Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can US Pressure Israel?

Can the United States put pressure on Israel?

The lobbyist, the Congressmen, the Senators and the past US Administrations have never considered what the people of Israel and Palestine really want?

They want peace; living their daily lives without apprehensions, fears and tensions. It is time to facilitate and work for those goals. The bullies like Bush and Netanyahu have consistently worked against those goals to please a few who applaud them as 'strong leaders'. Strong leaders my foot, their policies have done more destruction and killing than bring peace, they are truly anti-Israel along with those Senators, congressmen and the lobbyist.

The Native American Indians geared their actions with results to the 7th generation on their mind. If Netanyahu can think about the Israeli children 50 years from now, he will do the right thing; his sycophants need to think in those terms as well. I hope this man changes his attitude and adopts the goals of peace and do everything to achieve that.

The Americans have been duped with the policies in the past that believed in “annihilating and subjugating' others to have peace. It has not worked and will not work, we need to wake up and respect every one's space. We cannot have peace unless others have it too. We must learn to accept and respect individual's right to exist, rights for his identity, and rights for his space. We have to learn to co-exist for a sustainable peace for the children of Israel and Palestine for now and fifty years from now.

Justice and fairness for one and all will bring peace, durability and sustainability.

Thank you Hasni Essa for sharing the following Peace

Mike Ghouse

Mike Ghouse is a Dallas based writer, blogger, speaker and a thinker. A frequent guest on talk radio and local television networks offering pluralistic perspectives on issues of the day. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website.
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Can the United States put pressure on Israel?

A user's guide Fri, 04/10/2009 - 6:18pm

Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Barack Obama have all publicly stated that the United States seeks a "two-state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In other words, the United States supports the creation of a viable Palestinian state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza. The new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu opposes this goal, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has already said that he does not think Israel is bound by its recent commitments on this issue.

To advance its own interests, therefore, the United States will have to pursue a more even-handed policy than it has in the past, and put strong pressure on both sides to come to an agreement. Instead of the current "special relationship" -- where the U.S. gives Israel generous and nearly-unconditional support -- the United States and Israel would have a more normal relationship, akin to U.S. relations with other democracies (where public criticism and overt pressure sometimes occurs). While still committed to Israel’s security, the United States would use the leverage at its disposal to make a two-state solution a reality.

This idea appears to be gaining ground. Several weeks ago, a bipartisan panel of distinguished foreign policy experts headed by Henry Siegman and Brent Scowcroft issued a thoughtful report calling for the Obama administration to “engage in prompt, sustained, and determined efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Success, they noted, "will require a careful blend of persuasion, inducement, reward, and pressure..." Last week, the Economist called for the United States to reduce its aid to Israel if the Netanyahu government continues to reject a two-state solution. The Boston Globe offered a similar view earlier this week, advising Obama to tell Netanyahu "to take the steps necessary for peace or risk compromising Israel's special relationship with America." A few days ago, Ha’aretz reported that the Obama Administration was preparing Congressional leaders for a possible confrontation with the Netanyahu government.

These developments got me thinking: what might a more even-handed posture look like in practice? We already know what it means for the United States to put pressure on the Palestinians, because Washington has done that repeatedly -- and sometimes effectively -- over the past several decades. During the 1970s, for example, the United States supported King Hussein’s violent crackdown on the PLO cadres who were threatening his rule in Jordan. During the 1980s, the United States refused to recognize the PLO until it accepted Israel’s right to exist. After the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the Bush administration refused to deal with Yasser Arafat and pushed hard for his replacement. After Arafat's death, we insisted on democratic elections for a new Palestinian assembly and then rejected the results when Hamas won. The United States has also gone after charitable organizations with ties to Hamas and backed Israel’s recent campaign in Gaza. In short, the United States has rarely hesitated to use its leverage to try to shape Palestinian behavior, even if some of these efforts -- such as the inept attempt to foment a Fatah coup against Hamas in 2007 -- have backfired.

But what about pressure on Israel? The United States has only rarely put (mild) pressure on Israel in recent decades (and never for very long), even when the Israeli government was engaged in actions (such as building settlements) that the U.S. government opposed. The question is: if the Netanyahu/Lieberman government remains intransigent, what should Obama do? Are there usable sources of leverage that the United States could employ to nudge Israel away from the vision of “Greater Israel” and towards a genuine two-state solution? Here are a few ideas.

