Hard Choices for the US and Israel Loom In A New Middle East

All of us writers, analysts, bloggers and Mideast observers, across the political spectrum are in agreement about one thing: the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt, and the smaller ones in other Arab countries mean that there is going to a new Middle East soon.

The shape of that new Mideast is open to prediction, which is also going to give all of us a lot to write and talk about for a long while to come. But one thing we can look at today is how other actors are preparing for what we know will be new, but in an unknown form. In particular, what seems to be a massive rise in demands toward democracy in the Arab world presents unprecedented challenges to the regional policies of the United States and Israel, jointly and in ways that threaten to drive those

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a relaxed conversation with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

policies in separate directions for the first time in decades.

Like much of the rest of the world, the statements that have come from the US and Israel have been oddly divided between the support they must show for people fighting to free themselves from a dictator and a more coldly pragmatic concern for whether Egypt will maintain its role in working with the West in Middle East with a new government.

Former Israeli Defense Minister and Likud stalwart Moshe Arens laid out one prominent Israeli view in stark terms: “Israeli governments have never insisted that they would negotiate only with a democratically elected Arab government. The implicit assumption probably was that it would be easier for a dictatorship to meet Israel’s fundamental conditions, but this would be a near-impossible task for a democratically elected Arab government.”

Why would it be “near-impossible?” Arens is referring to the fact that Arab citizens, on the whole, are opposed to cooperation with Israel. Much of the rhetoric, especially that which is often selectively reported in the US and Israel, speaks in fiery words about confronting the “Zionist regime” and toppling it. The opposing contention, which I make as well, is that an end to the occupation and freedom for the Palestinians will blunt a great deal of the popular rage on this issue and people will focus elsewhere and accept the potential benefits of dealing with Israel. Continue reading

US Aid to Israel: Questioned on Both the Left and the Right

Believe it or not, outside of Capitol Hill, America’s $3 billion per year of military aid to Israel actually gets discussed.

On the left, the discussion of aid to Israel is one of several major dividing lines over what are seen as “acceptable” peace groups (J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Churches for Middle East Peace, et al) and those that are not (Jewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Occupation). Of course, “acceptable” in this case is decided by the centrist part of the “pro-Israel” contingent, which is doing harm to Israel and Israelis daily, but that’s a matter for another time.

The latter groups call for the US to withhold aid to Israel until it ends its occupation and complies with international law. There are other calls to end aid to Israel which are starker and more hostile to Israel. But in the past year, I have heard more and more activist groups, including some who are sympathetic to Israeli fears and concerns, considering working on campaigns to stop American military aid to Israel.

Indeed, some prominent mainstream voices are starting to weigh in on this issue. Whether one supports ending or threatening aid to Israel or not, the fact that it is being discussed more openly should be welcome in any free society.

There are also those on the right who have long advocated for an end to US aid to Israel. These calls have come more from pundits and individuals than from groups, and are based on entirely different considerations from any of the rather wide spectrum of views mentioned above.

The notion is that, contrary to the view of peace groups, the aid the US gives Israel already constrains its actions and Israel would be better off without the aid but with the freedom to act without US interference.

This notion was most prominently promoted in the “Clean Break” paper. This was an advisory paper prepared for Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996, during Bibi’s first term as Prime Minister by an advisory group of neoconservatives led by Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle. The group consisted of prominent American and Israeli neocons. Continue reading