If anyone in the Bush administration was considering applying political pressure on Israel following the Gaza pullout to cede more concessions to the Palestinians (Condoleezza Rice’s State Department has definite plans for this,) in the coming months the administration will refrain from applying any pressure on Israel, in order to preserve Sharon’s coalition.
One of the guiding principles in the Israel-U.S. lexicon is “American pressure.” Since 1948, just about every Israeli government has encountered it, on different levels and at differing strengths, when its policies (or lack thereof) clashed with those of Washington.
The Truman administration pressured David Ben-Gurion about declaring independence and the War of Independence. Eisenhower demanded Israel withdraw from the Sinai Desert in 1956-57.
Kennedy exerted pressure on Israel in exchange for supplying Hawk missiles, Lyndon Johnson tried to pressure Israel not to start the Six-Day War, and Nixon, along with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, tried to coerce Israel into a diplomatic process in the early 1970s, and in 1975, Gerald Ford tried to press Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin into an interim agreement in Sinai.
Jimmy Carter at Camp David. Ronald Reagan selling AWACs to Saudi Arabia. Bush Sr. and the loan guarantees, Clinton’s open hostility for then-Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Sometimes, the pressure is diplomatic and thorough – along with an over-arching policy, and sometimes it is pointed and bureaucratic – like the recent crisis over arms sales to China.
The different expressions of pressure change, depending on who is in the White House.
Declarations, canceled visits, implied criticism in the media, presentations of policy by the secretary of state clearly in contrast to Israeli policy, threats of sanctions, open interest in European policy ideas, etc.
Israel’s ability to maneuver will always be limited by this vicious cycle and defined to some degree by American interests.
When there is a crisis, a conflict of interests (real or imagined) or an American analysis that Israeli policy stands to damage American policy considerations in the region, there will always be “pressure.”
The definition of diplomatic pressure is similar to the definition of physical pressure: The use of actual or implied force by one body on another, creating a change in the second group’s behavior or appearance.
But in the world of politics, we must provide the pressured party tools to cancel, weaken, avoid or withstand the pressure without changing its leadership, but rather give the impression that this is what happened.
This is called “understanding” and “flexibility” – and Sharon has got both.
This is the origin of the disengagement plan. It is an attempt to exert “pressure” to implement the U.S.-sponsored Road Map peace plan
Sharon’s problem is that in the world of politics, the pressuring body is also the incarnation of intelligence, that will never compromise its interests.
Therefore, sooner or later, the pressure will end.
Nightmarish counter pressure
Sharon used his understanding of the different types of pressure by making a supreme effort – perhaps the main political effort of his reign – his relationship with George W. Bush.
Several times, the prime minister has stood in the face of pressure: After September 11, the siege of Yasser Arafat, not cooperating with Mahmoud Abbas (when he was Arafat’s prime minister), his theoretical objection to the road map (though he supports it in practice), the Iraq War.
In each of these cases, the signs of American pressure were flashing, but Sharon managed to successfully exert counter- pressure: disengagement.
Now, Sharon can pick the fruits of his close ties with Bush: Elections, a period to heal the wounds created by the Gaza withdrawal (Sharon has a particular interest for the pullout to be tough, divisive and ugly,) and placing the burden of proof on the Palestinians.
More than this, what better political gain could Bush achieve in the next two years from pressuring Israel? Sharon will declare allegiance to the Road Map, will meet Bush in November (unless he calls quick elections) and swears he will dismantle illegal outposts in the West Bank.
But he will explain to the president that there will be no more unilateral withdrawals (that the Americans in any event are not so crazy about), and that there will be no further negotiations unless and until terrorist organizations are disarmed and dismantled.
There is one scenario that has not yet come true, according to which Sharon becomes a victim of his own success.
Stability in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza pullout will go together with a growing American interest in getting out of Iraq.
Last week alone, 46 soldiers were killed there, and opposition to remaining in Iraq is growing amongst the American populace.
Bush is considered, largely out of his own choosing, as a “wartime president”, but there is doubt as to whether he wants blood and smoke from Iraq to finish his term in office.
The great vision of Middle Eastern democratization and stability is his preferred legacy. Together with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who despite his reelection continues to act as if he has to justify Britain’s participation in the war, together with rising oil prices, Bush must prove to the Arab world he wields power in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is not limited to supporting Ariel Sharon or a “one withdrawal only” policy in Gaza.
But Netanyahu managed to thwart this possibility for Sharon.