US-Israel relations: A planned rift

By Zalman Shoval

Israel HaYom

March 30, 2015

Some believe that the recent outbursts from Washington were caused by frustration at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election victory, rather than being an expression of policy. If only that were the case -- tiffs between friendly nations come and go. Much more alarming is the possibility of a planned political shift -- with the Israeli elections and Netanyahu's words that were twisted and distorted used only to justify measures decided on in advance. The well-timed media leak accusing Israel of spying on the U.S. during nuclear negotiations with Iran also fits into this plan, with its goal of maligning Israel in the eyes of Congress and the public.

By the way, Washington veterans were not surprised by the "espionage" report. During a conflict between late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and then-U.S. President George H. W. Bush, false reports were released, alleging that Israel had provided China with Patriot missiles. It was not a coincidence then, and it is not a coincidence now, that these stories were planted in newspapers with a reader base known to be supportive of Israel.

Netanyahu said in an election speech that a Palestinian state will not be established "on my watch" -- meaning that with all the chaos in the Middle East and the near-certainty that under the current circumstances Hamas would take over any territory ceded by Israel, a two-state solution will need to be delayed for now. Only a fool would believe that this remark was to blame for the White House's "reassessment" of its basic approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Washington Post also expressed surprise at how anyone could possibly connect statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama and his aides to Netanyahu's pre-election comments.

Statements like Obama's and those made by the White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough at J Street's annual conference -- according to which Israel is responsible for the most recent breakdown of peace talks -- hint at the administration's plan to drop America's long-standing requirement of direct talks as a condition for any arrangement, and to instead adopt an international approach that would essentially be an imposed solution -- whether it is called one or not.

Some diplomats believe that this would mean American support for a U.N. Security Council resolution determining the borders of the two states. As the outgoing U.N. Mideast envoy Robert Serry said, a new resolution would replace Resolution 242, which has been the basis for a deal until now. Just a reminder: Resolution 242 notes the necessity of secure borders and does not require Israel to withdraw from all territories captured in 1967.

Since the start of the Obama administration, there have been signs that the American president is considering a major turning point in his country's policy in the Middle East, with the goal of strengthening America's relationship with the Muslim and Arab world, including a sort of "affirmative action" for Iran (which we saw with his letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). However, the violence in the Middle East is forcing Obama to make some changes to his planned course of action. It is not only the Palestinian issue, but also his efforts to draw nearer to Iran -- despite upsetting America's traditional allies in the region -- that show he has not changed his original approach.

All this does not, of course, excuse Israel from making its best effort, through diplomatic and other means, to stop the erosion of its relationship with the current U.S. administration -- but we must still recognize the facts.