De (Pro Groot) Israel Lobby en NeoCons – niet een pot nat (Plitnick in 'A Jewish Voice for Peace')

Een uitstekende reactie op het boek "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy". De schrijver, Mitchell Plitnic, is directeur bij de Amerkaanse organisatie ‘Jewish Voice for Peace’. Deze vertegenwoordigt een verfrissend ‘ander Joods geluid’ dan bijv. AIPAC.

Hieronder enkele passages en de gehele conclusies en aanbevelingen.

As a Jew, who was worked for years to try to improve the situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories, and as someone who has extensive experience with both anti-Semitic ideas and anti-Semitic violence, I am compelled to open this analysis by addressing the question of whether Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s work reflects anti-Semitism…

The ideas Walt and Mearsheimer present are not comfortable and, in my view, sometimes not accurate. But they are not personally anti-Semitic, nor are they motivated by animosity toward Israel…

On every level, the American arms industry receives a gigantic subsidy, directly and indirectly, through US military aid to Israel. Walt and Mearsheimer pay scant attention to this factor, a virtually insurmountable incentive to maintain military aid to Israel, even absent other considerations, including AIPAC…

The diplomatic support the US gives to Israel is considerably more critical than the money. The US has vetoed a great many UN Security Council resolutions regarding Israel[5] and prevented many others form coming to a vote by threatening a veto. The US holds nearly exclusive rights as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. Walt and Mearsheimer make a strong case that the US has tilted heavily towards Israel rather than being a fair mediator, although they correctly point out that this favoring of the Israeli position is not as absolute as some Palestinian supporters sometimes claim.

But the case for “The Lobby” influencing diplomacy is, at best, unclear…

Votes in Congress reflect an extremely unusual level of consensus on many bills related to Israel. The pressures from “The Lobby” are a factor in terms of votes and campaign contributions, as we will see. But it’s not the only factor by a long shot. There is the long-time alliance with Israel; the relationship Israel has with the United States which is, in fact, based on similarities in the culture and structure of the two societies (both being Western-oriented, both being melting pot societies, both having basic democratic structures) and even some similar flaws (both countries being born through a systematic displacement of those living in the territory at the time, both having serious historical and present-day problems with racial or ethnic discrimination, both having issues, albeit to significantly different degrees, with militarization in society, among others). There is also the fact that Americans generally feel a kinship with Israelis whereas Palestinians, especially because terrorist attacks have historically brought the most visible portrayals of them in American media, are often seen as alien or even frightening….

One argument that is often made against the idea that “The Lobby” has a major impact on US policy is that there are other lobbies working against it, such as the “Arab Lobby”, “Saudi Lobby” or “Oil Lobby”. Indeed, Walt and Mearsheimer use the ineffectiveness of these groups as proof of “The Lobby’s” overwhelming power. But in fact, there is little mystery about these groups’ inability to level the playing field.

By any measure, domestic lobbying efforts on behalf of the Palestinians are microscopic compared to the “pro-Israel” counterpart…

“The Lobby” and the Neoconservatives: Not One and the Same

In the end, foreign policy is not made in Congress or in the media, but in the Executive branch of government, in the White House…

Yet, since lobbying is less effective in the executive, it is much harder for Walt and Mearsheimer to make their case that US policy is being set because of “The Lobby’s” influence. This explains their failure to do so, in my estimation, and also their need to go to some lengths to provide some basis for their contention.

That’s how we get to perhaps the greatest single flaw in Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s thesis: their conflation of the neoconservatives and “The Lobby” By considering the neoconservatives, both in and outside of government as part of “The Lobby,” it easily follows that it was “The Lobby” that pressed hard for the war on Iraq and got what it wanted, and that it is “The Lobby” pushing for war on Iran and blocking potential talks between Israel and Syria. This is probably the most explosive claim made in the book, and it is also the most dubious.

Neoconservatism has become largely identified in the popular mind with support for Israel. And there is no doubt that Israel figures prominently in the neocons’ view of current strategy. Because most of the most prominent neocons are Jewish, and because the neocons, Jewish or not, support a hard-line position in support of Israel, many have assumed that they are heavily invested in Israeli interests, whether related to or good for the United States or not.

