From the Los Angeles Times
Israel's false friends
U.S. presidential candidates aren't doing the Jewish state any favors
by offering unconditional support.
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
January 6, 2008
Once again, as the presidential campaign season gets underway, the
leading candidates are going to enormous lengths to demonstrate their
devotion to the state of Israel and their steadfast commitment to its
"special relationship" with the United States.
Each of the main contenders emphatically favors giving Israel
extraordinary material and diplomatic support -- continuing the more
than $3 billion in foreign aid each year to a country whose per capita
income is now 29th in the world. They also believe that this aid
should be given unconditionally. None of them criticizes Israel's
conduct, even when its actions threaten U.S. interests, are at odds
with American values or even when they are harmful to Israel itself.
In short, the candidates believe that the U.S. should support Israel
no matter what it does.
Such pandering is hardly surprising, because contenders for high
office routinely court special interest groups, and Israel's
staunchest supporters -- the Israel lobby, as we have termed it --
expect it. Politicians do not want to offend Jewish Americans or
"Christian Zionists," two groups that are deeply engaged in the
political process. Candidates fear, with some justification, that even
well-intentioned criticism of Israel's policies may lead these groups
to turn against them and back their opponents instead.
If this happened, trouble would arise on many fronts. Israel's friends
in the media would take aim at the candidate, and campaign
contributions from pro-Israel individuals and political action
committees would go elsewhere. Moreover, most Jewish voters live in
states with many electoral votes, which increases their weight in
close elections (remember Florida in 2000?), and a candidate seen as
insufficiently committed to Israel would lose some of their support.
And no Republican would want to alienate the pro-Israel subset of the
Christian evangelical movement, which is a significant part of the GOP
Indeed, even suggesting that the U.S. adopt a more impartial stance
toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can get a candidate into
serious trouble. When Howard Dean proposed during the 2004 campaign
that the United States take a more "evenhanded" role in the peace
process, he was severely criticized by prominent Democrats, and a
rival for the nomination, Sen. Joe Lieberman, accused him of "selling
Israel down the river" and said Dean's comments were "irresponsible."
Word quickly spread in the American Jewish community that Dean was
hostile to Israel, even though his campaign co-chair was a former
president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Dean had
been strongly pro-Israel throughout his career. The candidates in the
2008 election surely want to avoid Dean's fate, so they are all trying
to prove that they are Israel's best friend.
These candidates, however, are no friends of Israel. They are
facilitating its pursuit of self-destructive policies that no true
friend would favor.
The key issue here is the future of Gaza and the West Bank, which
Israel conquered in 1967 and still controls. Israel faces a stark
choice regarding these territories, which are home to roughly 3.8
million Palestinians. It can opt for a two-state solution, turning
over almost all of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians and
allowing them to create a viable state on those lands in return for a
comprehensive peace agreement designed to allow Israel to live
securely within its pre-1967 borders (with some minor modifications).
Or it can retain control of the territories it occupies or surrounds,
building more settlements and bypass roads and confining the
Palestinians to a handful of impoverished enclaves in Gaza and the
West Bank. Israel would control the borders around those enclaves and
the air above them, thus severely restricting the Palestinians'
freedom of movement.
But if Israel chooses this second option, it will lead to an apartheid
state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said as much when he recently
proclaimed that if "the two-state solution collapses," Israel will
"face a South African-style struggle." He went so far as to argue that
"as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished." Similarly,
Israel's deputy prime minister, Haim Ramon, said earlier this month
that "the occupation is a threat to the existence of the state of
Israel." Other Israelis, as well as Jimmy Carter and Anglican
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have warned that continuing the occupation
will turn Israel into an apartheid state. Nevertheless, Israel
continues to expand its settlements on the West Bank while the plight
of the Palestinians worsens.
