Opinion: U.S.-Israeli tensions remain strong

January 28, 2013


Here’s a pop quiz for those who have been too busy to notice the surprising results of last week’s Israeli election: Was the key issue (1) Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s testy relationship with President Obama; (2) whether Israel should bomb Iran’s nuclear sites; or (3) whether to revive the mummified peace process?

Answer: None of the above. Issues of war and peace had little to do with the sliding support for Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. (He’ll still be prime minister but will have to work hard to woo new coalition partners.) Nor did these issues propel the rise of the new centrist star, Yair Lapid, a young, attractive TV personality whose new party came in an unexpected second. The newcomer’s big issue was his promise to halt subsidies and military exemptions granted to thousands of ultrareligious Israelis.

This is further evidence that Israelis have lost faith in the peace process and are focused on domestic problems. But now that the Israeli (as well as the U.S.) election season is over, those sidelined issues will force themselves back to the fore.

The Israeli press is already speculating about how Netanyahu can repair his famously strained relations with Obama. “Netanyahu’s support for Mitt Romney was a mistake,” the prominent Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea said in a conference call organized by the Israel Policy Forum. “He believed a Romney victory would increase the chance of a U.S. attack on Iran and decrease the pressure on the Israel-Palestinian issue. Now he has no option (but to) deal with Barack Hussein Obama.”

Barnea continued: “Bibi will do his best to soothe Obama without any concessions.” Israelis are already speculating about what role the untried Lapid might play in repairing the breach.

But the tensions between Jerusalem and Washington won’t be easily soothed. Despite Obama’s strong military and diplomatic support for Israel, Netanyahu openly challenged him on Iran at the United Nations in September. Israel argues that even if it has to attack alone, Iran must be prevented from developing the capacity to build a nuclear weapon, which the Israeli leader projected would happen by spring. Obama, rightly reluctant to start another preemptive war, puts a redline at preventing Iran from actually building a weapon.

Whether the Israeli election results will change Netanyahu’s calculation isn’t clear yet. Some of his possible coalition partners have argued strongly against a solo Israeli attack on Iran.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the breach is even more evident. The White House knows the current Mideast turmoil makes a peace accord unlikely in the near term, as do the weakness of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the positions of Hamas, which controls Gaza.

But Netanyahu’s promotion of Jewish settlement building on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem virtually rules out a two-state solution in the long term. It also isolates Israel internationally and puts the onus for stalled talks on Jerusalem.

A stunning report by the Israeli group Peace Now (available at peacenow.org) details the vast new settlement construction under Netanyahu in isolated areas of the West Bank — as opposed to the settlement blocs that Israel has said it wants to keep under a peace agreement. Netanyahu has moved to “legalize” many illegal outposts whose removal is called for by international accords signed by Israel.

Whether the new Israeli government will take on the settlement issue is doubtful. Netanyahu’s own Likud party has moved rightward. His coalition will probably include a new party that advocates annexing the West Bank. And he promised that no settlement would be removed if he were elected.

Much will depend on whether some of the partners Netanyahu woos for his coalition make settlements an issue. But even if they do, Bibi may not oblige. If not, the settlement issue will remain a thorn in U.S.-Israeli relations.

When the U.N. Security Council voted last fall to condemn Israel for settlements, the United States was one of only eight countries siding with Israel. Obama got no thanks: Soon afterward, Netanyahu advanced plans — opposed by several U.S. presidents — to build in an area of the West Bank that would cut the territory off from Arab East Jerusalem, the site Palestinians seek for their capital.

Yet consider this: “Israel (now) depends more on the United States than ever,” said Barnea. “Israel is more and more isolated in Europe, as relations gradually deteriorate towards a boycott which could endanger the economy of Israel.”