This idea has been bolstered greatly by the fact that a number of prominent neoconservatives wrote a famous paper in the mid-90s for then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu detailing their recommendations for Israel.[13] Put bluntly, however, the notion that the neocons are thinking in terms of Israeli security as an end in and of itself when contemplating American policy is a complete misreading of the neoconservatives.

The neoconservative view of foreign policy is a very activist one, but also one which barely tolerates diplomacy, preferring military strength and, if necessary, aggression. Exporting democracy (which, in this case, is synonymous with deference to US plans and interests as well as holding free elections) is a cornerstone of neoconservative thinking, as is nation-building (which means creating such democracies so that they will be natural allies of the United States). Many people view neocon goals as being those of an American empire.

It is in this context that neoconservative policies regarding Israel must be understood. Far from seeing Israeli interests as separate from American ones, they see “Israeli interests” in terms of their goals for American foreign policy. While prominent “pro-Israel” groups like AIPAC or the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations promote what they believe to be Israeli interests because they support Israel and believe Israeli and American interests are parallel or even identical, the neocons see Israel as an arm of American foreign policy in the Middle East and encourage a more aggressive Israel not for Israel’s sake, but to advance their militaristic agenda for American foreign policy.

The distinction is crucial. Contrary to Walt and Mearsheimer’s characterization of “The Lobby” and Israeli interests influencing the neocons, and thus creating a situation where the US went to war with Iraq; has antagonized Syria; and is threatening war on Iran largely for the sake of Israel’s security, it is in fact the neocons that have subverted “The Lobby”, playing a powerful role in the rightward drift of some of its leading Jewish groups and leaving them unrepresentative of a large portion of the mainstream Jewish community. The war on Iraq and the other neocon ambitions in the Middle East are based entirely on their view of what should be America’s policy priorities in that region. Israel is central but incidental to these plans and figures prominently not on its own merits but because they are the one country in the region that fits the neocon model of a fellow democracy and ally…

Iraq

Mearsheimer and Walt show that the war on Iraq has been detrimental to America’s goals. True enough, but it has been far worse for Israeli concerns. The Iraq war has strengthened the tripartite bond between Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, and the de-stabilization of the region, while detrimental to the US, is far more harmful to Israel, which actually has to “live” there. To some extent, Mearsheimer and Walt do use the outcome of the war to show that “The Lobby” is detrimental to US interests. But if that is any part of the rationale, the fact that it has been so much more detrimental to Israel would run counter to their argument.

More pertinent is the fact that there was never much potential gain in the Iraq invasion for Israel. To the extent that elements in Israeli intelligence (and it was only elements that worked with the neocons to build the false case for war) helped some American planners, it becomes even clearer that Israel knew full well that Iraq presented no threat to them…

Conclusion and Recommendations

Walt and Mearsheimer spend some time at the end of their book on their own recommendations for Mideast policy. The cornerstone is treating Israel like “any other country.” It would, indeed, be in Israel’s interest to be treated as any other country, not just by the US but by the entire world, but circumstances on all sides (not the least of which is Israel’s position as “the Holy Land”) would seem to make this unlikely.

What seems most likely to be effective is for the US to act in Israel’s actual interest, rather than focusing primarily on military superiority. Perhaps the most important paradigm shift that must occur in the common, intellectual and policy-making discourse is a move away from the zero-sum notion that what is good for the Palestinians is bad for Israel and towards one that truly recognizes that a peace agreement which affords both peoples potential for the future — politically socially and economically — is as much in Israel’s interest as it is in the Palestinians’.

This would start with reversing President Bush’s letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004 which assured him that Israel would never have to go back to the pre-1967 borders and would never have to admit a single Palestinian refugee back in to Israel proper. It is very likely that these conditions would be the outcome of negotiations, but they need to be just that–the outcome of negotiations, not pre-determined boundaries of dialogue.

