US Needs to Rethink Israel Policy

Almost two years ago a pair of fearless US academics boldly suggested that perhaps — just perhaps — American foreign policy in the Middle East was too beholden to Israel. And, my-oh-my, did they ever feel the heat!

By Tom Plate

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Published: Sun 18 Jan 2009, 10:44 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:56 AM

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard famously wrote: “For the past several decades ... the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history.” The reaction within the somewhat influential, hugely self-important US Commentariat was, by and large, hysterical — and negative. You would have thought the academics were denying the actuality of the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. Their patriotism and their Semitism — not to mention their scholarship - were questioned. Many critics, it seemed, were inclined to view their perspective as near-treasonous, if not anti-Semitic. But ideas can be funny things. You can shoot the messenger but ideas with serious currency tend to die hard, even in the fiercest crossfire.

That’s why the sensational story earlier of the US wimp-out at the UN Security Council was given widespread credence, especially in the largely Islamic swaths of the world.

The story was ignited by none other than Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert himself. Bragging to constituents of his sway over US policy in the Middle East, he claimed to have stopped a Security Council Gaza ceasefire resolution from passing unanimously simply by personally telephoning Bush, the outgoing, and pressuring him to have the US vote against it.

And that then was exactly what happened. In New York, the US delegation was led by none other than outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who personally had a major hand in shaping the wording and the tonality of the ceasefire resolution in question. It thus struck many observers as rather odd that, when it came to vote on the resolution, Rice was in fact to raise her hand in abstention.

Worse yet, the US was the only country that did not approve of the ceasefire call. When she told her UN colleagues her government was not in support of it, no other country joined her. Understandably, the US government in general and the Rice State Department vehemently denied the embarrassing story of the secret Olmert-Bush fix.

But problems arise with the denial. The first is that the main — and mainly only — source of the story is the Prime Minister of Israel himself. It was he that made the claim of an Israeli veto over US policy. So is the Bush administration now calling him a liar?

The second problem is that in many places around the world the story was instantly believed, with little or no difficulty. That such credibility should extend to a scenario in which a super-savvy Israel is controlling the dumb-ox American Goliath tells a tale all by itself. Potential collateral diplomatic global damage for the United States is significant. Washington needs to maintain good-to-excellent relationships with all Muslim countries, to the greatest extent possible.

In the Gaza Strip itself, perhaps 98 per cent or more are Muslim. And half of Gaza’s populace, is said, are children. Can Hamas be pulverised without maiming Gaza’s Muslim children? Would it be worth the effort if it could? Would it be wise to not even try?

Tuesday January 20, power passes from Bush to the Obama administration. Just as the whole world is watching Gaza, the whole world will be watching the new American government. It does not have to become an enemy of Israel to become an even better, more valuable friend. All it has to do is develop a more balanced and nuanced Middle East policy that strikes the right chord around the world, including and especially in the Islamic world, as well as in Israel itself. This will be hard but it must be done. Almost everyone agrees that what is happening in Gaza is God-awful.

Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is writing a book on Asia

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