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Abdu Omar 5 years, 2 months ago

Let them fend for themselves. They do not want to be part of the international community and stop annexing land that they occupy so they will be isolated further. This is good because Israel is not just a thorn in Obama's side but a thorn to all peaceful people of the world. When will they stop?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

After years of listening to the Arabs say no to peace, no to negotiation, no to recognition, the Israelis finally heard. They chose their own path, not to the liking of the Arabs. However, when the Egyptians broke rank and offered peace, they received peace. They also received every inch of land the Israelis had occupied since the 1967 War. When Jordan offered peace, they also received peace, though they chose to forfeit land they lost in the same war. When others seek peace, they also will find it. Will it be a perfect peace, without difficult compromises? Probably not. But it won't be achieved as long as the Arabs are driven by clerics, despots and jihadists.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

This is very inaccurate. Since the end of the 1948 war, the Israelis have very consciously chosen not to seek a real peace, preferring instead to seek and even incite military conflict in order to use military conquest as a means of seizing more land and resources. That's not to say that the Arabs haven't all too often been willing partners in this deadly dance, but completely distorting Israel's role in this is unwarranted.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

That's just wrong, Bozo and you should know it. The land conquest came as a result of the 1967 War, one in which Israel tried very hard to avoid. That they returned land to the primary instigator shows that Israel is ready and willing to make peace when the opportunity presents itself. What they won't do is turn over land to people sworn to then use that land as a launching pad to destroy Israel. If you want to find fault with that position, go right ahead.

In the years between 1948 and 1967, Israelis watched from a short distance as their holy sites on the other side of the armistice line were desecrated. Political posters were placed on the Western Wall. Jewish headstones were removed from centuries old cemeteries and made into outhouses for the Jordanian army. Despite these provocations, Israel made no move to capture their own holy sites, even as they were denied access. Though the armistice lines were not perfect, they provided a defensible sanctuary and the Israelis were willing to live with it.

You seem to ignore the fact that in the weeks and months leading up to the 1967 War, Egypt closed an international waterway, a violation of international law and an act of war, as defined by the international community. They then forced the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers. They moved large columns of tanks, and aircraft towards the border. They said they intended to attack. These are the actions of Egypt, yet you depict that as Israel's attempt to incite. Talk about distortion.

As the Six Day War commenced and even as Egypt's forces were being decimated, Israel sent clear signals to Jordan that they wanted no part of a war with them. Jordan responded by attacking Israel, with the subsequent loss of the West Bank. And just as the West Bank was being lost, Syria decided to join the fray with the subsequent loss of the Golan Heights.

Why would these Arab forces launch a war against an Israeli army that was so far superior to it's own forces? The answer is that they didn't know Israel was far superior. Neither did the Israelis. We all seem to assume Israel can kick butt, anytime it wants to. But that isn't true at all. Israel is vulnerable and will remain so until a regional peace is achieved. Right now, that region has many voices. Some are seeking peace, others are not. When the voices of peace prevail, they will find a willing partner in Israel.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, yes, the Arab governments outside of Palestine followed the script that Israel wrote to a tee, and allowed poor little Israel to defend itself right into the seizure of ever more Palestinian land and resources.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

That's just foolish. Israel could no more control what the Arab countries did then than they can now. Each country made their own decisions and suffered the consequences of their decisions. That the Arab countries seemingly have made poor decisions is on them and them alone. Israel's decisions, whether you like them or not, are theirs as well. Egypt owns the war of 1967. They also own the peace that was negotiated by Sadat. Jordan owns it's attack on Israel and the loss of the West Bank. Whatever peace agreement exists now, they own that as well. israel owns the conquest as well as the treatment of the people it controls now. What they don't own it the Egyptian decision to fight the war of 1967 that led to the taking of the land. And they don't own the subsequent years of Arab insistence of no peace, no negotiation, no recognition. That is owned by those who engaged in that policy and those that continue to engage in that policy. Hamas owns it's policy of insisting on Israel's destruction while Israel owns it's policy of not negotiating with parties that do insist on it's own destruction. Palestinians own their long history of leaders who can't finalize peace and Israel owns Netanyahu.

If you think Israel wrote the script that led to the 1967 War and the Arabs simply did what Israel wanted, then it's time to break out the tin foil hats, Bozo. Conspiracy theorists are amusing to read. Is that what you want to be? Amusing?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Israel had a consistent policy of inciting Arab governments/dictators with the express goal starting yet another round of wars that would allow them to seize more territory and resources. That doesn't make Arabs innocent and angelic actors-- they were and have been pretty reprehensible in their actions, too.

