Sunday, June 14, 2009

How To Lean on Israel

Since the first stirrings of the Arab-Israeli peace process after the Yom Kippur war, America's relations with Israel have been characterized by a paradox. Those presidents regarded as the least friendly to the Jewish state have done it the most good. Its strong allies have proven much less helpful.

This history begins with Jimmy Carter, who threatened a cutoff of American aid to pressure Menachem Begin into returning all of Sinai to Egypt, which made possible the 1979 Camp David agreement. The other most meaningful U.S. contribution to Mideast peace came under the first President George Bush at the 1991 Madrid Conference. When the Israelis refused to participate, Secretary of State James Baker withheld loan guarantees and said that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir should call him when he got interested in peace. At one point, Baker actually banned Benjamin Netanyahu, who was representing Shamir in Washington, from the State Department Building. Madrid led to a peace treaty with Jordan, the recognition of Israel by many other countries, and the first real face-to-face negotiations with Palestinians.
By contrast, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, all trusted friends, have often encouraged Israel's worst tendencies. Reagan looked benignly on Biblically-based claims of ownership over the West Bank, Israel's occupation of Lebanon, and its refusal to talk to the PLO. Under Clinton, "we never had a tough or honest conversation with the Israelis on settlement activity," former peace negotiator Aaron David Miller writes in his memoir The Much Too Promised Land. George W. Bush continued to ignore the obscene settlements policy, neglected the peace process, and condoned Israel's military misjudgments in the West Bank, Lebanon, and Gaza. These presidents steadily built up Arab resentment while fostering Israeli illusions that there might be an alternative to trading land for peace.
By Jacob WeisbergPosted Saturday, June 13, 2009, at 9:30 AM ET

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