1. Cut the aid package? If you add it all up, Israel gets over $3 billion in U.S. economic and military aid each year, which works out to about $500 per Israeli citizen. There’s a lot of potential leverage here, but it’s probably not the best stick to use, at least not at first. Trying to trim or cut the aid package will trigger an open and undoubtedly ugly confrontation in Congress (where the influence of AIPAC and other hard-line groups in the Israel lobby is greatest). So that’s not where I’d start. Instead, I’d consider a few other options, such as:

2. Change the Rhetoric. The Obama administration could begin by using different language to describe certain Israeli policies. While reaffirming America’s commitment to Israel’s existence as a Jewish-majority state, it could stop referring to settlement construction as “unhelpful,” a word that makes U.S. diplomats sound timid and mealy-mouthed. Instead, we could start describing the settlements as “illegal” or as “violations of international law.” The UN Charter forbids acquisition of territory by force and the Fourth Geneva Convention bars states from transfering their populations (even if voluntarily) to areas under belligerent occupation. This is why earlier U.S. administrations described the settlements as illegal, and why the rest of the world has long regarded them in the same way. U.S. officials could even describe Israel’s occupation as “contrary to democracy,” “unwise,” “cruel,” or “unjust.” Altering the rhetoric would send a clear signal to the Israeli government and its citizens that their government’s opposition to a two-state solution was jeopardizing the special relationship.

3. Support a U.N. Resolution Condemning the Occupation. Since 1972, the United States has vetoed forty-three U.N. Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel (a number greater than the sum of all vetoes cast by the other permanent members). If the Obama administration wanted to send a clear signal that it was unhappy with Israel’s actions, it could sponsor a resolution condemning the occupation and calling for a two-state solution. Taking an active role in drafting such a measure would also ensure that it said exactly what we wanted, and avoided criticisms that we didn’t want included. 4. Downgrade existing arrangements for “strategic cooperation.” There are now a number of institutionalized arrangements for security cooperation between the Pentagon and the Israel Defense Forces and between U.S. and Israeli intelligence. The Obama administration could postpone or suspend some of these meetings, or start sending lower-grade representatives to them. There is in fact a precedent for this step: after negotiating the original agreements for a “strategic partnership,” the Reagan administration suspended them following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Today, such a step would surely get the attention of Israel’s security establishment.

5. Reduce U.S. purchases of Israeli military equipment. In addition to providing Israel with military assistance (some of which is then used to purchase U.S. arms), the Pentagon also buys millions of dollars of weaponry and other services from Israel’s own defense industry. Obama could instruct Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to slow or decrease these purchases, which would send an unmistakable signal that it was no longer "business-as-usual." Given the battering Israel’s economy has taken in the current global recession, this step would get noticed too.

6. Get tough with private organizations that support settlement activity. As David Ignatius recently noted in the Washington Post, many private donations to charitable organizations operating in Israel are tax-deductible in the United States, including private donations that support settlement activity. This makes no sense: it means the American taxpayer is indirectly subsidizing activities that are contrary to stated U.S. policy and that actually threaten Israel’s long-term future. Just as the United States has gone after charitable contributions flowing to terrorist organizations, the U.S. Treasury could crack down on charitable organizations (including those of some prominent Christian Zionists) that are supporting these illegal activities.

7. Place more limits on U.S. loan guarantees. The United States has provided billions of dollars of loan guarantees to Israel on several occasions, which enabled Israel to borrow money from commercial banks at lower interest rates. Back in 1992, the first Bush administration held up nearly $10 billion in guarantees until Israel agreed to halt settlement construction and attend the Madrid peace conference, and the dispute helped undermine the hard-line Likud government of Yitzhak Shamir and bring Yitzhak Rabin to power, which in turn made the historic Oslo Agreement possible.

8. Encourage other U.S. allies to use their influence too. In the past, the United States has often pressed other states to upgrade their own ties with Israel. If pressure is needed, however, the United States could try a different tack. For example, we could quietly encourage the EU not to upgrade its relations with Israel until it had agreed to end the occupation.

I don’t think Obama needs to employ all of these steps --and certainly not all at once -- but the United States clearly has plenty of options if pressure turns out to be necessary. And most of these measures could be implemented by the Executive Branch alone, thereby outflanking die-hard defenders of the special relationship in Congress. Indeed, even hinting that it was thinking about some of these measures would probably get Netanyahu to start reconsidering his position.

