The Scott Brown precedent and Israel

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On Tuesday, US voters are set to repudiate US President Barak Obama’s agenda for their country. Unfortunately, based on his behavior in the face of a similar repudiation last January, it is safe to assume that Obama will not abandon his course. 


Last year, in an attempt to block Obama’s plan to nationalize healthcare, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate. Brown was elected because he pledged to block Obamacare in the US Senate. 


Rather than heed the voters’ message and abandon his plans, Obama abandoned the voters. Instead of accepting his defeat, Obama changed the rules of the game and bypassed the Senate.    


So it is safe to assume that for the next two years, Obama will do everything he can to bypass the Congress and govern by executive orders and regulations. Although much can be done in this fashion, Congress’s control of the purse strings will check his domestic agenda. 


In matters of foreign policy however, Obama will be less burdened by – but not immune – to Congressional oversight. We can therefore expect him to devote far more energy to foreign affairs in the next two years than he devoted in the last two years.


This bodes ill for Israel. Since entering office, Obama has shown that his primary foreign policy goal is to remake the US’s relationship with the Muslim world. Obama has also repeatedly demonstrated that compelling Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and empowering international institutions that seek to delegitimize Israel are his preferred means of advancing this goal.


To date, Obama’s demands on Israel have focused on blocking construction and delegitimizing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. And as far as he is concerned, Israel’s response to his demands to date has been unsatisfactory. In light of this, at a minimum we can expect that in the immediate aftermath of next Tuesday’s elections, Obama will deliberately provoke a new crisis in US relations with Israel over Jewish building in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.  


But of course, this isn’t Obama’s only option. Indeed, he has nearly unlimited options for making life unpleasant for Israel. Obama doesn’t even have to be the one to provoke the next crisis. He can simply take advantage of crises that the Palestinians provoke. 


THE PALESTINIANS are threatening to provoke two such crises in the next several months. First, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to ask the UN Security Council to pass a resolution declaring all Israeli communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines illegal and requiring the expulsion of the 450,000 Israeli Jews who live in them. 


Second, the PA’s unelected Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is threatening to declare independence without a treaty with Israel next summer. 


Simply by not opposing these deeply aggressive initiatives against Israel, Obama can cause Israel enormous harm. 


Other outlets for pressure include stepping up harassment of pro-Israel groups in the US, holding up the transfer of arms to Israel, pressing for the IDF to end its counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria, and expanding US financial and military support for the Palestinian army. All of these moves will doubtless be employed to varying degrees in the next two years.


This onslaught on Israel will be implemented against the backdrop of a dynamic regional strategic environment. The evolving threats that Israel faces include among other things, Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, and Iran’s takeover of Lebanon, Gaza and Syria. Israel also faces the likelihood that instability and fanaticism will engulf Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak dies and that Jordan will be destabilized after US forces vacate Iraq. 


Over the next two years, Israel will be required to contend with these developing threats in profound ways. And over the next two years, all of Israel’s actions aimed at mitigating these threats will need to be taken with the certain knowledge that the country will be in and out of crises with the Obama administration throughout. Whatever military actions Israel will be required to take will have to be timed to coincide with lulls in Obama-provoked crises.


The one good thing about the challenge Obama presents to Israel is that it is a clear cut challenge. The Scott Brown precedent coupled with Obama’s track record on Israel demonstrate that Obama will not modify his anti-Israel agenda to align with political realities at home, and there is nothing that Israel can do that will neutralize Obama’s hostility. 
By the same token, the massive support Israel enjoys among the incoming Republican majority in the House of Representatives is a significant resource. True, the Republicans will not enjoy the same power to check presidential power in foreign affairs as they will have in domestic policy. But their control over the House of Representatives will enable them to shape public perceptions of international affairs and mitigate some administration pressure on Israel by opening up new outlets for discourse and defunding administration initiatives.


Against this backdrop, Israel must craft policies that maximize its advantage on Capitol Hill and minimize its vulnerability to the White House. Specifically, Israel should adopt three basic policy lines.  First, Israel should request that US military assistance to the IDF be appropriated as part of the Defense Department’s budget instead of the State Department’s foreign aid budget where it is now allocated. 


