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Is a “Fundamental Alteration” in U.S.-Israel Relations Inevitable?

Jonathan Chait gets [1] a bit ahead of himself:

A fundamental alteration of the American alliance with Israel may be inevitable. There are signs it is already underway.

It would be welcome news if Chait were right that there is sure to be a “fundamental alteration” in the relationship, but the few signs that there may be some change in the next two years point to something much less significant. Any changes this administration chooses to make in its handling of the relationship with Israel will probably not survive the end of Obama’s presidency. There is a depressing uniformity among 2016 candidates in both parties on issues related to Israel, and it is one part of U.S. foreign policy that we can practically guarantee will become more hawkish and reflexively supportive of Israel no matter who wins the next election. While there may be increasing divergence between the rank-and-file of the two parties on these issues, this is scarcely reflected at all in Congress, and until that changes it is very doubtful that the relationship can be “transformed.” That will take organization and activism to counter the influence of conventional “pro-Israel” groups, and that isn’t just going to happen because of a growing partisan difference.

Then again, Chait doesn’t seem interested in a “fundamental alteration” of the relationship, and given his past views no one would have thought he would support such a change. His recommendation for “liberal two-staters” is basically to keep U.S. policy towards Israel unchanged in almost all important respects:

change_me

Likely, they will keep in place the military component of the alliance. The Obama administration’s support for Iron Dome saved innumerable Israeli lives and contained the scope and duration of the last intifada. American military aid to Israel has prevented the general inter-state wars that used to break out periodically. That should continue for the foreseeable future, and is likely to.

Chait then says that the “diplomatic relationship will face a day of reckoning,” but he doesn’t spell out what he thinks should happen on that day. He says that liberals will have to “adjust to a reality that is leaving them behind,” but doesn’t say what that adjustment should be. His argument boils down to a familiar lament from liberal “pro-Israel” writers: anytime now they will lose patience with the policies of the Israeli government and they won’t be able to keep supporting it in the same way that they have. Yet for most of them the day of reckoning never arrives and they find new reasons to continue backing the same relationship that enables the policies they say they can’t stand. That’s one reason why the relationship just keeps becoming more dysfunctional and unhealthy.

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19 Comments To "Is a “Fundamental Alteration” in U.S.-Israel Relations Inevitable?"

#1 Comment By collin On March 19, 2015 @ 12:02 pm

There has been a turn on the left on our relationship with Israel as other liberal sites (Digby, Paul Waldman, and Ed Kilgore) They are turning a lot more support for the Iran deal. Mostly the support of the deal is simply this is the best deal we can get and is better path to peace. However, the Obama Adminstration can act slow on the Palestine comments (to avoid be trapped by a position.) and put more emphasis on a deal with Iran.

Given, Chait is more supportive of Israel than the average liberal, even his ambivalence of the events the last week shows an evolution with younger liberals here.

#2 Comment By OPR On March 19, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

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#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 19, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

Netanyahu, now that he’s elected, is backtracking on his campaign rejection of the two-state concept. Perhaps we can expect the farce of those negotiations to resume, which would lead me to amend the “history repeats itself, the second time as farce,” to “the third time as slapstick.”

#4 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 19, 2015 @ 2:02 pm

Netanyahu, now that he’s elected, is backtracking on his campaign rejection of the two-state concept. Perhaps we can expect the farce of those negotiations to resume, which would lead me to amend the “history repeats itself, the second time as farce,” aphorism to “the third time as slapstick.”

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 19, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

In Cleveland, he admitted he takes the path of least resistance, whatever his original preferences and promises. Nothing new – he told a confidante as reported in The Christian Century, as to why he didn’t attempt reform of the financial sector in the wake of their criminal evisceration of the economy in 2008, but moved immediately to bail them out: “I would have liked to have done something, but it would have pissed off too many powerful people.”