Most importantly, Obama and his aides will need to reach out to Israel’s supporters in the United States, and make it clear to them that pressing Israel to end the occupation is essential for Israel’s long-term survival. He will have to work with the more far-sighted elements in the pro-Israel community -- including groups like J Street, the Israel Policy Forum, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and others -- and make it perfectly clear that his administration is not selling Israel down the river. And yes, we are also going to have to keep pressing Hamas to moderate its positions and push the Palestinian authority to create more effective governing institutions.

The key point to grasp is that using U.S. leverage on both sides--and not just one--is not an “anti-Israel” policy, if that is what it will take to make the two-state solution a reality. It is in fact the best thing we could do for ourselves and for Israel itself. In effect, the United States would be giving Israel a choice: it can end its self-defeating occupation of Palestinian lands, actively work for a two-state solution, and thereby remain a cherished American ally. Or it can continue to expand the occupation and face a progressive loss of American support as well as the costly and corrupting burden of ruling millions of Palestinians by force.

Indeed, that is why many—though of course not all--Israelis would probably welcome a more active and evenhanded U.S. role. It was former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who said "if the two-state solution collapses, Israel will face a South-Africa style struggle for political rights." And once that happens, he warned, “the state of Israel is finished." The editor of Ha’aretz, David Landau, conveyed much the same sentiment last September when he told former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the United States should "rape" Israel in order to force a solution. Landau's phrase was shocking and offensive, but it underscored the sense of urgency felt within some segments of the Israeli body politic.

Indeed, I suspect it would not take much U.S. pressure to produce the necessary shift in Israel’s attitudes. As the recent bipartisan statement notes, "most Israelis understand and appreciate that, at the end of the day, what really matters most for Israel's security is a relationship of trust, confidence, and friendship with the U.S." If the United States believes that a two-state solution is the best option, then it will have to convey that this “trust, confidence, and friendship” can be retained if Israel changes course, but cannot be taken for granted.

A combination of a change in
by Brett on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 6:37pm

A combination of a change in rhetoric and a hold-up in the loan guarantees seems like a good idea - that way, the Israelis and their supporters here couldn't really make the argument that the US was undermining Israel's national security directly.

It's rather risky, though. The first Bush Presidency took a blow for doing the hold-up on the loans, and he had to go kiss-ass to a number of Jewish pro-Israeli groups.
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How about pressuring our Arab
by AllanGreen on Tue, 04/14/2009 - 6:31am
How about pressuring our Arab SOBs and the EU to stop funding the PA, and cut all ties to Hamas, and Hezbollah? If you want peace, that's what needs to be done. If you pressure Israel, you'll just undermine the peace process.
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think we can pressure
by David in DC on Tue, 04/14/2009 - 9:50am
I think we can pressure Israel to stop the growth of the settlement footprint. This is opposed to population growth within existing settlements, an issue I think people blow all out of proportion.

As for a two state solution, I think it is pretty clear that it won't come any time soon. I agree with Netanyahu that the best course for now is to improve the lives of the Palestinians while preparing both populations for the eventuality of a two state solution. This would mean preparing Israelis to cede some of Jerusalem, which strikes me as the biggest sticking point on their side, and preparing Palestinians to cede an absolute "right of return", the biggest sticking point on theirs, for one more symbolic - a right of return to the Palestinian homeland. Both sides would have to stop all incitement sponsored by the government and in the media.

IMO the biggest challenge to overcome is the fact that the government in Gaza puts the goal of eradicating Israel over the well-being of their population. This leads to 1) a never ending stream of incitement and hatred, and 2) a situation where they can steer events in a way which causes Israel to take measures to defend itself, which then harms the Gazans, further alienating the Palestinian (and wider Arab and Muslim) populations.

For instance, it would be good for Gazans if the borders were fully open. But as sure as night follows day, if this were the case Hamas would be importing heavier and more advanced weaponry. They would use it against Israel to the point where Israel would have no choice but to act (imagine Hamas rockets being able to reach the nuclear reactor at Dimona, or Tel Aviv, or Hamas getting 'lucky' and killing 50 kids in a school). Then we are back to another invasion with a thousand+ dead or more. Wash, rinse, repeat.

