Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's diplomatic spat with outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been a bonanza for strategic minded gossips. Olmert says that Rice was "embarrassed" because she planned to vote in favor of UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which calls for an immediate cease-fire between IDF forces and Hamas terrorists. But, Olmert brags, he wrecked her plan by getting outgoing President George W. Bush to force her to abstain.
As far as the commentators are concerned, Olmert's puerile attack on the American secretary of state in the midst of a war shows that the he is still the same prideful, vain, motor-mouth that Israelis have come to know and despise over the past several years. Then, too, by responding with borderline hysteria to Olmert's statement, Rice has demonstrated, once again, that she remains a thin-skinned whiner.
These insights make for piquant news analyses. But they miss the most important truths that the Olmert-Rice slap-down brought to the surface. Their fight tells us two crucial things. First, it tells us that when President-elect Barack Obama enters office next week, Israel's relations with the US will be at a low point.
The US's abstention from the vote on Resolution 1860 is a stunning statement of hostility toward Israel. As former UN Ambassador Dore Gold wrote in The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Resolution 1860 is drafted in a manner that presumes moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Both Israel and Hamas – an illegal terrorist organization – must stop fighting, it says. The resolution also draws a false moral equivalence between Hamas's illegal rocket campaign against Israeli civilians and Israel's assertion of its right to close its borders to enemy traffic.
While Olmert presents the US's abstention in the vote as a major diplomatic victory for Israel, in truth it is a stunning defeat. The US was a cosponsor of Resolution 1860, along with Britain. The fact that the US sponsored such an anti-Israel resolution in the first place is a major rebuke of Israel. And the fact that Washington then allowed the deeply adversarial and dangerous resolution to pass only compounds the failure.
The second aspect of the US abstention on Resolution 1860 that is deeply disturbing is the fact that Israel's leaders say they were taken completely by surprise by the move. On a simplistic level, the fact that apparently until the last moment, Israeli officials were certain that the US was planning to veto the resolution or, at a minimum force a significant delay in voting on the measure, bespeaks a remarkable incompetence on the part of Israel's UN mission and in particular, it bespeaks a personal incompetence on the part of Ambassador Gabriela Shalev.
What were Israel's representatives at the UN doing in the days preceding the vote? Whom were they talking to? What messages were they communicating to their UN colleagues and back home that the government could have been blindsided by the US action?
And while this fiasco provides just cause for recalling Shalev to Israel, the buck on this one cannot stop with her.
Shalev is not a professional diplomat. She had no notable experience in international affairs or public diplomacy to speak of before Livni – who insisted that she would only appoint a woman to the post – sent her to Turtle Bay. Shalev receives her guidance on how to deal with the US from Livni. And throughout her tenure as foreign minister, Livni, together with Olmert has insisted that Israel's relations with the US have never been better.
But this has been anything but the case. On the issues of the most urgent importance to Israel, the US has repeatedly, and with an ever growing degree of contempt and hostility, adopted positions diametrically opposed to Israel's interests.
FOR INSTANCE, this week The New York Times reminded us that the US has refused to sell Israel refueling planes and bunker-buster bombs necessary to attack Iran's nuclear sites. The US has also consistently refused Israeli requests to overfly Iraqi airspace. The Times story reports that the administration answered Israeli requests to this effect with a hearty, "Hell no!"
And it isn't just that the Bush administration has in recent years preferred to indulge the Iraqi leadership's kneejerk anti-Semitism over supporting Israel's need to preempt threats of national annihilation. The Bush administration has also belittled those threats and so allowed them to grow. Rice pushed the US on the road toward accepting Iran as a nuclear power when she opted to join the EU-3 in their feckless negotiations with the mullahs in May 2007. Her decision was followed by the deeply mendacious US National Intelligence Estimate released in November 2007, which claimed wrongly that Iran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
The US's coddling of Iran at Israel's expense has also included its preference for the Hizbullah-dominated Lebanese government and military over Israel's national security. In the 2006 war between Hizbullah and Israel, the US forbade Israel from attacking Lebanese government targets, and so left Israel with few good options for fighting Hizbullah to victory. The reason the US acted in this manner is because Rice wished to prolong the fiction that the pro-Western March 14 movement was in charge of the Lebanese government when, in fact, it was subservient to Hizbullah.
When Israel became bogged down, the US forced Jerusalem to accept a cease-fire that left Hizbullah in charge of southern Lebanon and allowed it to rebuild its arsenals and present its campaign against the Jews as a strategic victory for the forces of jihad. After Hizbullah staged a putsch against the pro-Western forces in the Lebanese government last May, rather than acknowledge that Hizbullah is now in full control over the government and the military, the US has showered Lebanon with money and guns.
