Friday, September 23, 2005

When Abbas Stumbles Israel Pays

In his speech prior to the Gaza withdrawal, Prime Minister Sharon said that changed circumstances had made the move imperative. He did not spell out what they were, perhaps because he thought they were obvious or perhaps candor would have opened a can of worms.

We know that 9/11 revealed deep hostility toward the U.S. throughout the Islamic world. The size and geopolitical importance of this world generated, in turn, an understandable desire among American policy makers to seek better relations with Arabs and Moslems and this inevitably resulted in a changed approach toward Israel. Every American step to fight terrorism, starting with Afghanistan, and then the Iraq invasion has been accompanied by a corollary determination to strengthen ties with parts of Islam. This, too, has operated to Israel's disadvantage.

At best, Israel would have to take a back seat in the new U.S. diplomacy. Worse yet, Israeli actions would be required to fit into the changed American outlook. A dual dialectic was at work, firstly in the paradox that greater enmity toward the U.S. among Arabs and Moslems resulted in support for Israel being somewhat downplayed and, secondly, in that American friendship toward Israel was reconfigured into a diplomatic device whereby Israel would serve as an instrumentality for the achievement of the changed American goals.

Israel still had a trump card in Yasir Arafat. As long as he lived, there was greater freedom because Washington had announced that it would not negotiate with the Palestinian fakhir (aka faker.) Pressure in Israel was therefore tempered. When he went, that barrier came down, to be replaced by an urgent, even frantic, U.S. determination to shore up Mahmoud Abbas and to forestall Hamas. Since Arafat's death, Israel has yielded huge chunks of sovereignty.

The situation is likely to get worse, if only because Abbas' situation is likely to get worse. The cat was let out of the bag by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he announced that new construction in Maaleh Adumim - a next-door suburb to Jerusalem - was being suspended and would not be resumed until Washington gave its approval. This is on top of the humiliating China drone affair in which Israel yielded to the Pentagon and Washington bureaucracy its freedom to make key 1) diplomatic, 2) military and 3) economic decisions. The only saving grace in this matter was Defense Minister Mofaz who refused to obey the Pentagon's instruction that he come to Washington and personally beg the forgiveness of lower American officials.

As Israel withdrew from Gaza, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forcefully pressuring Israel to do more - lots more and pronto. When Palestinian mobs overran what Israel had abandoned and destroyed synagogues, had they paused to read they would have been comforted by the words of State Department spokesman Sean McCormack who said that Israel's decision not to destroy the synagogues put "the Palestinian Authority into a situation where it may be criticized for whatever it does." So Israel is responsible for Palestinians destroying religious places! It is obvious that McCormack said what he was instructed to say by his boss.

The State Department has emerged all-powerful in determining how the U.S. looks at relations between Israel and Palestinians. If only because of 9/11, this is scary. As National Security Advisor, Ms. Rice was reckless in protecting this country against unmistakable indications that terrorists were plotting to harm the U.S. and she then covered up her malfeasance. She cannot be trusted with Israel's security.

Our media and organizations have little to say about these troubling developments. It is a precondition of Israel's dependency status that its leaders are more than circumspect about criticizing the U.S. Disagreements are covered up and the Israeli and American publics are deceived. American Jewish organizations and media go along with this deception. In an unintended way, Pat Buchanan has it right. There is an amen corner where we bless all that the American government does even when it is harmful to Israel.

We do have AIPAC to further the self-delusion that gives credence to the mischievous notion that there is an all-powerful American-Jewish lobby. In fact, we are in the dark about back-door U.S. diplomacy which provides arms and other support to Arab countries.

The AIPAC prosecution should dispel our exaggerated self-importance. Think about it. There has not been a single prosecution like this in the entire history of the country, although it is certain that what the two ex-staff members are accused of is daily fare in Washington. We delude ourselves and we allow too many others to think that we are in control of the White House, Pentagon and State Department by settling for the appearance at AIPAC's extravaganzas of the Secretary of State and other officials who mouth scripted cliches about U.S.-Israel relations. In fact, AIPAC is one of Washington's least effective lobbies because to be effective lobbying has to be discrete.

There is a saving grace in the far more discrete and far more effective efforts on behalf of Israel by Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. They are tougher than we are in advocating Israel's case and they are better connected than we are. Israel needs them and hopefully they will remain allies despite incessant efforts by American Jewish groups to alienate them.

The factors that have weakened Israel's relations with the U.S. and curtailed its diplomatic freedom will not go away. Every time that Abbas stumbles, there is the prospect that a cost will be exacted from Israel. I know that Israel has never been blessed with free will in its relations with Washington. But the present situation is especially troubling. Israeli leaders must be more candid in describing what is occurring. Isn't this one of the requirements of democracy?