It would be nice to hear some suggestions about what to do more sophisticated than 'we should talk to them' or 'we should bomb them back to the stone age'. I don't think either prescription by itself will work. I am not opposed to talking to Hamas, but what should we do if they respond in a way consistent with their public stances and charter? Talk more? Isolate them again? What?
Should they be pressured to modify their charter and public statements? If so, what kind of pressure?

If Obama tries to pressure
by J Thomas on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 8:03pm
If Obama tries to pressure israel, israel will pressure Obama with their lobby.
So the primary battlefield here is in US public opinion. The US government should perhaps create some documentaries describing various events from israeli history.
The 1956 war, say, where israel invaded egypt intending to take and hold sinai with no particular justification except to help britain and france in their attempt to grab the suez canal, and Eisenhower made them give it back.

Perhaps host a TV documentary on the USS Liberty. What was it doing? What is the evidence that israel intended to sink it? Release various classified information....
Maybe one about the Pollard case.

And one about the US involvement in lebanon under Reagan that got so many US soldiers killed. The official reasons to do that don't make sense and there were various claims that the US military was used to pressure israel not to kill too many PLO guys. When the PLO left for tunisia our navy was specifically ordered to shoot down israeli planes or ships that tried to interfere.... There were publicised incidents of US and israeli soldiers having "shoving matches" while carrying out their nations' respective policies, and there is some evidence of the israeli army shelling US positions. There might be classified records of what actually happened; the US government could reveal them.

The extremist elements of the israeli lobby believe that israel is in a state of permanent war and that reduced US support for israel is an existential threat. They will consider any threat of reduced support as an act of war, they will not fight "fair". They must be defeated or else appeased; there is no third choice.
Without a strong attempt by the US government to influence US public opinion, the israeli lobby would inevitably win.
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What's Wrong With This Picture
by Zathras on Fri, 04/10/2009 - 8:10pm

I can commend points 2 and 6 here strongly, and a few of the others with some reservations. The program as a whole, though, won't work politically.

The reason is that the Arabs will undermine it. Arab rhetoric -- unfortunately not just the rhetoric of Palestinian factions -- will continue to present Israel's existence rather than the Jewish state's policies as the problem. The rhetoric will reflect genuine Arab public opinion, but will not be a wholly accurate representation of the policies of Arab governments and will not signify a genuine existential threat to Israel.

The problem is one familiar to anyone who has followed this issue as it is discussed in American politics. Americans will assume that Arab rhetoric is meant to be taken literally. They will of course be encouraged to think this by the Israeli government and pro-Israel groups in the United States, but Americans as a whole tend to be fairly literal about language anyway. The enormous and largely intentional gap between Arab rhetoric and the policies of Arab governments (let alone Palestinian factions) won't track with the American public or their representatives in Congress -- and the idea of a more "evenhanded" American policy toward the Middle East will fall, because the American public will never be indifferent as between Israel and those it thinks are committed to Israel's destruction.

What's wrong with this big picture, in other words, is the big picture. Changes in the American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian quarrel need to be focused tightly on specific issues, not on how friendly America should be to Israel as opposed to Israel's enemies. The specific issue central to a two-state solution is obviously the one involving Jewish settlements on the West Bank. What's wrong with the settlements is that they serve no American interest and undermine the American policy of pursuing Mideast peace through the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Addressing the issue in these terms would be difficult enough -- political support for Israeli government policy in the United States (or at least in Washington) contains a strong reflexive element, and the settlement question is not widely understood by the public. It certainly isn't widely understood in the context of its relation to American foreign policy objectives, because no recent American administration has ever discussed settlements in this way. Tackling the settlement question directly would generate a firestorm of protest for the Obama administration. I believe, however, that this firestorm is one the administration could withstand, if it is disciplined about addressing the settlement question exclusively as a matter of pursuing American interests, not letting those be subordinated to the internal politics of a foreign country however friendly, and absolutely not presenting its policy in terms of a decision to become less close to the Israelis and more friendly to the unpredictable and unattractive Palestinian leadership and Arab governments.

Incidentally, the idea of bypassing Congressional supporters of Israel with executive orders and Pentagon procurement decisions is just foolish unless one is talking about very temporary steps intended to influence an individual negotiation. Congress has too many ways to require the executive branch to do what Congress wants it to do, and many of these can have the effect of encumbering foreign policy permanently, not just reversing an individual decision.

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