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Guaranteed in America

Why should the Netanyahu government place any faith in the incentives offered by President Barack Obama in return for an extension of the moratorium on settlement construction? So grumble some Israelis, pointing for added emphasis to Obama's refusal to honor an earlier, Bush-administration pledge to Ariel Sharon. For these Israelis, such backtracking is another indication that Obama has broken with precedent and is bent on significantly shifting longstanding American practice toward Israel.

Relevant Links
Bush May Accept West Bank “Realities”  Steven R. Weisman, New York Times. A declaration to be made when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visits the White House represents a subtle but substantial shift in American policy. (2004)  
Obama Offers Israel New Guarantees  Barry Rubin, Gloria Center. A memo outlining U.S. commitments to be given in exchange for an extension of the settlement freeze should be taken with a handful of salt.    

But what if the president is only following longstanding practice? As it happens, principles enunciated by one American president have regularly been ignored or silently repudiated by his successor, and some presidential commitments have enjoyed an even shorter shelf life than the one to which disillusioned Israelis now point.

Take the issue of borders. "It is clear that a return to the situation of June 4, 1967, will not bring peace," President Lyndon B. Johnson affirmed in a statement shortly after the Six Day war. Yet when the Nixon administration came into office in January 1969, Secretary of State William Rogers sounded quite a different note, insisting that "any changes in the [pre-war] lines should not reflect the weight of [Israeli] conquest." 

Or take Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's 1975 promise that the U.S. would not negotiate with the PLO so long as that organization did not recognize Israel's right to exist. Two years later, the Carter administration came into office keen to open a dialogue with the PLO, and almost immediately began doing so through intermediaries.  In 1978, Carter recognized "the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people" and authorized the PLO to operate an information office in Washington. His ambassador to Lebanon reportedly met with Yasir Arafat, and his representative to the UN was forced to resign after his own meetings with the PLO were publicly exposed.   

Under the Reagan administration, secret contacts with the PLO continued unabated, while Secretary of State George Shultz initiated open meetings with members of the Palestine National Council (not, technically, PLO operatives). Ultimately, judging that Arafat had renounced terrorism and recognized Israel, the administration extended diplomatic recognition to the PLO.

A similar story can be told about presidential commitments opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state. The 1982 Reagan peace plan, issued on the heels of the PLO's expulsion from Beirut, reiterated Carter's earlier recognition of the "legitimate rights of the Palestinians" but pledged that the U.S. "will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza." When George H.W. Bush came into office, he reaffirmed the pledge but pressured Israel into attending the 1991 Madrid peace conference, an event that included Palestinian representatives widely understood to have been pre-approved by the PLO.

During the Clinton years, when Israel's Labor government itself opened negotiations with the PLO that would eventuate in the Oslo accords, the American administration naturally became a champion of Palestinian statehood (while pledging no contact with Hamas—another commitment that may soon go by the boards). Even when the PLO reneged on Oslo and resumed terrorist attacks, the George W. Bush administration, in its 2003 Road Map, reaffirmed America's new commitment to statehood—provided the Palestinians abandoned violence—and the president reiterated this commitment in 2005 despite the fact that Palestinian violence had not ceased.

This brings us back to the 2004 letter from Bush to Sharon. That letter, issued to support Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, acknowledged that Israel's final borders would have to be based on "new realities on the ground including already existing major Israeli population centers"—i.e., settlement blocs—in the West Bank. This "1967-plus" formula is what Obama now appears to be rejecting.  

It may be that the old saying is right and that certain kinds of promises are made to be broken. But if so, the obvious lesson is only the need to keep that cautionary principle in mind when undertaking important strategic decisions hinging on presidential guarantees.

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Dixon Webb on October 22, 2010 at 11:38 am (Reply)
It's a shame on America that Israel can not rely on our Obama Administration. The people elected and appointed by President Obama have a very different view of the U. S.' responsibilties in the world and it does not reflect the very real integrity of the American people. "Push" is rapidly becoming "shove" as our voters will eventually elect representatives that that understand the nature of our committment to Israel. Hang in there guys!
NormanF on October 24, 2010 at 8:45 pm (Reply)
One recalls Charles De Gaulle's famous riposte to Abba Eban,
"That was then - this is now." And Eban observed that the weight of a guarantee is a function of time. In other words, it lasts only as long as there is an interest in keeping it. When the interest is gone, so is the guarantee.

Israel should not place its very survival in the word of an American President. Whatever Obama may pledge today, he may see fit to disregard it later or his successor can claim not to find it.

Israel is best advised to rely on itself for its own security.
Bumps Stump on October 25, 2010 at 2:44 am (Reply)
Norman . . You're as right as rain. Israel should not rely entirely on America for support. I didn't mean to imply so. I believe the entire world owes the Jewish people the nation of Israel. I also believe that North American and European nations should provide whatever support the tiny new nation requires to get on its feet and protect itself.

It's a complicated matter that includes that fact that anti-Semitism and the Holocaust should never have been allowed to happen. It also includes the fact that the tiny land area was given to Israel by the victors of WWII. It was carved from the raw territory of the defeated enemy and is one of the spoils of war. We won. They lost. Case closed.

The victors gave the Jews a homeland of almost worthless land that belonged to no other state. The few Arabs living within its borders were graciously welcomed to stay, own property, work and live there.

We (Americans) generously said we would help the new nation get established and able to protect itself. That obligation has not ended.

Capt. UTA on October 26, 2010 at 2:32 pm (Reply)
Referring the last paragraph of Bumps Stump I think I am right saying that the then US Government (and certainly the the Labour UK Government) imposed an immediate arms embargo in the Middle East area knowing full well that it would mainly affect the weak, poorly armed new State of Israel. I believe he should read up a bit more before writing incorrect assertions like that! The US only began to help Israel militarily after its success in the 6 Day War of June 1967.
Bump on October 26, 2010 at 4:48 pm (Reply)
Capt. UTA . . . I've re-read my comment several times and I'm not convinced that the last paragraph is 100% wrong. Maybe 75%. At the same time your criticism is correct. I know that initially the UK imposed an arms embargo. I was not aware (or have forgotten) that the U.S. joined in that effort - but I will take your word for it.

There was, as I recall, quite a lot of controversy here when Pres. Truman declared that America recognized Israel as an independent country. At the time many Americans did not think it was such a good idea. But it was a done deal.

Unfortunately, we said "okay, you've got a new nation" - and then turned away and left it defenseless, in a very hostile environment. My memory is hazy but I believe we hoped that the U.N. would step in and protect Israel, but it didn't happen. We tried diplomacy, arm twisting and threats at the U.N. - and got nowhere. Meanwhile, the American public gradually accepted that helping the new Jewish nation persevere was the right thing to do. This acceptance took a while to form, but finally, Israel's 6 day war clinched it and America began to assist the Israeli military.

I hope that my memory is correct, and I apologize if my previous comment mislead anyone.

Old geezers mis-speak sometimes.

Capt. Uta on October 27, 2010 at 5:28 am (Reply)
We all make mistakes at our ages. President Truman's arm "was twisted" by his former Jewish business partner & old friend, and after dithering he agreed within 24 hours to recognise the new State of Israel.
Remember U Thant withdrew overnight the UN forces in Sinai at the simple request of Nasser without any discussion thus leaving the way open for hostilities. The UN has not changed since. A very dangerous & biased organisation in my view.
David Aharon Lindsay on October 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm (Reply)
We should get an Insight from the treaties made to Avraham and Yitzchak with king of Grar by the wells at be'er Shevah ....

Maybe it's deja vu .

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