As for the Palestinians, over the past three years, the US has been expansive, indeed obsessive in its support for Fatah – and through it for Hamas – at Israel's expense. Rather than recognize that the Palestinian voters' decision to elect Hamas to lead them in January 2006 constituted a rejection of the notion of a two-state solution on the part of Palestinian society, the Bush administration judged the move as an act of civil disobedience reminiscent, in Rice's view, of the US civil rights movement.
Far from cutting the Palestinians off, the US massively increased its assistance to the Palestinian Authority. For the first time US taxpayers began financing the PA's budget and so, indirectly paying the salaries of both Fatah and Hamas terrorists. Moreover, the US began a massive effort to train Fatah commandos in Jordan. With Fatah terrorists in Gaza shooting missiles at Israel alongside their Hamas terror buddies today, it is unclear what good can come of these US-trained Palestinian special forces.
IN THE face of all of this clear US hostility toward Israel, marked as well by the continued criminal prosecution of former AIPAC lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, and former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin for their "crime" of discussing their concern about Iran's nuclear weapons program, Israel has played the role of Chicken Little.
Israel has offered no significant protest against the US's moves. It has treated Rice and her colleagues at the CIA as friends and trusted allies. And Livni and Olmert have repeatedly boasted that Israel's relations with the US have never been better, when in fact they have arguably never been worse.
It is because of the government's refusal to contend with difficult truths that Israel was caught by surprise at the Security Council last week. And due to the government's refusal to acknowledge the true state of Israel's relations with Washington, the government has given little consideration to either how to improve them, or
to how to work around Washington's hostility.
This situation is liable to only get worse next week with the inauguration of President-elect Obama. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton pledged in her Senate confirmation hearings that the new administration will immediately seek to engage Iran diplomatically. She also stated that the US intends to actively pursue better relations with Iran's Arab satellite-state, Syria. Moreover, she pledged that the Obama administration will make an immediate push to establish a Palestinian state.
Clinton's testimony makes clear that Obama's major initiatives will all involve forcing Israel to pay a price. According to a source in close contact with Obama's transition team, the first price that Israel will be pressured to pay will be the Golan Heights.
Obama has pledged that soon after taking office he will make a major speech in an Islamic capital to strengthen US ties to the Muslim world. And the source asserts that Obama intends to make that speech in Damascus. Moreover, he intends to pressure Israel to surrender the Golan Heights to Syria as "payback" for any Syrian indication that it will weaken its ties to Iran.
While Israel must treat the US with diplomatic deference, it must also base its policies toward the US on how the US is actually treating Israel and not on fictions. There is no doubt that Israel would have handled the cease-fire diplomacy at the UN and elsewhere differently if its leaders were willing to notice that official Washington views Israel's defense of its citizens and Hamas's assaults on Israel's citizens as morally indistinguishable actions. Certainly, Israel wouldn't have been taken by surprise by America's decision to allow Resolution 1860 to pass.
THROUGHOUT HIS tenure in office, Bush has been outspoken in his warm statements about Israel. Both his advisers and the many people who have come to know him over the past eight years are unanimous in their belief that Bush truly cares about Israel and views Israel as an important US ally. He recognizes that Israel and the US share the same enemies and that our enemies seek to destroy us because we represent the same thing: freedom.
But as many of his friends and advisors have ruefully noted over the years, Bush never learned how to translate his personal views into policy. As former Pentagon official Richard Perle wrote in an article this week in The National Interest, Bush was undercut on the most crucial foreign policy issues he faced by the State Department and the CIA, which either ignored his policies or openly sought to discredit them.
As Perle described Bush's presidency, "For eight years George W. Bush pulled the levers of government – sometimes frantically – never realizing that they were disconnected from the machinery and the exertion was largely futile. As a result, the foreign and security policies declared by the president in speeches, in public and private meetings, in backgrounders and memoranda often had little or no effect on the activities of the sprawling bureaucracies charged with carrying out the president's policies."
This reality has been apparent since at least the middle of 2003, and yet, Israel's leaders stubbornly refused to acknowledge it. They preferred instead to believe that Bush would never let anything bad happen to us. As if he had the power to stop it.
The passage of Resolution 1860 could be a blessing in disguise if Israel is capable of learning its principal lesson: No one, not even our friends, will fight out battles for us.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.