This change is important for two reasons. First, US military assistance to Israel is not welfare. Like US military assistance to South Korea, which is part of the Pentagon’s budget, US military assistance to Israel is a normal aspect of routine relations between the US and its strategic allies. Israel is one of the US’s most important strategic allies and it should be treated like the US’s other allies are treated and not placed in the same basket as impoverished states in Africa. 


Second, this move is supported by the Republicans. Rep. Eric Cantor, who will likely be elected Republican Majority Leader has already stated his interest in moving military assistance to Israel to the Pentagon budget. The Republicans wish to move aid to Israel to the Pentagon’s budget because that assistance is the most popular item on the US foreign aid budget. Not wishing to harm Israel, Republicans have been forced to approve the foreign aid budget despite the fact that it includes aid to countries like Sudan and Yemen which they do not wish to support. 


When the government announces its request, it should make clear that in light of Israel’s economic prosperity, Israel intends to end its receipt of military assistance from the US within five years. Given the Republicans’ commitment to fiscal responsibility, this is a politically sensible move. More importantly, it is a strategically critical move. Obama’s hostility demonstrates clearly that Israel must not be dependent on US resupply of military platforms in time of war.


The second policy direction Israel must adopt involves stepping up its efforts to discredit and check the Palestinian political war against it. Today the Palestinians are escalating their bid t
o delegitimize Israel by expanding their offensive against Israel in international organizations like the UN and the International Criminal Court and by expanding their operations in states like Britain that are hostile to Israel. 


Israel must move aggressively to discredit all groups and individuals that participate in these actions and cooperate with its allies who share its aim of weakening them. For instance, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who is expected to be elected Chairwoman of the House Foreign Relations Committee has been seeking to curtail US funding to UN organizations like UNRWA whose leaders support Hamas and whose organizational goal is Israel’s destruction. 


Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers must lead the charge discrediting groups like UNRWRA, the ICC, and the UN Human Rights Council. Since the Obama administration seeks to empower all of these organizations, at a minimum, such an Israeli policy will embolden Obama’s political opponents to block his policies by curtailing US funding of these bodies.


The Palestinians’ threats to declare independence and define Israeli communities as illegal are clear attempts on their part to shape the post-peace process international landscape. Given their diplomatic strength and Israel’s diplomatic weakness, it is reasonable for the Palestinians to act as they are. 


But two can play this game. 


Israel is not without options. These options are rooted in its military control on the ground, Netanyahu’s political strength at home and from popular support for Israel in the US. 


Israel should prepare its own unilateral actions aimed at shaping the post-Oslo international agenda. It should implement these actions the moment the Palestinians carry through on their threats. For instance, the day the UN Security Council votes on a resolution to declare Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and Israeli neighborhoods in Jerusalem illegal, Israel should announce it is applying Israeli law to either all of Judea and Samaria, or to the large Israeli population centers and to the Jordan Valley. 


If properly timed and orchestrated, such a move by Israel could fundamentally reshape the currently international discourse on the Middle East in Israel’s favor. Certainly it will empower Israel’s allies in the US and throughout the world to rally to its side.


THE CHALLENGE that Washington now poses to Israel is not unprecedented. Indeed for Netanyahu it is familiar.


During his first tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu faced a similar predicament with the Clinton administration. In October 1998, then president Bill Clinton was about to be impeached. The Republicans stood poised to expand their control over the House of Representatives. Paralyzed domestically, Clinton turned to Israel. He placed enormous pressure on Netanyahu to agree to further land concessions to Yassir Arafat in Judea and Samaria. In what became the Wye Memorandum, Clinton forced Netanyahu to agree to massive concessions in exchange for which, Clinton agreed to free Jonathan Pollard from prison.


At the time, Israel’s allies in Washington enjoined Netanyahu not to succumb to Clinton’s pressure. They argued that in his weakened state, Clinton had limited capacity to harm Netanyahu. Moreover, they warned that by caving to his pressure, Netanyahu would strengthen Clinton and guarantee that he would double down on Israel. 


In the event, Netanyahu spurned Israel’s allies and bent to Clinton’s will. For his part, Clinton reneged on his pledge to release Pollard. 


Netanyahu’s rightist coalition partners were appalled by his behavior. They bolted his coalition in protest and his government fell. Rather than stand by Netanyahu for his concessions, Clinton and the Israeli Left joined hands to defeat him in the 1999 elections.