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 19, 2015 @ 2:48 pm

The “familiar lament from liberal ‘pro-Israel’ writers: anytime now they will lose patience with the policies of the Israeli government and they won’t be able to keep supporting it in the same way that they have. Yet for most of them the day of reckoning never arrives and they find new reasons to continue backing the same relationship that enables the policies they say they can’t stand.”

It’s not that the Jonathan Chaits “don’t get it.” Increasingly, they do “get it.” As Jon Basil Utley pointed out on March 2nd: “A recent Pew poll shows 31 percent of [the Jonathan Chaits] do not feel attached to the state of Israel while another 39 percent feel only “somewhat” attached. A massive 83 percent think that construction of settlements on Palestinian lands on the West Bank do not help Israeli security. Sixty-two percent believe that the Israeli government is not negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians.”

That’s a fairly encouraging range of opinion among the Jonathan Chaits, even though they were speaking privately to a pollster.

But the conventional wisdom has long been that if you want a career anywhere in public view you don’t want to be caught publicly on “the wrong side” of the Israel issue. That goes for the Jonathan Chaits as well as for those of us who are not. In fact there are almost certainly additional pressures on the Jonathan Chaits to at least keep any criticisms of Israel private – and preferably spoken only to other Jonathan Chaits (or privately to pollsters). It’s not just a question of risking getting kicked out of the club and having one’s career damaged (or ended). There is also the little-publicly-discussed-but-ever-present issue of “the rough stuff” – of the JDL and similar ad hoc groups that have not only made the FBIs 10-Most-Wanted List and continue to be surveilled, but that have acted often enough, and violently enough, to cast a long shadow on any Jonathan Chaits who might consider making some Israel-related public dissent. Yes, indeed, the John Mearsheimers and Stephen Walts of this world are as rare as hen’s teeth (although, actually, career-wise, they do lead somewhat-protected lives in tenured academia.)

Anyway, let’s not expect too much – not yet at least – from the Jonathan Chaits.

However, a sign that things may be “moving along” (shall we say) for the Jonathan Chaits is there is now some public attention being given to a “bailout strategy” or “exit strategy” in anticipation of the day when being identified with role the State of Israel has played in modern American history may no longer be advantageous for one’s career. (How is that for an understatement?) Jon Basil Utley’s emphasis on the evangelical Christian and military-industrial components of the Israel Lobby strikes me as a hopeful sign that such a “bailout strategy” or “exit strategy” is currently being sought after. In fact, Utley quotes Noam Chomsky (king of damage control with respect to the Jonathan Chaits and the Israel Lobby) who claims the Jonathan Chaits do not represent the principal power within the Israel lobby. Utley quotes Chomsky to the effect that “the military-industrial complex’s ‘lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races’.” This Chomsky assessment may not(certainy does not!) reflect the truth of who holds principal control of the Israel Lobby, but it could open the “bailout” door for the Jonathan Chaits to say publicly, “It wasn’t so much us; it was those evangelical Christians and the military-industrial lobby all along” – and, thus, to walk away from any public reckoning re the Israel lobby, whenever that reckoning comes, which it almost surely will.

#7 Comment By jk On March 19, 2015 @ 3:04 pm

There is actually a “peace process industry” filled with academics, NGOs, and assorted consultants, handouts for both sides that are in no way the scale, insidiousness, financially powerful, and mutually reinforcing as the MIC but exist to prolong these “negotiations” in a subtle way.

#8 Comment By dSquib On March 19, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

Chait is too stupid. He will support the US underwriting Israel’s “security” forever.

If a belligerent actor has enough money for one gun and one kevlar vest, and you then buy them the vest… what do you suppose they will do with the excess money they now have?

#9 Comment By war in our time On March 19, 2015 @ 4:06 pm

@Chait: “Likely, they will keep in place the military component of the alliance. “

The “military component” of the “alliance”, eh?

You mean the “component” of the “alliance” wherein American soldiers and weapons do all the heavy lifting? And American taxpayers pay all the bills?