Given this grim situation, one would expect the presidential
candidates, who claim to care deeply about Israel, to be sounding the
alarm and energetically championing a two-state solution. One would
expect them to have encouraged President Bush to put significant
pressure on both the Israelis and the Palestinians at the recent
Annapolis conference and to keep the pressure on when he visits the
region this week. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently
observed, settling this conflict is also in America's interest, not to
mention the Palestinians'.
One would certainly expect Hillary Clinton to be leading the charge
here. After all, she wisely and bravely called for establishing a
Palestinian state "that is on the same footing as other states" in
1998, when it was still politically incorrect to use the words
"Palestinian state" openly. Moreover, her husband not only championed
a two-state solution as president but he laid out the famous "Clinton
parameters" in December 2000, which outline the only realistic deal
for ending the conflict.
But what is Clinton saying now that she is a candidate? She said
hardly anything about pushing the peace process forward at Annapolis,
and remained silent when Rice criticized Israel's subsequent
announcement that it planned to build more than 300 new housing units
in East Jerusalem. More important, both she and GOP aspirant Rudy
Giuliani recently proclaimed that Jerusalem must remain undivided, a
position that is at odds with the Clinton parameters and virtually
guarantees that there will be no Palestinian state.
Sen. Clinton's behavior is hardly unusual among the candidates for
president. Barack Obama, who expressed some sympathy for the
Palestinians before he set his sights on the White House, now has
little to say about their plight, and he too said little about what
should have been done at Annapolis to facilitate peace. The other
major contenders are ardent in their declarations of support for
Israel, and none of them apparently sees a two-state solution as so
urgent that they should press both sides to reach an agreement. As
Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security advisor and now a
senior advisor to Obama, noted, "The presidential candidates don't see
any payoff in addressing the Israel-Palestinian issue." But they do
see a significant political payoff in backing Israel to the hilt, even
when it is pursuing a policy -- colonizing the West Bank -- that is
morally and strategically bankrupt.
In short, the presidential candidates are no friends of Israel. They
are like most U.S. politicians, who reflexively mouth pro-Israel
platitudes while continuing to endorse and subsidize policies that are
in fact harmful to the Jewish state. A genuine friend would tell
Israel that it was acting foolishly, and would do whatever he or she
could to get Israel to change its misguided behavior. And that will
require challenging the special interest groups whose hard-line views
have been obstacles to peace for many years.
As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami argued in 2006, the
American presidents who have made the greatest contribution to peace
-- Carter and George H.W. Bush -- succeeded because they were "ready
to confront Israel head-on and overlook the sensibilities of her
friends in America." If the Democratic and Republican contenders were
true friends of Israel, they would be warning it about the danger of
becoming an apartheid state, just as Carter did.
Moreover, they would be calling for an end to the occupation and the
creation of a viable Palestinian state. And they would be calling for
the United States to act as an honest broker between Israel and the
Palestinians so that Washington could pressure both sides to accept a
solution based on the Clinton parameters. Implementing a final-status
agreement will be difficult and take a number of years, but it is
imperative that the two sides formally agree on the solution and then
implement it in ways that protect each side.
But Israel's false friends cannot say any of these things, or even
discuss the issue honestly. Why? Because they fear that speaking the
truth would incur the wrath of the hard-liners who dominate the main
organizations in the Israel lobby. So Israel will end up controlling
Gaza and the West Bank for the foreseeable future, turning itself into
an apartheid state in the process. And all of this will be done with
the backing of its so-called friends, including the current
presidential candidates. With friends like them, who needs enemies?
John J. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the
University of Chicago. Stephen M. Walt is a professor of international
affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. They are the
authors of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," published last
year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Additional on Mearsheimer and Walt:
Obama and the Jews:
Jewish NBC News programming head censors root cause of 9/11
Video that gets to the Israel question:
The Gorilla in the Room is US Support for Israel
SCANDAL: 9/11 Commissioners Bowed to Pressure to Suppress Main Motive
for the 9/11 Attacks:
Additional at following URL: