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In the real world diplomacy is most often successful when two sides represent parties that can each speak with one voice and that have clearly defined objectives that they seek to attain within the framework of a final agreement. This perhaps explains why so many United States’ negotiations worldwide, often erroneously described as diplomacy, have failed in that Washington rarely understands what it actually wants to achieve and, seeking legitimacy through multilateralism, lets in numerous outside players with their own sometimes conflicting agendas to have a seat at the negotiating table. This leads to the alphabet soup of P+5+1 and similar shorthand descriptions, all of which are heavy on participants but light on results.
The search for some kind of framework for peace in Israel-Palestine has been particularly vexing as Washington has long pretended to be impartial while at the same time serving as Israel’s lawyer, conveniently vetoing anything that Israel regards as critical in world fora like the UN. This is not to suggest that frustration cannot sometimes boil over in even the most complacent wag the dog relationship. Secretary of state John Kerry came perilously close to blaming Israel directly for the collapse of the most recent round of talks when it chose a crucial moment in the negotiations to announce the building of still more houses on Palestinian land.
Kerry, to his credit, has even used the forbidden word “apartheid” in referring to the path that Israeli leaders are pursuing. Under pressure from the usual suspects, he subsequently backed off, claiming he had used the wrong word, though it is likely that he knew exactly what he was doing and was possibly sending an unwelcome but White House approved message to the Israelis that eventually they will run out of political cover from Washington.
And the bad news for Israel continued even after everyone declared the peace talks dead and Kerry acknowledged his improbable slip of the tongue. US officials involved in the negotiations, speaking anonymously of course, clearly put the blame for the failure on Israel, something that everyone has known to be true for the past thirty years but which is rarely surfaced in policy wonk circles inside the Beltway. The release of the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Terrorism followed, which, for the first time, labeled the increasing level of violence initiated by Jewish settlers against Palestinians and other targets as terrorism. The designation produced a predictable angry reaction from the Israeli police, which has a venerable history of avoiding investigation of such attacks when Arabs, be they Christian or Muslim, are the victims.
But the icing on the cake was the appearance of two articles in Newsweek on Israeli spying on the United States, the first “Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the US” described the massive Israeli espionage program directed against its greatest friend and patron as both “unrivaled and unseemly.” The second piece “Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the US Mostly Hushed Up” explained how Israeli spies caught in the act are most often not punished, a process that author Jeff Stein describes as normal operating procedure, frequently aided and abetted by the highest levels of government. Stein, a former military intelligence officer, is one of Washington’s top observers of what is going on inside the intelligence community and has access to impeccable sources.
The latest reports on Israeli spying are eye opening but not particularly new. I for one have been reporting much of the same since 2008. But it is a first to see the allegations prominently displayed in a reputable mainstream publication with the byline of a nationally recognized authority on intelligence matters who is himself Jewish. The pushback against the Israelis is apparently the result of classified briefings held before congressional committees in which the US intelligence and law enforcement communities finally let loose on the depth and breadth of Israeli espionage efforts directed against the United States, most of which target advanced technologies with both commercial and military applicability. The testimony suggested that if Israel is granted visa waiver status, which would enable any Israeli to travel freely to the United States, there will be even more spies for Zion running around than has been the case up until now.
Kerry’s reluctance to speak the truth unambiguously is not surprising as is the use of anonymous quotes to register displeasure with Israeli behavior. The White House operates under the shadow of powerful international Jewish organizations that appear to regard Israel as something that has to be protected at all costs and by any means no matter how it misbehaves. A recent closed door “secret” meeting dubbed Global Coalition for Israel brought together representatives of 25 countries in London to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions agenda (BDS) by seeking to make illegal any organized attempts to put pressure on Israeli government actions. In a number of countries, including Canada, legislation is being advanced to make any criticism of Israel punishable as anti-Semitism. In the US, states are moving ahead with legislation denying government funding to any group that singles out Israel for divestment or boycott because of its policies. The move is expected to put pressure on universities, where the divestment movement is growing.
It is extremely hard work to talk sense to the Israelis, particularly as they have been empowered by the US media and their congressional friends through so many years. Ironically, Israel, which has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no desire for anything equating to peace except on its own terms, has difficulty acting in its own interest. I has, for example, regularly complained that it has no negotiating party in the Palestinians. So what happens when the major Palestinian factions come together to form a unified front that would speak with one voice and simplify talks? Both Israel and the US scream “betrayal” and claim that the new arrangement has destroyed any chance for peace. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki voiced her disappointment over the inclusion of Hamas, arguing that “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.” Washington and Tel Aviv are also planning “reprisals” on top of existing punishment consisting of the withholding of funds due to the Palestinian Authority (PA) being inflicted over last month’s decision by the Abbas government to seek membership in 15 international bodies.
One might well have thought that a Palestinian unity government to deal with could well be a blessing and that talking to someone who questions your legitimacy is precisely what you should be doing, but that does not seem to have occurred to the punditry in Tel Aviv and Washington. Other interested observers might ask, “Does it really matter at this point?” as the talks have been a farce ever since they began, enabling continuous Israeli expansion on Arab land without offering anything in return for the Palestinians.
America’s “greatest ally” Israel is touted shamelessly on Capitol Hill and the White House giving it near mythic status while it is privately regarded by the US intelligence agencies as the greatest threat to US interests in the Middle East. It is at the same time becoming less and less a state that most Americans would find sympathetic, more hard line and ossified politically, leading to some labeling it as fascist, and also increasingly in the grip of extreme religious fundamentalism and implied racism that shapes its geopolitical thinking. Ironically, its principal adversary Iran, vilified in the US nearly equal to the extent that Israel is praised, is going in the opposite direction, becoming less stridently religious and more secular, prompting no less than the New York Times to post an op-ed asking “Are Iran and Israel Trading Places?”
In all seriousness, Israel is no friend to the American people and it should not be listened to when it tries to manipulate US domestic politics to serve its own interests, as it did two weeks ago when the Bill Kristol led Emergency Committee for Israel funded a major effort to oust non-interventionist North Carolina congressman Walter Jones. The “special relationship” has made more difficult a responsible American interaction with the rest of the world, but it still can be achieved, just as foreseen by the Founders, through a rejection of the bogus foreign policy narrative that has maintained the perpetual spin mechanism which has been in effect for the past forty years. It would require an understanding that there is a national interest that supersedes party politics and ethnic cohesion, requiring complete honesty from the White House, particularly over matters of war and peace. That is something that has been sorely lacking and it is something that the American people can reasonably demand.