You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Mr. Chait?

But that’s one of the first “components” of the “alliance” that has to go. We can provide diplomatic cover at relatively low cost – talk is cheap, as Mr. Netanyahu well knows.

The “military component”, on the other hand, is the main problem. Every time Israel uses our weapons and materiel to kill Arabs or grab more of their land, it paints a bright red target on every American’s back.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 19, 2015 @ 4:29 pm

It certainly is not inevitable if one means some manner of shift away from supporting Israel no matter what she does, unless something else changes.

In my view that change must be that we stop treating Israel as though she is incapable of standing on her own two feet.

One step in the right direction is to press Israel to abide by current law as to the borders between Isreal and Palestine.

“being a nation of the rule of law” that we claim to be (said with no small amount of smirk)

One would think this fundamental.

#11 Comment By Jeremy On March 19, 2015 @ 4:37 pm

Grumpy Old Man, I was going to mention Netanyahu’s flip-flop, too. Can’t say we didn’t see it coming, though.

#12 Comment By disgusted On March 19, 2015 @ 8:45 pm

I’m glad Netanyahu scuttled the “peace process”.

No more fooling around. We can cut off aid now, end the favorable trade terms, drop all that tiresome diplomatic support and other goodies that were supposed to be incentives for Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians.

It must be several hundred billion dollars at this point.

What a joke. All that money, literally decades of American diplomats shuttling hundreds of thousands of miles, hundreds of bureaucrats spending their entire professional lives on it, all in the hope of someday reaching a deal.

Then Netanyahu, the GOP’s favorite foreign leader, kicks every American man, woman and child in the teeth.

At least now we can spend Israel’s whopping annual allowance on Americans. Like the ones who lost arms, legs, or minds in the wars we’ve been fighting for Israel. While Israel has been figuring out how to gouge us for more money and get us to fight more wars.

#13 Comment By Darth Thulhu On March 20, 2015 @ 12:22 am

The fundamental shifts to make are all vast lurches, but few of them involve the US presidency.

German businesses getting in on BDS efforts would be gigantic. German government doing so would be a tectonic catastrophe for Israel’s present complacency. The EU as a whole would shift rapidly, possibly to the point of recognizing Palestine and/or insisting on a unitary state.

International Criminal Court proceedings, to cite another biggie, cannot end well for Israel. The PLO would be giddy to open simultaneous investigations into Hamas and the IDF. If Israel retaliates by continuing to cut off salaries and tax collections, that’s simply yet another human rights charge to bring before the world. And every investigation of a Palestinian human rights abuse ending in one dead or immiserated Israeli would be matched by a dozen Israeli human rights abuses each ending in a dead or immiserated Palestinian.

For the US, one of the big breaks to watch for will be AIPAC being unable to meaningfully punish disobedient Democrats, and Democrats subsequently developing an unwillingness to kowtow to Likudnik government abuses. The Republican “invitation” to meddle in a Democratic President’s foreign policy gives full sanction for Democrats to meddle back in return.

The Black Caucus will probably be the key group to watch, because no one else will be able to protest Israeli apartheid with more moral authority.

That 1980s language (apartheid, Bantustans, and so forth) is the real significant social marker. When American politicians start safely openly saying what tens of millions of Americans already privately say, it will be a sea change. It will lead to changes in the media, especially including film and television. The sudden pressure from many American Jews on Israel to please stop making this an American discussion topic will be immense.

Israel will, very soon thereafter, be forced to choose to be a unitary democracy, to be two 1967 land-swap states, or to be a new pariah state cut off from the Western economy and from the moral approval of the Diaspora.

Very little of that is actually a matter of US executive politics. Most of it will percolate up from below. But Netanyahu finally let the mask slip, so percolate up it will. Everyone paying any attention is now quite clear that Eternal Occupation and Race-Baiting Human Rights Denial is Israel’s default ongoing strategy. That isn’t going to withstand sustained scrutiny for long.

