Netanyahu's disrespect for an American president is unprecedented
Pittsburgh Post Gazette, October 2, 2015 12:00 AM
By Dennis Jett
Ever since the creation of the state of Israel, it has had a special relationship with the United States. In recent months that relationship has been damaged by domestic politics in both countries, and steps must be taken to mend it.
Israel has been the single largest recipient of American foreign aid, totaling about $234 billion over the years. Not bad for a country with a population smaller than that of New York City. But the American commitment to Israel's defense and development has never meant that both governments must always agree.
The United States has consistently opposed expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and urged progress in peace talks with the Palestinians. Yet the settlements have continually grown, while prospects for peace seem more remote every day.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said he was ready to restart negotiations, there was a collective yawn because few believed him. That disbelief is well-founded. When faced with a tight battle for reelection last March, he promised his supporters that a Palestinian state never would be established while he was in office.
Mr. Netanyahu won the election but barely cobbled together a majority in parliament. Three of the four parties that joined his coalition are firmly opposed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would rather formally annex most of the West Bank. They would leave the vast majority of Palestinians confined to a semi-autonomous nonstate not unlike the Bantustans that the South African government created under apartheid.
The number of Israeli settlers on the West Bank has grown to 600,000 and they have become a powerful political force in Israeli politics. Most assert a biblical right to cheap, heavily subsidized housing on someone else's land, which has pulled the country away from any possible path to peace. To maintain their support, Mr. Netanyahu has avoided serious negotiations.
The damage done to the special relationship by domestic politics in Israel is minor, however, compared to what Mr. Netanyahu's intrusion into American domestic politics has wrought.
His support for his old friend, Mitt Romney, in the 2012 presidential election was no secret. And his opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran has been adamant and unrelenting. While not a single Republican senator or congressman has supported the agreement, their attempts to destroy it have failed. Yet Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to continue his efforts to do so. Never has the leader of a friendly country shown such contempt for an American president.
Openly identifying with the Republican Party may appeal to Mr. Netanyahu since, according to a new report, only three of 10 Republicans support a two-state solution while six of 10 Democrats do.
By aligning himself with the GOP, Mr. Netanyahu is following in the footsteps of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC, which is famous for its political muscle, began reaching out to fundamentalist Christians in the mid-1980s. One might think it strange for a group supporting Israel to ally with those who eagerly await the Rapture, during which Jews are predicted to become Christians or be incinerated. But enhancing AIPAC's power was all that mattered.
All this posturing is exacerbating the partisan divide in Washington. A solid majority of Jewish Americans now vote consistently for Democrats, and many are increasingly secular. Conservative Christians, on the other hand, are the bedrock of the GOP base of support. To appeal to them, the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination try to outdo each other in asserting support for Israel and now would essentially outsource American policy in the region to Mr. Netanyahu.
Despite the increasingly partisan tenor of the special relationship, the president, according to The New York Times, is expected "to deliver a huge new military-aid package to Israel and perhaps make some political moves to appease Mr. Netanyahu" when the prime minister visits the United States in November.
Some have suggested that Israel be given the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which could destroy Iran's buried nuclear facilities. Such a transfer would hand Iranian hardliners a superb argument that America bargained in bad faith on the nuclear deal. And it would enable Mr. Netanyahu to start a war, at the moment of his choosing, that he would be incapable of ending.
The special relationship will not endure if it drags the United States into another unwinnable war with another Muslim country. It will not endure if the American Jewish community is sharply divided. And it will not endure if it becomes just another part of the partisan food fight in Washington.
Mr. Obama should use the occasion of Mr. Netanyahu's visit not to shower him with gifts but to tell him that the United States just might recognize Palestine as a nation and a full member of the United Nations (something that over 70 percent of the U.N.'s 193 member states already do) unless he returns to the bargaining table and makes rapid progress toward lasting peace.