And Israel's policy really hasn't changed all that much. Maintaining a state of perpetual war allows them the cover to annex ever more Palestinian territory. The militants that control Israel have no desire for peace, because that would end their ability to continue these expansionist actions.

But it should also be noted that maintaining militancy towards Israel has also been essential to despotic Arab rulers in maintaining themselves in power. The only thing that has brought about peace agreements between Arabs and Israel is the US propping up the despots who have ruled in Egypt and Jordon.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Your interpretation of history is just plain wrong.

I gave you a clear example of Egypt's inciting a war, the very war that led to the loss of land and you come back with some overly broad generalizations with no specifics. Yet you still say it was Israel who incited with intent to seize land. Not true.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, the Arabs are guilty of lots of things, and Nasser certainly ratcheted things up quite provocatively in 1967, but there's still no clear evidence that either he or other Arab leaders intended to launch an attack. Although he didn't start an actual shooting war, Nasser's saber rattling was all that was required for the Israeli military, which is who really rules Israel, to use that opening to attack the various Arab forces in what can only be categorized as pre-emptive attack-- a highly successful one, at that.

So as is the case throughout the history of this conflict, there was plenty of blame to go around on all sides.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

No evidence he intended to start a shooting war, therefore, according to you, it was Israel that started the war? You've taken an apologetic stance to an extreme. Let's look at what did happen.

Egypt closed an international waterway, an act of war AND they insisted on the removal of U.N. peacekeepers that had been deployed along the border AND they moved military personnel towards the border AND they moved tanks towards the border AND they moved artillery towards the border AND they moved aircraft towards the border AND they said they were going to attack Israel AND they said they were going to drive the Jews into the sea meaning they planned attacks on civilians. That's not saber rattling, Bozo. That's war. The problem is that your choice of words is designed to mislead, to deceive. You tell only some of the truth, leaving out huge parts. There is a word for that. It's called lying, Bozo. That's what you are doing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

The fact remains that Egypt didn't fire the first shots, and all the movements you list took place in their territory. Israel did fire the first shots, on Egyptians who were in Egyptian territory, on planes that weren't in the air. That doesn't excuse the actions of the Egyptians, but it doesn't change the fact that it was Israel who started the shooting, not the Egyptians.

Those are the words you're just too much of a blind partisan to ever utter.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

I have no problem saying they fired the first shots. The problem I have is your suggestion that this was all a part of an Israeli plan to expand. That's not true. Events that led to the seizure of land were events that were forced upon Israel by the various Arab states. To whatever extent that impacted the population residing on that land, (the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Syrians in Golan, Egyptians in Sinai), that lays squarely at the feet of those Arab countries as well as to whatever extent those native populations supported those Arab regimes.

The bottom line is that history shows that Israel patiently waited weeks for the Egyptians to withdraw, hoping war could be avoided. To whatever extent you believe this was part of an Israeli plan at expansion, you're dead wrong about that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

Hmm, they certainly did expand after that war, and have been seizing Palestinian property ever since, and clearly have every intention of taking whatever additional properties they covet.

That's what history really shows.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Yes, they did expand, but only because events begun by others forced them to. That seems to be something you're unable to come to grips with. The events that led to the seizure of land were events not of their design nor were they events they wanted. They tried very hard to avoid war. War came to them.

What history shows is that when a legitimate offer of peace is made, along with guarantees for that peace, Israel is willing to give back land. That's exactly what happened in Sinai. It should be noted that Sinai has some pretty decent oil reserves that might have been tempting for Israel to keep. But they withdrew from 100% of the land when a legitimate offer of peace was made.

However, what else history shows is that unilateral withdrawal without offers of peace, without guarantees of peace, have led to nothing but continued violence. That has been true for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and southern Lebanon.

So should Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights, giving that and to that ever peaceful Assad? Or withdraw from the West Bank and give that land to Hamas, who vows Israel's destruction?