The lesson Netanyahu learned from this experience was that he cannot trust the political Right to stand by him. While not unreasonable, this was not the main lesson from his experience. The larger point is that Netanyahu must not delude himself into believing that by falling into the arms of the Left he will win its support.  


The post-election Obama administration will make the lives of Israel’s leaders unpleasant. But Netanyahu and his ministers are not powerless in the grip of circumstances. They have powerful allies and supporters in Washington and the confidence of the Israeli people. These are formidable assets. 


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.


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  • naomir 10/29/2010 at 8:02

    Caroline, Considering Obama’s track record to date no truer words said. An intelligent assessment and proper action taken on both internal and external issues affecting Israel will in the end be her strength and salvation. Shabbat shalom.

  • independentpatriot 10/29/2010 at 8:17

    Your grasp of middle east realities is always refreshing no matter how much that reality can be disconcerting.

  • marcel 10/29/2010 at 9:38

    ‘It’s not the ones who votes but who counts the votes that matters’ Joseph Stalin
    We can’t ignore the corrupt state of US politics and how desperate our would be dictator is and how far he will go to keep the agenda of his New World Order globalists alive.
    Already there are many examples of voter fraud in favor of the dark side.
    I’m sure you’ve noticed the dead silence of RHINO,New World Order ex-President Bush on all of this.
    ‘Rep. Eric Cantor,has already stated his interest in moving military assistance to Israel to the Pentagon budget.’
    Congess is so weak that it cannot get the US Embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem fifteen year’s after their vote and failure to move Jonathan Pollard from Federal Prison to freedom or stopped the focused peace assault on Israel. Do you really think they will do anything of substance for Israel except nice sounding empty speeches.
    I posit that the problem lies with weak secular Jewish leaders who stand for nothing and always easily fold for every plan that weakens and endangers Israel, whose only game is to please Washington no matter what the cost to Israel.
    Netanyahu has already proven he has learned nothbing as he continuess to court the party of defeat Kadima.
    Every Israeli PM since Shamir,but especially General ‘retreat’ Barak when he visits the US can always be found in the White House on his knees.
    The failure to defeat Hizbollah and Hamas to please Israel’s god of no-peace America is the greatest blunder in Israel’s short history as we will all soon realize.
    Israel by her beggardly submission to a failed agenda has made herself the easiest target on the planet.
    Not until unapologetic Jews show some teeth and stop the mad rush sacrifice israel to placate the Islamic world by the West will anything change.
    Congress with and R has proved useless time and time again.
    It’s past time that Israel stops leaning on a rotted stick and begin to lean on their Creator instead.

  • Shalom 10/29/2010 at 10:46

    You and I and all of us now that Bibi will cave in to everything Obama wants. Sad but true.

  • TheRightsOfMan 10/29/2010 at 13:17

    Reposting this to FaceBook, Twitter and sending to email distribution.
    It’s unfortunate that PM Netanyahu lacks the moral certainty and courage to protect Israel.
    When good compromises with evil it is only the evil that benefits.
    Cloud Downey
    IllinoiS – USA

  • ajnn 10/29/2010 at 22:32

    1. Ending US aid to israel would empower Israeli sympathizers inside the United States. It would give a ‘second wind’ to US support for Israel.
    2. It is fortunate for Israel that obama’s popularity inside the United States is very low. But 47% means that it is low for Obama, not a typical lame-duck US president. He is still, considering his status, very popular.
    Pointing out that Obama will be the most powerful force in American foreign policy for the next two years regardless of the outcome of next week’s elections is an important insight that must be reckoned with until 2012.
    3. A diplomatic counter to the Palestinian Arabs is obviously necessary. It is unfortunate that the Palestinian Arabs can rely on automatic mjorities in most of the UN’s monstrous children (ICC, HRC, etc). Their patrons literally control these institutions.
    4. How much damage will Obama do to US influence in the world before his term of office is ended?
    We Americans are still crippled by Jimmy Carter’s nonsense. We have had no foreign human intelligence resources since Carter and our allies still remember us as ‘unreliable’.
    What shall be the state of affairs in the post-Obama world in 2012?

  • joe.finkelstein 10/30/2010 at 3:01

    Thank you Caroline for your excellent insights into Obama’s agenda for Israel. Sadly, I concur with your observations. Ain’t no stoppin’ a committed ideologue.

