Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The limits of reliance

In the waning days of the Clinton presidency, Clinton presented his peace plan to Yasir Arafat with its well known concessions on the part of Israel (94-96% of the West Bank plus 1-3% of Israel proper, all of Gaza, splitting Jerusalem, destroying dozens of settlements.) Part of Clinton's intent was that if Arafat would not accept this offer it could not be a basis for future negotiations - as Dennis Ross wrote, “to be sure that it couldn’t be a floor for [future] negotiations... It couldn’t be a ceiling. It was the roof.”

This was an extremely extremely important point for Israel. Even so, Israel is now negotiating based pretty much on the same terms that were intended then by the US President to not be a basis for future negotiations.

In 2002, President Bush helped write the "roadmap" for peace, and he made it very clear that nothing would happen until Palestinian Arabs stopped their terror and incitement - cessation of violence was a precondition of every other part of the roadmap.

Again, this was a terrifically important point for Israel, the realization that a mindset of peace was a precondition for Israeli concessions, rather than the wishful thinking that peace will naturally come after Israel already gave up its own security. And yet, last week, COndoleeza Rice abrogated the roadmap and this condition. As Jeff Jacoby quotes Rice:
The reason that we haven't really been able to move forward on the peace process for a number of years is that we were stuck in the sequentiality of the road map. So you had to do the first phase of the road map before you moved on to the third phase of the road map, which was the actual negotiations of final status," Rice said. . . . What the US-hosted November peace summit in Annapolis did was "break that tight sequentiality. . . You don't want people to get hung up on settlement activity or the fact that the Palestinians haven't fully been able to deal with the terrorist infrastructure. . ."

In 2004, Ariel Sharon used a letter from President Bush as a major victory in the withdrawal from Gaza, showing that the US was against a withdrawal to the Green Line:
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.

Yet again, this was a crucial point in Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, knowing that the US supports Israel keeping some of the major settlement blocs in the West Bank. However, now the US government disagrees with this interpretation of the letter:
The United States clarified to Israel during U.S. President George Bush's visit this week that it disapproves of all building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank including in the large settlement blocs, a senior Western diplomat said Tuesday.

The diplomat added that Israel and the U.S. differ on their interpretation of the letter President Bush sent to former prime minister Ariel Sharon in April, 2004.

"The letter refers to major population centers and not the settlement blocs, while stressing that everything must also be decided in the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians," the diplomat said.

According to the diplomat, Bush is steadfast in his objection of building in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

"The American government also opposes construction due to the natural growth of the present settlers", he said. He added, however, that if progress is made on border issues it may help to resolve the settlement issue. "When the route of the permanent border becomes clearer, the locations where Israel can and cannot build will also be clearer."
These three times Israel trusted her friends in the White House to help guarantee its security, and in each of these times the promises and understandings that Israel relied on turned out to be ephemeral.

It is clear that both Bill Clinton and George Bush have great affinity and feelings for Israel. But it is equally clear that it is a mistake for Israel to rely on any promises, letters, or understandings from a third party when the subject is Israel's security. In the end, countries act in their own interests, and in the case of the current administration the Arab world has fooled the White House into thinking that they would support the West against Iran if only the Palestinian Arabs get what they want, no strings attached. Since the Iranian problem is truly a geopolitical threat to the West, the false linkage to Israel turns into something that Washington needs to address.

Of course, the current Israeli government has more than its share of blame for this situation - it is unreasonable for Israel's supporters to ask the White House to be more Zionist than Israel's own leaders. Beyond that, though, Israel's dependence on US largesse also means that Israel is no longer free to make its own decisions for her own security without "consulting" (getting permission from) Washington.

Israel's relationship with the US should be one of mutual self-interest, not of dependence.