Follow @southasiaanalys

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Faux Pas

Paper No: 5887                                Dated 6-Mar-2015       

Guest Column by Kazi Anwarul Masud

Rarely in the history of modern diplomacy has a head of government of one country  imposed himself on another country over the explicit reservations expressed by the President and top officials of the host country.

This is precisely what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done by addressing the US Congress on 5th March telling the assembled members of the Congress of the faulty approach by the US administration over the current negotiations over Iranian alleged ambition to acquire nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu told the Congress that any agreement reached between the US and Iran would guarantee Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and as such it would be a bad deal. In his characteristic undiplomatic manner Islamophobic Netanyahu told the Congress that.”The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons".

Netanyahu’s visit happened as a result of the invitation by House of Representative Speaker, a Republican, trying to get more Jewish votes, in the backdrop of advance notice by four dozens Democrat Senate and House members expressing their inability to attend the Joint session of the Congress. Additionally the visit disapproved by President Obama, described by National Security Advisor Susan Rice as “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between the  US and Israel,  reaffirmed by House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi that Netanyahu’s unsolicited advice was an insult to the intelligence of the United States as part of the international coalition in talks with Tehran, and finally gave credence to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s description in their book of Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy that posited that other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.

Mearsheimer and Walt wonder that why Israel is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars) receiving about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli though Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea. They conclude that “if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America’s support for Israel, how are we to explain it? The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ emotionally attached to Israel. Yet the bottom line, say the authors, is that American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel.

While the White House Press Secretary stated that it was unhelpful to subject inter-state relationship to party politics( elections in Israel is knocking at the door while the rift between the Democrats and the Republicans are not getting any narrower) President Obama was constrained to point out that Netanyahu in his Congressional speech did not offer any viable alternative to negotiations with Iran and that the US  “foreign policy runs through the executive branch and the President, not through other channels."

Stephen Walt in a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine (Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington has exposed the dysfunction at the core of the U.S.-Israel alliance —March 2 2015) observed that Netanyahu’s visit may not signal “the end of U.S. support for Israel, but it may well mark an important and ultimately positive shift in what has become a dysfunctional — even bizarre — relationship”. Stephen Walt adds the flap over Netanyahu’s speech is exposing what has long been obvious but is usually denied by politicians: U.S. and Israeli interests overlap on some issues but they are not identical.

It might be in Israel’s interest for the United States to insist on zero Iranian enrichment and for the United States to go to war to secure that goal, but such an attack is definitely not in America’s interest. Similarly, though Netanyahu and his government remain staunchly opposed to a genuine two-state solution with the Palestinians, that outcome would be very good for the United States.

It is definitely not in America’s interest for its closest ally in the Middle East to deny millions of Palestinian Arabs either full equality in Israel proper or any semblance of political rights in the West Bank, and it hurts U.S. interests every time Israel launches another punishing attack on the captive population in Gaza, inevitably causing hundreds of civilian deaths. Such actions — conducted with U.S. weaponry and subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer — do enormous damage to America’s image in the Middle East and have long been a staple ingredient in the jihadi narrative.

Israeli policy of denial of basic fundamental rights to the Palestinians and US complicity in these illegal actions are contrary to the fundamental values of humanity and the values expounded by the founding fathers of the United States of America.

Noted American journalist I. F Stone who shared Zionist aspirations and strongly supported the creation of Israel wrote in 1967 “Stripped of propaganda and sentiment, the Palestine problem is, simply, the struggle of two different peoples for the same strip of land. ... For me the Arab problem is also the No. 1 Jewish problem. How we act toward the Arabs will determine what kind of people we become – either oppressors or racists in our turn like those from whom we have suffered, or a nobler race able to transcend the tribal xenophobia that afflicts mankind”. Iranian ambassador to the UN Gholam Ali Khosroo in an op-ed to the New York Times on 5th March drew  the attention to  other great issues at hand in the Middle East.

The violent extremism in Syria and the continuing problems in Iraq to be fought effectively easing of international tensions is needed. He also invites international attention to the problem of the breeding grounds that are delivering fresh recruits to the terrorist cause. Israeli aggression and the occupation of Palestinian territories have always been of major propaganda value for extremist recruitment.

The New York Times in an editorial of 3rd March chided Benjamin Netanyahu of offering nothing of substance that was new, making it clear that this performance was all about proving his toughness on security issues ahead of the parliamentary election he faces on March 17. He offered no new insight on Iran and no new reasons to reject the agreement being negotiated with Iran by the United States and five other major powers to constrain Iran’s nuclear program. His demand that Obama push for a better deal is hollow. He clearly doesn’t want negotiations and failed to suggest any reasonable alternative approach that could halt Iran’s nuclear efforts.  

Indeed the state of Israel is propounding a moral schizophrenia for the Jewry by insisting on a non-racial, non-communal society in the world where the Jews would no longer be persecuted while  at home Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racial and exclusionist. While this article is not meant to be tour d’horizon of the Israel-Palestine conflict it is to point out the vacuity of a desperate Benjamin Netanyahu who in his bid to win the next election and establish himself as the undisputed leader of the world Jewry    risking the wrath of Israel’s closest friend and supporter but unknowingly speed up the process of a normal relations with the US in place of the “special” relationship that has existed since the country’s birth.

For the US a normal relationship with Israel would not only establish its credentials as a country moored on firm moral footing but would also deny Islamist extremists their sources of finance and recruitment of terrorists.