Just out of curiosity, Bozo, I'd like to ask you a question. In the past, you've complained when Israel made peace with Sadat, a brutal dictator as you've described him. Of course, Morsi has recently been quoted as have made some rather distasteful comments of late. Assad rules Syria much like his father did, Hamas vows to fight on until Israel is gone. My question is this, in that region, is there any government that is worthy of your praise, any regime other leaders or potential leaders could look to and emulate? Is there any legitimate government that Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians should be seeking guidance from as they attempt to form governments that will represent their people in such a way that you would approve?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

"Yes, they did expand, but only because events begun by others forced them to. "

Sounds like pure narcissism to me.

Liberty275 5 years, 2 months ago

Really? Let them fend for themselves? Sure thing. The first thing they do is nuke Iran, then take Syria, make Jordan take all of the palestinians and start assassinating Egyptians that might be a danger. They will probably annex Lebanon too.

America does more to restrain Israel than anything else.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

In 1956, when Israel was plotting with France and Britain to attack Egypt, Ben-Gurion wanted it to come with the price tag of dissolving the states of Jordan and Lebanon, and seizing a good deal of their territory, as well as seizing the entirety of the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Seizing Arab territories has always been a central part of Israeli policies and actions.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

Yet reality trumps your little comment. Having captured Sinai during the 1967 War, Israel then returned the land in exchange for peace. Perhaps Ben-Gurion's comment hasn't been put into appropriate context. Perhaps what he meant was that in the absence of peace, certain actions would be considered, but with peace, other decisions would be made. That makes more sense given that they did seize Sinai and then gave it up.

All this is a guess, but since you don't give any context, guessing is all we can really do.

BTW - I take note you've declined to answer any of the questions I previously asked. Is there some reason?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 2 months ago

I'd guess they gave up the Sinai because they knew it wasn't worth stretching themselves thin to keep hold of it. They were more interested in consolidating their control over the rest of their conquests And the reason Ben-Gurion didn't get the Sinai (along with large hunks of Lebanon and Jordan) in 1956 (aside from Eisenhower stopping the operation before it was completed) is because that wasn't in the interest of either France or Britain, who were at that time supplying most of Israel's armaments.

" Is there some reason?"

What's the point of responding to your always extremely biased, straw-man rhetorical questions?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 2 months ago

No, Bozo, you don't want to answer the question because to do so would not fit the narrative you want to present. It would show a fatal flaw in your logic, one that you don't want exposed.

You have been critical of Israel in the past for having made peace with those brutal Sadat and Mubarak regimes. But you've also been critical of Israel for not wanting peace. What you really want to do is present Israel with an unsolvable dilemma and then criticize them for not solving it. For if we were to assume that the governments of Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are not governments worthy of your praise, any peace Israel did make with those governments would be criticized by you. But you still want to criticize them for not making peace. Damned if they do and damned if they don't, that's your position. Shall they make peace with the democratically elected Hamas, the group by it's own admission wants no part of Israel on the planet at all? Or shall it be the corrupt Palestinian Authority? Neither of those groups are "Good" governments, certainly no better that Egypt. So there's the dilemma. Israel can make no peace that suits you, yet the are to be criticized for not making peace. Bottom line, Bozo, that's your position.

tomatogrower 5 years, 2 months ago

Because of the Holocaust, I am in full support of the Israeli's right to their homeland, but there have been abuses on their side, as well as the Muslims. I just don't understand the support that the Republicans give. They want to cut the budget at the expense of our US citizens, but they are all gungho about giving Israel anything they ask for. How is that patriotic? And yes, I know that the religious right wingers think the state of Israel will signify the return of their god, but why should the rest of us have to share our wealth? I would rather keep our wealth in our country, thank you. And I've heard enough of evangelical Christians. Out of one side of their mouth they support Israel, out of the other side you hear racism directed toward Jews. Hypocrites.

uncleandyt 5 years, 2 months ago

Let me tell ya about what these guys said that those guys meant when they said that some say that that guy said this. You're welcome. You can now pay Trudy electronically for the message of the month. Enjoy. I wish they would tell us what color the alert level is. Should I be feeling Orange? Is it Red week?? Should I relocate my gold and food stash? Our problems are less likely to be addressed if they are elbowed out of the news by 'He said, Bibbi said...', steroids, monkey pox, Lohan, SuperBowl ads!!!!!!! We...the People, are misinformed, disinformed, and uninformed. Dear Newspaper, please print more news.

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