#14 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 20, 2015 @ 9:09 am

@ Darth Thulhu who wrote:

“German businesses getting in on BDS efforts would be gigantic. German government doing so would be a tectonic catastrophe for Israel’s present complacency. The EU as a whole would shift rapidly, possibly to the point of recognizing Palestine and/or insisting on a unitary state…Very little of that is actually a matter of US executive politics. Most of it will percolate up from below.”

The “percolation from below” among our closest allies Canada, the UK, Germany, and France is already in an advanced stage. In the Globescan Poll for BBC World Service (2013) those holding a “Mainly Negative View of Israel’s Influence” were 72% in the UK, 67% in Germany, 63% in France, and 57% in Canada – with “Mainly Positive View of Israel’s Influence” for those same countries running 14%, 8%, 21%, and 25%, respectively.

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#15 Comment By JLF On March 20, 2015 @ 9:14 am

Will there be a change in the American-Israeli arrangement anytime in the foreseeable future? Probably not. The American religious right clings to the notion that Israel was created by God in 1948 and that those that bless Israel, God will bless, and those that curse Israel, God will curse. There is zero chance that dynamic will change. However, as the number of evangelical Christians continues to decline, their influence on Republican policies will decline as well. But that’s like watching glaciers melt.

The Democratic left, always a sucker . . . er, advocate for the underdog, has shifted its allegiance from the besieged Israeli surrounded by vast Arab armies to the impoverished, politically isolated Palestinians. A remnant, a politically well-connected remnant, continue to support the idea of a secular Israel, notwithstanding the contradiction between Israel as a democracy and Israel as a Jewish state. American foreign policy with respect to Israel in the near future will depend upon how quickly or how slowly this pro-Israel remnant’s influence erodes.

#16 Comment By TTT On March 20, 2015 @ 9:26 am

International Criminal Court proceedings, to cite another biggie, cannot end well for Israel.

ICC proceedings cannot begin. Its former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has specifically clarified that the ICC only intervenes in countries that do not have a transparent rule of law. Not only do its underlying terms not apply to Israel, but since Israel has not ratified the ICC treaty (just like the US, India, China, and Russia) it’s anyone’s guess how a hypothetical investigation could even take place – Israel could just say “You have no jurisdiction and cannot enter,” and then there would be no investigation, therefore, no verdict. And while you shrug off the notion of a countersuit in the ICC against the Palestinians, which polity actually has more to lose? Where are you more likely to find conditions for self-sustaining society if the world shuts its doors on all those war criminals and pledges to arrest anyone who tries to leave – Israel inside its 1967 borders, or the PA territories? The PA is entirely dependent on foreign charity and patience; what would be mere setbacks and embarassments for Israel would be the elimination of what we today recognize as any self-governing Palestinian agency or territory.

The Black Caucus will probably be the key group to watch, because no one else will be able to protest Israeli apartheid with more moral authority…. That 1980s language (apartheid, Bantustans, and so forth) is the real significant social marker. When American politicians start safely openly saying what tens of millions of Americans already privately say, it will be a sea change.

A Gallup poll last month showed 70% of Americans view Israel favorably, and that if pressed to choose between the sides, 62% of Americans favor Israel over the Palestinian Authority.

But maybe Cynthia McKinney and Keith Ellison will grow much more significant very quickly….

This is just Linus fuming and insisting that someday the Great Pumpkin WILL appear, because his most cherished beliefs can’t possibly be wrong.

#17 Comment By Darth Thulhu On March 20, 2015 @ 6:22 pm

TTT wrote:

Where are you more likely to find conditions for self-sustaining society if the world shuts its doors on all those war criminals and pledges to arrest anyone who tries to leave – Israel inside its 1967 borders, or the PA territories?