It would also mean that the US engages seriously in diplomacy, not after the model of Camp David II, but rather more like that of the first Camp David summit and Bill Clinton’s efforts in late 2000 on the Clinton Parameters. That is, the US needs to be active in mediating, in presenting compromise ideas and in pushing both sides on the need to find a compromise that both can live with. It also means that the US needs to press the issue of settlements with Israel just as strongly as it does the issue of terrorism with the Palestinians.

The opportunity to pursue a new and productive Middle East policy which can lead to peace, security and opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians alike is here in the form of the Arab League Peace Proposal, first issued in 2002 and updated and re-issued earlier this year. But the obstacles remain considerable, and “The Lobby” is only one of them. How can involved Americans begin to bring about a change in entrenched US policy?

The Jewish community is, obviously, a prime actor in this. As the community directly connected to Israel and because the world correctly acknowledges that the history of anti-Semitism and the possibility that institutional, murderous anti-Semitism, while largely non-existent now in the West, could raise its ugly head again as it has in the past, the Jewish community holds a great deal of sway on people’s views of the conflict. Right now, much of the voice of that community is not representing the majority or the diversity of opinion that exists within it. A strong pro-Israel and pro-peace “Lobby”, the seeds of which already exist, must be nurtured and nourished.

Pro-Israel/pro-peace voices need to also form links with Israeli compatriots, both in and out of government as well as with such moderate Arab-American groups as the American Task Force on Palestine. These alliances will be crucial both in amplifying our voices and in establishing our credibility with pundits and decision-makers.

We must move the discourse away from the both the starkly “pro-Israel” and “pro-Palestinian” aspects and into one where the civil, human and national rights of all concerned are paramount. This can be tricky–people are generally more comfortable picking good guys and bad guys in a conflict and then supporting the designated good guys. A truly balanced peace movement must seek the end of Israel’s occupation, which is a much more concrete and achievable goal than ending terrorism, which must, of course, be simultaneously pursued. But American diplomacy has been weak on the point of settlements, even though it is officially opposed to them. This has to change.

America must also lead an international effort to transform the resources that have, over the years, taken the form of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians into the basis of a stable economy that exists in partnership with Israel. This is the only reliable way to ensure a broad consensus strong enough to prevent extremists on all sides from holding undue sway as they have for most of this conflict’s history. These are efforts that many peace-minded people, who are deeply concerned and invested in Israel and its well-being, particularly in the Jewish community can lead.

The recent tactics of some unions, churches and other large, international bodies to simplistically condemn the occupation and even to extend this to a boycott of Israel entirely have merely served to polarize the debate even further. On the other hand, when such bodies wish to ensure that their own money, whether investments, tax dollars or charity, is not invested in any way in the occupation, this is perfectly legitimate, and in fact necessary, and should not be viewed as anti-Israel. Moderate forces and voices must take a stronger and more prominent stance for even-handedness — one which displays real empathy for Palestinian suffering while avoiding the tendency to see Israel as simply an oppressive force, with no regard to the real fears and legitimate concerns of Israelis.

On one point I agree with Walt and Mearsheimer absolutely, and it is perhaps their most fundamental one: current US policy in the Middle East is a disaster, and the fact that much of our government seems intent on not only maintaining that policy, but on making it even more hard-line is tantamount to the classic sign of insanity: repeating the same action over and over yet expecting a different result the next time. A serious reassessment of America’s Middle East policy is long overdue and it is high time we stopped allowing hysterical reactions on all sides of the debate stymie that reassessment.

What we have now has failed utterly in every sense: it has not brought stability to the region, freedom to the Palestinians, or security to Israel. Indeed, all of those goals have been receding farther and farther for some time. To be sure, American policy is not the only reason for this, but the United States is the most powerful nation in the world by far and it is what we, as Americans can most affect.

It is not reasonable to assert that the US has pursued the best course but has been rebuffed by others’ efforts, nor is it acceptable to simply throw our hands up in the air and say there is no solution. There are clear courses we haven’t tried. It’s time to try them now, for the sake of Israelis, Palestinians, the entire Middle East and, indeed, for America as well.

De-Mystifying American Middle East Policy: A Response to Steven Walt and John Mearsheimer (Mitchell Plitnick in ‘A Jewish Voice for Peace Blog’)

The Third Way : A Different View of The Middle East

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