On Tuesday, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren put forth an article, “The Ultimate Ally”, in Foreign Policy.
Oren starts with the premise of a a strong ally that not only “shares America’s values, reflects its founding spirit, and resonates with its people’s beliefs”, but also politically, militarily and economically enhances Washington’s position in the Middle East. According to Oren, in this “dynamic” relationship, far from one-dimensional, “America needs Israel now more than ever”.
For Oren, the bilateral relationship starts from “shared values, reflected founding spirit, and resonated beliefs of American people”. Asserting an American interest in Israelis and their values as far back as the Pilgrims’ arrival in North America and comparing Moses’ “leading the children of Israel” to Thomas Jefferson’s “newly independent America”, Oren fast-forwards to the creation of Israel in 1948. For Oren, President Harry Truman recognized Israel immediately due to his religious character, as a “fervid Baptist and a past member of the restorationist American Christian Palestinian Committee”.
And there reality sets in on Oren's argument. The reality is that, amidst the warnings of the State Department and Pentagon, Truman's recognition of the State of Israel in the 12th minute of its independence declaration turned on geopolitics beyond values. In 1947, the British Government had announced its decision to leave Palestine amidst a Jewish insurgency. The Soviet Union was poised to recognise Israel, welcoming it as a socialist nation. Truman and his advisors, setting a priority above the possible impact on the US position in Arab states, responded to the challenge.
Oren continues his romanticism by saying that “Israel have always sided with the U.S. on major global issues.” On most occasions, that is true, but the Ambassador conveniently forgets the 1956 Suez War, where the US intervened to halt a British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt and then forced Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. There is also no reference to the recent US tension with Israel over West Bank settlements in 2010.
As for "always siding with the US", did Israel comply with American demands --- such as refraining from retaliation against Iraqi attacks in 1991, initiating a peace process with Palestinians in 2000, or accepting the short-lived freeze on the West Bank settlements --- because of its love for American values? Or were these political maneouvres in the face of Washington's pressure?
And then there is Oren's reference to a value-led alliance "in the struggle with radical Islam”. That does not necessarily hold in the case of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Perhaps more pertinently, it is hard to square the statement with the covert role of Israel in backing "fundamentalist" groups that opposed Nasser in Egypt or in the creation of Hamas to split the Palestinian movement.
Of course, the real mission of Oren's article is not to set out an accurate history but to cast blame on Palestinian groups for their unwillingness to accept this US-Israeli alliance of Good, as he derides their sabotage of all peace attempts, bombards Hamas, and presses Israel’s “good will” at every point.
This is not to reverse Oren's portrayal by absolving Palestinian factions and making Israel the culprit. But his portrayal of the politics, like that of history, is a distorting reduction. The dispute over a settlement is not just a matterof conflict between states (albeit with one of those states, Palestine, undeclared). It is also waged between groups within those states. So the prospect of a complex Palestinian situation, in which some factions may be seeking a resolution but having to face the internal challenge of those who advocate a different approach, passes Oren by --- indeed, a complex Israeli situation also is not in the interest of the Ambassador, as all must be seen as values-led advocates of "peace" as well as "security".
There are other issues that Oren by-passes, such as his failure to recognise that the relationship between Israel and Palestine in the dispute over the "peace process" is not one of equality, but let's take him on his ground of "values" to see how this fits with West Jerusalem's position in cases o human rights and international law....
Let’s start with the blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment of Gazans as a state policy. Israel's Deputy Ambassador to Britain, Talya Lador-Fresher, put forth values by declaring that Gazans have heat, gas, and electricity and that was enough. She added: "We will not help and assist economic development in Gaza.” At the same time, in March 2010, UN humanitarian chief John Holmes said that Israel's blockade of Gaza is not helping its security or weakening Hamas' hold on the territory.
What about Israel’s collective punishment, blockades, restrictions, closures and demolitions in the Gaza Strip, detailed in the Goldstone Report? Or one might consider the slaying of hundreds of children and women in Operation Cast Lead or the attacks on UN buildings and schools. The Goldstone Report says:
The timing of the first Israeli attack, at 11:30 am on a week day, when children were returning from school and the streets of Gaza were crowded with people going about their daily business, appears to have been calculated to create the greatest disruption and widespread panic among the civilian population.
What about the use of white phosphorous bombs against civilians in Gaza which is strictly banned by the Geneva Convention? Or the targeting civilians carrying humanitarian aid to people of Gaza instead of facilitating the passage of the six ships, the obligation of occupying power according to the Fourth Geneva Convention?
And how might values be upheld by an occupier power beyond the Green Line, according to UN resolutions 242 and 338, between Israel and Palestine. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, construction in the West Bank settlements were quadrupled in five months since the end of the moratorium in November 2010.
What about Israeli civil and military authorities’ neglect of the Supreme Court’s 18 May 2009 decision giving the executive 90 days to detail steps it had taken to dismantle six unauthorized outposts in the West Bank?
Simply put, Oren invokes the order and threats of the Cold War era to put forth the maintaience of Israeli's pre-eminence --- vis-a-vis Palestine and in the region --- in 2011. He says, “Israel has remained the Middle East’s only functional democracy” and “Israel not only enhances America’s defences but it also saves American lives” with its intelligence, defence systems and very mobilized super army. On the other side, there is the “head of the snake”, a.k.a. Iran, which is also the number one threat for “good” Muslim states, and its proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamic radicals. So, Oren concludes, the United States of America shall continue “its commitment to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge".
For Oren, Iran is the biggest threat, Turkey is gone, and Israel is left as the only and the best choice against radicals who are endangering Washington’s interests:
That kind of popular foundation for the Israeli-American alliance is all the more important at a time of great upheaval in the Middle East. As Iran's malign influence spreads and Turkey turns away from the West, Israel's strategic value in the region, both to the United States and to pro-Western Arab governments, will surely increase. Following Hezbollah's recent takeover of Lebanon and the political turmoil in Egypt, Jordan, and the Persian Gulf, Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that is certain to remain stable and unequivocally pro-American. In Israel alone, the United States will not have to choose between upholding its democratic principles and pursuing its vital interests.
At a moment when Arab peoples are rising against regimes through the region, this apparently is what "shared values" really means.