For the second time in a span of six months, the United States has expressly forbidden Israel from pursuing a potential peace deal with Syria. This time, it was Condoleeza Rice doing the dirty work and she brought a simple message on the subject: Don’t even think about it.
The action is not surprising. Despite the fact that peace between Israel and Syria is in the best interests of Israel, Syria AND the US, it’s not necessarily in the best interests of the Bush Administration.
The US would benefit because a Syria at peace with Israel would be likely to use other measures instead of backing Hizbullah to influence matters in Lebanon and it would be much more reluctant to act in congress with Iran.
But the Bush Administration’s entire program is based on regime change in “enemy” countries; diplomacy is not desirable except as a last resort, as in Iraq. If they can work with previously antagonistic countries, it undermines the very basis of their entire Middle East strategy for the past six years. Also the needs of the moment play into this. As the US sits down with Syria and Iran to try to find some way to fix the mess the Bush Administration has made in Iraq, they need an absolutely antagonistic Israel to hold over Syria. The idea is that this will make Syria more open to working with the US, lest the Bush Administration let the Israelis loose upon Syria.
But what is surprising, or at least a cause for serious concern in my view, is the complete lack of any response to this American action from the American Jewish community.
Once upon a time, the central American Jewish tenet when it came to Israel was that the Israelis knew better than anyone how to handle their own affairs and thus, American Jewry should be pushing the US to back Israeli decisions on matters of their own security.
Those days are gone. While the overwhelming majority of American Jews back negotiations for peace with all of Israel’s enemies, as well as a quick exit from Iraq, the American Jewish leadership continues to buddy up to the failed Bush Administration and their discredited, neo-conservative-inspired strategies.
Granted, these are tough times for Israeli leadership. Never in Israel’s history have so many of the top people in its government been so obviously incompetent. It has nothing to do with the various policies, or the particular parties, or the balance between left and right of center in Israel…these have not changed so much. It is simply that Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz are or were literally not competent to hold their positions.
Nonetheless, the fact that the US can forbid peace negotiations with no response from either the Israeli or the American Jewish public is simply appalling.
Even if one opposes peace talks with Syria, is there actually a Jew who believes it is perfectly ok for the United States to forbid Israel from pursuing peace? One would think that it would be the most passionate, lock-step, knee-jerk supporters of Israel who would be the first to cry foul about this.
In fact, there has been a general silence about it, one that stretches all the way around the global Jewish community.
I have long advocated an active American role in peacemaking between Israel and its various adversaries. I’ve advocated American pressure on Israel that is equal to that put on the Palestinians in order to achieve the compromises that both sides need to make for a just peace that can lead to a productive future for all concerned. I have also long claimed that the United States’ involvement has largely prevented such progress rather than promoted it (with some exceptions at various times).
But this is a whole new page. The massive failures of the Bush Administration in the Middle East are already legion. Now they have set a new precedent and a new high in low by forbidding Israel from seeking peace with a neighbor. That should be an unconscionable and unpardonable sin to anyone who cares at all about Israel. Yet all the folks who are so quick to shed crocodile tears about attacks on Israelis in order to support occupation and war are absolutely mute when the US stops Israel from seeking peace.
Brit Tzedek, Jewish Voice for Peace, Americans for Peace Now and such writers as MJ Rosenberg have spoken out about this cold and Machiavellian behavior on the part of the US. So has Gush Shalom and other peace groups. It is no coincidence that those who respect the human and civil rights of the Palestinians are also the ones who are truly concerned about Israelis. The so-called “pro-Israel” groups are, in fact, anything but, as they have proven once again.