Washington is on edge these days. Democrats are bewildered, the President is seething, Republicans are salivating, K Street and J Street lobbyists are working overtime—all because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to town. But there’s no need to fret just yet; there may be a silver lining here.
Someday, if we’re real lucky, Netanyahu’s forthcoming address to Congress at the invitation of the Republican majority will be regarded as (you’ll excuse the expression) a godsend for US policy in the Middle East. By causing a ruckus in Washington, he may set in motion a recalibration of US relations with Israel. Susan E. Rice, the President’s national security adviser, said in a televised interview that Netanyahu had “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship.” Not the usual diplomatic language—and quite at odds with Netanyahu’s insistence that, far from using the visit to political advantage as he seeks reelection, he must speak out against a possible US-Iran nuclear deal that would be a “great danger to the state of Israel.”
Not that President Obama or liberal Democrats are going to jettison Israel or weaken security ties to it. That’s politically inconceivable, in no small part because such a wholesale change in course would badly hurt the Democratic nominee for president in 2016. But greater balance in US policy toward Israel, such that Tel Aviv would no longer exercise a virtual veto and the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) would not automatically buy influence in Congress, would be a welcome change. Obama has made a good start by pressing for a nuclear agreement with Iran despite considerable pressure from Israel and from Congress, some of it from hard-line Democrats.
As I’ve written before, a US policy based on the human interest and by definition distanced from Israeli priorities would actually benefit Israel’s security while also promoting broader US interests in a Middle East peace. This new policy would also lend hope to the Palestinian people that they, like their Israeli neighbors, can live a decent life with personal security.
Such a policy ought to include:
- Termination of further Israeli settlements in disputed territory and of Palestinian lands.
- Mutual Israel-Palestine diplomatic recognition and exchange of security assurances.
- Promotion of a Middle East nuclear weapon-free zone.
- Release by Israel of funds due the Palestinian Authority.
- A major increase in international development assistance to Palestine, with the focus on water, education, and job-producing construction.
- Internationalization of Jerusalem.
- Removal by Israel of obstacles to free movement of people for work and other ordinary purposes.
Let’s see if the President and Secretary of State John Kerry can withstand the predictable blizzard of nonsensical criticism that he doesn’t love either Israel or America.