The PA territories are already under 100% Israeli import control, with draconian restrictions: they almost certainly wouldn’t notice any meaningful difference, especially now that Israel has been refusing to hand over tax collections within the territory. Moreover, handing over a few score of Hamas leaders and Islamic Jihad types to courts abroad would, again, make most of the Palestinian people actually interested in running a functional government giddy.

As for Israel’s economy inside its 1967 borders, a general EU embargo would be comparatively crippling. Unlike the Palestinians, the Israelis have a trade-dependent First World standard of living to lose, and it would take very little travel restriction and trade freezing to tip their economy into severe contraction.

A Gallup poll last month showed 70% of Americans view Israel favorably, and that if pressed to choose between the sides, 62% of Americans favor Israel over the Palestinian Authority.

Those numbers were better 5 years ago. And better still 10 years ago. And even better still 5 years before that. And that balance doesn’t have to reach “50-50 if forced to choose” before the present bipartisan 100%-Israel-support-lockstep among Congressional leadership shatters.

Furthermore, that Gallup poll was made before Netanyahu made World News with his charming little race-baiting campaign pleas and his flat statements that the Palestinians would never ever ever get self-determination on his watch. I’m willing to bet that alone has been worth a couple of percentage points of erosion all by itself.

But maybe Cynthia McKinney and Keith Ellison will grow much more significant very quickly….

5 years is a very short span of time. In 5 years, those percentages are going to be worse still, with Netanyahu securely at the helm.

This is just Linus fuming and insisting that someday the Great Pumpkin WILL appear, because his most cherished beliefs can’t possibly be wrong.

The Great Pumpkin is already flying quite high across France, Britain, Germany, Canada, Argentina, Mexico, India, and Australia. Linus doesn’t have all that long to wait for an American flyover.

#18 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 21, 2015 @ 11:11 am

When someone mucks around posting hasbara points, they often run the risk of inadvertently calling attention to things they wish they hadn’t called attention to. For example, that the same Feb 8-11 2015 Gallup poll shows a plurality of Americans (42% – 38%) still favoring “the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”

Moreover, in answer to the open-ended question “What one country anywhere in the world do you consider to be the United States’ greatest enemy today?” that same Gallup poll of Americans lists Iran (the Israel lobby’s American media propaganda notwithstanding) at just 9% (down from 32% in 2012) and in a statistical tie (would you believe it?) with Iraq (at 8% – sic! – Iraq?).

Also, the statement that “70% of Americans view Israel favorably, and that if pressed to choose between the sides, 62% of Americans favor Israel over the Palestinian Authority” is not what the Gallup poll results indicated. The Feb 8-11 2015 poll showed that the sympathies of 62% of Americans were more with the Israelis than the Palestinians (16%) with 22% of Americans answering “both, neither, or no opinion.” The 70% figure comes in answer to a carefully-worded question that substitutes “Palestinian Authority” for “Palestinians.” The Palestinian Authority doesn’t even the sympathies of a majority of Palestinians. In fact the latest (December, 2014) Palestinian Public Opinion Poll #54 shows that: “If new presidential elections are held today and only two were nominated, Ismail Haniyeh [Hamas] and Mahmoud Abbas [PA President], the former would win a majority of 53% (compared to 55% three months ago) and the latter 42% (compared to 38% three months ago). In the Gaza Strip, Abbas receives 44% and Haniyeh 54%. In the West Bank, Abbas receives 41% and Haniyeh 53%.”

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#19 Comment By Oldest Ivy On March 22, 2015 @ 7:57 am

At some point balance sheets are toted up. And in an age of ubiquitous, immersive data, the actual costs to America respectively of Iran and Israel must be fairly easy to quantify and visualize.

A side by side comparison would be useful. Iran vs. Israel. 50 years, 1965 to the present. Basic categories. Foreign aid, military costs, cost in dead Americans, cost of diplomatic efforts, even cost to reputation and prestige may be quantifiable as a cluster of statistical components..

Sometimes a few figures are worth a raft of words, especially when the words are coming from the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu.