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The US and Israel: A Failed Marriage

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Since 1948, when the United States recognized the state of Israel, twelve US presidents have shaken the hands of Israeli leaders and pledged "for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part." Sadly, this once happy marriage is in trouble. It's time for the US to reconsider its commitment to Israel.

During the last week of May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington, making visible the cracks in the US-Israel marriage that had long been apparent to diplomatic observers. First, President Obama clarified US policy "The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."

Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected these remarks preferring the nebulous 2004 position taken by George W. Bush: "it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." (The lines of '49 and '67 are virtually identical.)

Several days later, former President Carter observed that Obama had in fact expressed longstanding US policy: "U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 of Nov. 22, 1967... has been widely acknowledged by all parties to be the basis for a peace agreement. Its key phrases are, 'Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,' and 'Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.' These included the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, plus lands belonging to Lebanon, Egypt and Syria."

If you haven't been following the tortured course of US-Israel relations, you might wonder why the sudden acrimony in a 63-year-old marriage? Politics.

For many years, Democrats and Republicans agreed that while Americans might disagree about domestic matters, when it came to our relations with Israel we set our differences aside and presented a united American front. That changed with the advent of George Bush II.

Dubya's political Rasputin, Karl Rove, promoted the permanent political campaign, and believed that every policy decision had an important political component. Rove recognized the political significance of US-Israel policy.

Although Jews constitute only two percent of the American population, they have a disproportionate political impact: "Pro-Israel interests have contributed $56.8 million in individual, group and soft money donations to federal candidates and party committees since 1990...In contrast, Arab- American and Muslim PACs contributed slightly less than $800,000 during the same (1990-2006) period." In 2006, Jewish sources accounted for 60% of Democratic fundraising and 35% of Republican. Rove observed that a shift in Jewish contributions would have a significant political impact.

Since the 1967 war, Israel witnessed the growth of Orthodox Zionist Judaism many of whose adherents believe their religious beliefs give them the right to build a "Jewish state" on land occupied by Palestinians. As a consequence, there are now more than 650,000 Israelis in East Jerusalem and settlements across the green line, the 1949/1967 proposed border. Settlers and Orthodox Zionists overwhelmingly vote for Likud, Netanyahu's Party.

In parallel, the US saw a rebirth of Christian Zionism led by Evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. This movement sees the restoration of the ancient state of Israel -- incorporation of lands beyond the Green line -- and Jewish occupation of Jerusalem as key elements of Biblical prophecy that will lead to the second coming of Jesus and the Rapture. Christian Zionists and Dispensationalists overwhelmingly vote for Republicans.

On May 24th, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to Congress and couched the border dispute in religious language, noting that the land beyond the green line is part of the "ancestral Jewish homeland... In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers." "Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel."

In July of 2000, US President Bill Clinton met with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and tried to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The trio reached a tentative agreement on the sticky issues including borders and then Arafat backed away. Since then relations have deteriorated.

While Palestinians share responsibility for the present state of affairs, the increasing intransigence of Israeli leaders is a special problem for the US because of our 63-year "marriage."

The US is in the position of a husband who, after a long relationship, finds that he and his wife have grown apart. Is it better to separate and face lives of painful isolation or should the couple stay together for "appearances"? That's the dilemma America faces. Our marriage with Israel no longer works. The policies of the current Israeli government are detrimental to the best interests of the United States.

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