Similar issues are being debated in Washington, albeit from a different perspective. In think tanks and op-eds, on college campuses, and even within Obama's administration, many ask whether the current state of affairs best serves the American interest. Some argue that hostility towards the United States among Muslims results, at least partially, from America's support for Israel, and that scaling back aid to Israel will reduce that hostility. Others openly question whether the pro-Israel lobby is a positive factor in shaping American policy. Others still argue that the US must actively and aggressively pursue a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to improve its standing in the region. President Obama seems to be a member of the latter group.
In Jerusalem, on the other hand, the debate focuses on issues of less strategic importance. Should Netanyahu accept Obama's demand or reject it? Should Israel insist on natural growth? What about Jerusalem? Is there a creative formula that would please everyone? Such are the questions the media raise. Even those who say Netanyahu should oppose Obama's demand do not suggest a reevaluation of Israel's relationship with the United States.
It is easy to understand why. America's support is one of the most valuable strategic assets Israel has. The US gives it military and economic aid; it provides diplomatic support at the United Nations, often blocking resolutions that would jeopardize Israel’s interests; and it is an important trade partner. Furthermore, Israel shares many common values with the US. Israelis tend to view themselves as Westerners, so it is only natural for them to seek the support of the largest Western power.
What are the costs?
But Israel must also ask itself what are the costs of preserving its dependency on the US. An honest examination of the situation will reveal that the costs of allying so closely with America amount to much more than restricting settlement construction and periodically restraining the IDF.
Muslim countries’ hostility towards the US does not result from its support for Israel. (After all, it was the Ayatollah Khomeini who called Israel the “small Satan,” and America the “great Satan.”) Rather, their hostility towards Israel results, at least partially, from their perception of Israel as a state created and sustained by the West. Khomeini aside, many Muslims are hostile to the West not because of religious fanaticism, but because of the history of colonialism and American support for dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Iran (prior to 1979.) Recently, America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only strengthened anti-American sentiment. As long as Israel is viewed as a client state foreign to the region, rather than an independent, indigenous one, it will never enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the Arabs.
In other parts of the world, the US has a mixed record of supporting liberty and democracy, and, when other interests are at stake, of ignoring these values. Therefore, when Israel automatically supports the US on every foreign policy issue that does not directly concern Israeli interests (when it supports sanctions on Cuba, for example,) it does not win friends in the rest of the world.
When Israel attempts to build relationships with other, rising powers such as China, the US imposes restrictions. It even goes as far as intervening in appointments of Israeli civil servants, as was demonstrated when Amos Yaron resigned from his post as director general of the Defense Ministry due to American pressure.
It would be extremely naïve to assume that if Israel abandoned its ties to America, its problems would be resolved. Whether or not a less entangling alliance would serve it better, however, is a question that must be discussed. For ignoring the fact that Israel’s interests are not always aligned with America’s interests is irresponsible.
The debate must focus on the major issue – reevaluating Israel’s relationship with the US – and not on the settlers' right to build balconies in Shilo. Otherwise, when the debate in Washington is settled, Israel may find itself without America and without Shilo.