Posted by: sean | March 18, 2007

Talking about Israel

Kristof has a piece about talking about Israel in the Times today:

Democrats are railing at just about everything President Bush does, with one prominent exception: Mr. Bush’s crushing embrace of Israel.

There is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. And that silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself.

Within Israel, you hear vitriolic debates in politics and the news media about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Yet no major American candidate is willing today to be half as critical of hard-line Israeli government policies as, say, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper.

…For more than half a century, the U.S. was an honest broker in the Middle East. Presidents Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were warmer to Israel and Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush a bit cooler, but all sought a balance. George W. Bush has abandoned that tradition of balance.

Hard-line Israeli policies have profoundly harmed that country’s long-term security by adding vulnerable settlements, radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hezbollah, isolating Israel in the world and nurturing another generation of terrorists in Lebanon. The Israeli right’s aggressive approach has only hurt Israeli security, just as President Bush’s invasion of Iraq ended up harming U.S. interests.

The best hope for Israel in the long run isn’t a better fence or more weaponry; they can provide a measure of security in the short run but will be of little help if terrorists turn, as they eventually will if the present trajectory continues, to chemical, biological or radiological weapons. Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians. We even know what that peace deal will look like: the Geneva accord, reached in 2003 by private Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

M. J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Forum headlined a recent column, “Pandering Not Required.” He wisely called on American presidential candidates instead to prove their support for Israel by pledging: “If I am elected president, I will do everything in my power to bring about negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of achieving peace and security for Israel and a secure state for the Palestinians.”

Last summer, after Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others, Prime Minister Olmert invaded Lebanon and thus transformed Hezbollah into a heroic force in much of the Arab world. President Bush would have been a much better friend to Israel if he had tried to rein in Mr. Olmert. So let’s be better friends — and stop biting our tongues.

While I disagree that the US was evenhanded for 50 years and only instituted a pro-Israel bias in 2000 (this has been going on to varying degrees since the 1970s), recent remarks by Democratic presidential hopefuls makes it obvious that there is no real space between them and Republicans when it comes to US-Israel relations.

Much like France’s warnings before the war in Iraq should have been heeded as frank and friendly advice, the US should start acting like a real friend to Israel by telling the Israelis the truths they don’t want to hear.

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