  • DaveP 10/30/2010 at 15:29

    Israel really has to get through just one year rather then the next two, as Obama will be involved in his re-election campaign in the last year of his term, and will not like to offend any group.
    On the another issue. Every poll re-assures us that Obama is personally popular in the US, despite the fact that Democrats are not so. I find this claim difficult to swallow.
    Democrats are unpopular mainly because they passed legislation that was vehemently supported by Obama. So Obama should be more unpopular then Democrats seeking election. And yet, it is these same who do not wish to be associated with Obama, and do everything to dissuade Obama to help them in their campaign. Even Obama and his advisers recognise this fact. This can only mean that Obama is even more unpopular then the Democratic Party.
    This does not make sense at all unless one conjectures, that voters do not divulge their true opinions on Obama for fear of being labelled as racists.

  • AHR 10/30/2010 at 21:58

    Let me offer a somewhat different analysis of what will happen after the US election. Obama will continue to spend the bulk of his time on domestic policy because his political future depends on it and it is the set of issues that has always interested him the most. His forays into foreign affairs will continue to be sporadic and destructive.
    What needs to change is Israel’s refusal to stand up to Obama’s bullying. Israel should never have legitimized the current Palestinian track. Israel’s decision to engage in this process has distracted attention away from Iran and given life to the non-negotiated Palestinian State scenario.Politically, Obama has always been weak on security issues and Israel’s failure to challenge his anemic Iran policy has been a big mistake. After Tuesday’s election Obama will be further weakened and Israel must challenge him in conjunction with its American allies.
    Americans are using the security weaknesses of Obama during these elections (see polling shows it works. Israel must switch being Obama’s whipping boy (Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. continues to be the only official to engage Obama’s J Street) and start spelling out to the American people the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Instinctively, polls show Americans support Israel and oppose Israel’s enemies, now is the time for Israel to show that it is on the side of American people and not Obama.

  • Tuvia 10/31/2010 at 2:44

    Speculation about what might happen after this week’s US midterm elections can serve a useful purpose if it helps Israel to focus on actions it can take to strengthen its position in the Middle East. What Caroline Glick reminds us of in this essay is the extent to which Israel does not have to be a passive, weak or directionless player in the drama that is unfolding before us. As she points out, Netanyahu has been to this movie before. He should be reminded–often– how that last movie ended, both in the US (how one President broke his promise) and here in Israel (how the Left abandoned him).
    Regarding how the political Right reacted to our PM’s response to President Clinton’s pressure, I am not certain that the lesson for the PM was that he cannot trust the Right to stand by him; I suspect that the lesson might have been that he cannot trust the Right to stand by him–and therefore be able to stay in office– if he says one thing, and then does another.
    If this is the lesson that our PM learned about the political Right, then perhaps he can stand taller this time around.
    Perhaps this movie can have a different ending.
    Some wise comedian once said that the definition of ‘insanity’ is trying to do the same thing over and over again, but always expecting a different result. Perhaps it will be essays such as this that can alert us all–including our PM– that insanity and survival do not go together.
    In other words, even though Netanyahu has his weaknesses, I think we can all see that he has been in this same position once before–and his decisions the first time around did get him tossed out of office. This, I think, is important, because politically, I do not see Netanyahu as insane; that is, I am not convinced that he will do the same thing with Obama today as he did with Clinton in the past, and expect a different result. Like many seasoned politicians, his office could be too dear to him to take that risk a second time.
    These are indeed challenging times for Israel. Netanyahu may not become the leader we need. But as Ms. Glick says, “Netanyahu and his ministers are not powerless in the grip of circumstances.” Netanyahu and his ministers have friends, and they do have choices. Perhaps now, past lessons learned can be turned to Israel’s advantage.

  • Anonymous 11/02/2010 at 6:02

    Caroline – please entreat the powers that be at the Jerusalem Post to withdraw the subscription fee. It is marginalising a whole group of Israel’s supporters who previoulsy relied on the JP for their news and who do not have the wherewithal to pay for it.

  • Norman Willis 11/02/2010 at 15:21

    Another brilliant article. But:
    >>When the government announces its request, it should make clear that in light of Israel’s economic prosperity, Israel intends to end its receipt of military assistance from the US within five years.
    Absolutely Israel must become both economically and militarily independent of the United States: but why turn down the money in the mean time? Take it. And invest it wisely.


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