independence of the Supreme Court. And anti-Arab discrimination is growing. In a Holocaust Remembrance [End Page 481] Day speech on May 4, 2016, Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Ya’ir Golan warned that Israelis “ought to discuss our ability to uproot the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction, and moral deterioration.”2 He referred to “revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany” before World War II, but later backtracked that he had not intended to compare Israel and Nazi Germany. Ross acknowledges these problems, but underestimates the toll they are taking on US-Israel relations.
Ross also pays little attention to the growing, rancorous division over Israel among American Jews who play a major role in US-Israel relations. Today, many liberal Jews worry deeply that Israel’s settlement and occupation of Palestine, if not reversed, will destroy Israel’s founding goal of a Jewish and democratic state. Rabbi David Gordis has written that Israel is subordinating “the rational, the universal and the visionary” to a “cruel and oppressive occupation…” Gordis, a prominent liberal rabbi, said that Israeli values today have been “distorted by a fanatic, obscurantist, and fundamentalist religion.”3
Liberal Zionist groups, like J Street and Americans for Peace Now, are challenging established Jewish organizations that formerly helped enforce unconditional support for Israel.4 Younger Jews, who tend to view Israel’s creeping annexation of the Occupied Territories and abuses of Palestinians as un-Jewish and undemocratic, are a growing factor in this shattering of communal unity. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee...