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Yoram Ettinger Photo: Gabi Menashe
Yoram Ettinger Photo: Gabi Menashe
 
 

No need to panic

Obama cannot break Israel’s back, sever special US-Israel ties

Yoram Ettinger
Published: 06.08.09, 11:36 / Israel Opinion

President Obama's speech in Cairo intensified psychological pressure on the Jewish State. Obama erodes Israel's special standing in the US. He has adopted evenhandedness and moral equivalence toward Israel (a staunch democratic ally, a role model of counter-terrorism) and toward the Palestinian Authority (an ally of US' enemies, a role model of terrorism and hate-education.) He ignores Israel's ancient history, suggesting

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that the justification for its existence is rooted in the Holocaust. And, he has transformed "settlements" into the crux of the Arab-Israel conflict, although Palestinian terrorism and Arab wars against Israel preceded the 1948 establishment of the Jewish State and the 1968 establishment of the first "settlement."

 

Obama hopes that Prime Minister Netanyahu will succumb to psychological pressure. But, he cannot break Israel's back or sever US-Israel special relationship.

 

Notwithstanding the Cairo Speech, the resolution of the Palestinian issue is not Obama's top priority. The national security of the US and the political future of Obama do not depend on the fate of the "settlements." Obama was elected, primarily, in order to stop the monthly increase of unemployment by over 500,000 persons, the loss of homes by millions of Americans, the collapse of credit and consumption, the disintegration of American banks and the destruction of large and small American businesses. In addition, President Obama is challenged by the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the potential volcano which could erupt following the evacuation of Iraq, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran, a potential takeover of nuclear Pakistan by the Taliban, a possible Pakistan-India eruption, imperialist Russia and China, etc. If Obama were practically – and not just rhetorically - preoccupied with the Palestinian issue, then he would resemble a person preoccupied with tumbleweeds, while being smothered by a West Texas sandstorm.

 

The unique covenant between the US and the Jewish State has never evolved around the Arab-Israeli conflict. It has evolved around shared values (which precede 1948 and even 1776,) joint interests and mutual threats. Between 1948 and 1992, all Israeli prime ministers rejected US prescriptions or ultimatum for the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 1957 withdrawal from Sinai was an exception. However, US-Israel strategic cooperation catapulted to unprecedented levels, as a result of regional reality and Israel's steadfastness in face of pressure.

 

For example, two unprecedented strategic memoranda of understandings were concluded in November 1983 and April 1988, in spite of brutal US pressure on Israel during the first Intifada and the First Lebanese War. These strategic memoranda were signed due to Israel's unique contribution to vital US national security interests: War on Islamic terrorism, ballistic missile defense, restraining the USSR and regional rogue regimes, sharing of critical intelligence and battle experience, upgrading of defense and commercial industries, etc. In fact, a critical mass among the US public, Congress and even the Administration appreciates the Jewish State – irrespective of "settlements" - for sparing the US the need to deploy tens of thousands of US military personnel and to invest annually mega-billion dollars in the eastern flank of the Mediterranean.

 

Power of the purse

This 2009 psychological pressure is dwarfed by past practical and brutal pressure, which was exerted by the US and by the international community and was fended off by Israel's prime ministers. In 1948, the Department of State and the Pentagon imposed a military embargo and threatened to add economic sanctions, in order to force Ben Gurion to refrain from a declaration of independence and to accept a UN Trusteeship. The Administration demanded an end to "occupation" in the Negev, the internationalization of Jerusalem and the absorption and compensation of Palestinian refugees.

 

In 1967, President Johnson warned Prime Minister Eshkol: "If you shall act alone (in pre-empting an Egyptian-Syrian-Jordanian strike) you shall remain alone." In 1981, President Reagan threatened Prime Minister Begin with a military embargo and a severe rupture should Israel bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor. The US was joined by the USSR, Europe, the UN and Israel's own Peres, Weitzman and chiefs of Mossad and Military Intelligence, who all opposed the bombing. Israel's prime ministers withstood massive US and global pressure, with relatively-limited economic, military and diplomatic resources at their disposal.

 

A US President is a very powerful leader, but he heads one of three branches of government, which are totally independent of each other. The US president is substantially constrained by an elaborate system of checks and balances. He does not appoint congressional leadership or candidates for congressional seats. Congress - which possesses the "Power of the Purse" – has been a consistent bastion of support for the Jewish State. The loyalty of the legislators is first and foremost to their constituents and to the Constitution, including an effective Separation of Power.

 

Therefore, most Democrats opposed Obama's appointment of Charles Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council. Most Democrats opposed President Clinton's free trade initiatives, and over 30 Democratic House members voted to impeach Clinton. A Democratic majority in both chambers did not prevent a failed 1992-1994 presidency and a Democratic collapse at the 1994 election.

 

Moreover, the relative weight of Congress rises during economic crises and the assertiveness and independence of legislators grow as congressional campaign season (which will be launched in September 2009) approaches.

 

Will Prime Minister Netanyahu retreat in the face of President Obama's psychological pressure, or will he leverage the strategic and political reality in the Middle East and in the US for the mutual benefit of both the US and the Jewish State?

 

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