Thursday, June 18, 2009

U.S.-Israel Relations: Have Some Minimal Respect, President Obama

By Barry Rubin

I've written that U.S.-Israel relations have pulled back from the brink, if brink there was, but there's a detail of what's reportedly going on now that deserves to be highlighted and criticized.

The United States is pushing Israel to open up border crossings to the Gaza Strip for more goods to, in Washington's conception, facilitate reconstruction.

In theory, this is a humanitarian effort to help Gazans. At the same time, such a step deepens the enslavement of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to a Hamas regime, strengthens a terrorist organization which now, in effect, rules a mini-state of its own, and undermines any peace process.

The United States wants Israel, for example, to let in more cement in the expectation that this will be used for rebuilding. Israel is reluctant because it knows that a large portion of this cement will be used for building military bunkers which it one day will have to assault.

The United States wants Israel to let in more pipes in the expectation that this will be used for carrying water. Israel is reluctant because it knows that a large portion of this will be used for building rockets which will be fired to kill its own citizens.

But there's even more of a problem here.

First, the Obama administration likes to think of itself--accurately or not--as a hard-nosed realistic government. So it is valid to ask: What U.S. foreign policy objective does pressing Israel to make unilateral concessions to Hamas serve?

Is this going to make Muslims or Arabs or Palestinians like America more? Doubtful and even that can be questioned as an objective even if it were to be true. Will it make it easier for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate seriously? No. Does it undermine hardline and anti-American forces in the region? No.

So why is this being done?  Presumably, because it looks good, not because it does good.

Second, however, is my most serious point. It is reliably reported that the Obama administration told Israel that Washington rejects its linking the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit to the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip.

This is unacceptable and shameful. Shalit was seized in a cross-border attack into Israel. He has been imprisoned for months, probably tortured, and given no access to humanitarian visits. Israel's leverage to try to free him is limited. As far as anyone knows the United States has done nothing to help free him.

To argue that Israel must supply an organization which continues to attack it frequently, openly calls for its extinction, and holds one of its citizens hostage is disgusting. Let the United States use all of its leverage to try to get something from Hamas before demanding Israel give up any way of freeing Shalit.

Then, too, this detail is symbollic of the administration's policy in which most means of statecraft have been reduced to just two: the apology and the unilateral concession. It is questionable enough to demand a unilateral concession to a party--Iran, the Palestinian Authority, Syria--when there is at least some minimal hope of getting something in return.

But how to justify a unilateral concession when it is clear in advance beyond question that there will never be the smallest reciprocity or the most minimal diplomatic gain?

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