Is the United States starting to distance itself from Israel?

A remarkable article, entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry”, signed by several very senior US officials, including Zbegniew Brezinski (former National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter), has been circulated widely.

Subtitled “Its time for the secretary of State to insist on America’s position on Middle East peace”, it is the sharpest criticism of Israel from high US sources in recent years.

It also comes on the heels of comments by Kerry himself that places the main responsibility for the failing peace talks on Israel, much to the fury of Netanyahu and the Israel lobby.

See: “Kerry focuses blame on Israel for collapse of talks” – Times of Israel

http://www.timesofisrael.com/kerry-focuses-blame-for-impasse-in-talks-on-israel/

But the Brezinski article goes much further than Kerry’s remarks. It is a blistering attack on Israeli hypocrisy. Among other things, it criticizes Israel for its continued settlement building, for its ridiculous claims of Palestinian anti Israeli “incitement”, and for its demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State”. It also argues that the USA is paying a price for being seen as a supporter of Israel.

Read the full article here:

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/04/stand-firm-john-kerry-105483.html?ml=m_t4_2h#.U0SYVYWtprl

How significant is the Brezinski article? How should we interpret it?

One possible view is to dismiss it as more meaningless US rhetoric. All these people are after all, Democratic Party “has-beens”. It could be said that, like Jimmy Carter, they have “seen the light” AFTER leaving office. In other words, there is really nothing new here, just more posturing.

Another view is to feel that after years of US support for Israel, the Obama administration (and Kerry) have finally come round to adopting a position that is at least mildly supportive of human rights for Palestinians. Those who hold this position would be inclined to support the Obama/Kerry initiative.

However, there is a third interpretation – that these comments reflect a widening split between the USA and Israel. If true, this will have significant repercussions for the struggle by Palestinians for their human rights.

The Brezinski is article is the most recent in a series of moves which appear to indicate that the cracks between Israel and the USA are starting to widen, despite the best efforts of the Israel lobby in the USA.

The thesis that US interests and Israel’s are not identical was first effectively argued in March 2006, by two American academics in an essay entitled, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”. Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer argued that the exaggerated influence of the “Israel lobby” had distorted U.S. Middle East foreign policy away from what the authors referred to as “American national interest.”

The Mearsheimer/Walt article was highly controversial. They could not get it published in an American publication and it finally appeared in the London Review of Books. They were, of course, attacked as anti-Semites, and their influence in the USA was limited.

See: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby

At the time Mearsheimer/Walt wrote their article, the notion of a divergence between US and Israeli interests seemed mostly hypothetical. In 2006, the USA and Israel appeared to be on the same side in the ‘War on Terror”, on the attack on Iraq, the fight against Islamic fundamentalism, in the defense of “democracy”, etc. etc.

However, in recent years some divergences have become evident. First a little bit, then a bit more – despite the efforts of the Israel lobby to present Israel and the USA as having identical interests.

One example was the intense lobbying effort by AIPAC to block Obama’s nomination of senior diplomat Charles Freeman to head the national security agency in 2009.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_W._Freeman,_Jr. Freeman was a “China expert’ of great experience, but he had also criticized Israel on several occasions in the past, which earned him a withering attack by AIPAC.

Freeman eventually withdrew his nomination, but the vicious debate brought out more clearly that an increasing number of senior people felt that US national interests were being subordinated to those of Israel.

However, recent changes in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, have really opened up divergences between the two countries. For example Israel, in an unholy alliance with Saudi Arabia, is actively supporting the Sissi government’s fierce repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Americans, while not showing any love for the MB, are concerned about the rise of Saudi style fundamentalism in Egypt.

And then things really broke over Iran. The Israelis were doing all they could to provoke the USA to attack Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. The USA, on the other hand, seeing the chaos that has engulfed Syria and Egypt and which also threatens Jordan and the Gulf, has an interest in forging some kind of new deal with Iran. Israel, and its defenders in Congress are actively trying to sabotage any deal at all.

What does this mean for Israel … and for the Palestinians?

I think that the Walt/Mearsheimer analysis of 8 years ago is essentially correct.

The Kerry statements and the Brezinski articles do not indicate that the USA has become committed to democracy and human rights. The USA will continue its policy of supporting democracy where that is in the US interest, and dictatorships when that is to its advantage.)

But it does mean that its alliance with Israel, which started in 1967, is starting to show signs of strain.

Israel was able to position itself as the US main ally in the region after the 1967 war, when it demonstrated convincingly it could be the “regional power’ in an area of strategic interest to the USA. (Remember that only 10 years earlier, in 1956, the USA had strongly opposed Israel in its joint operation with the French and British intervention in the Suez.) Their interests coincided.

But in the last 10 years, US and Israeli interests are starting to diverge.

And as the US becomes increasingly preoccupied with China and the Pacific, it will be starting to question just how much help it wants to give to Israel.

Of course, the Israel lobby will not disappear over night. It will continue to try to identify US interests with those of Israel, and it will continue to be a force Obama and others will have to reckon with.

But it appears that the Israel lobby has passed its ‘best before” date. And that will be very significant for Israel and for the Palestinians.

I invite anyone who thinks I am too optimistic to make a rejoinder.