Precisely why there is a crisis between Israel and the United States

For anyone with the least doubts about exactly why there is a political crisis between the United States government and the Netanyahu Cabinet in Israel — although not a strategic crisis between the two countries — or why this crisis may deepen dramatically in the coming months and years, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon has been kind enough to clarify everything in today’s issue of Yedioth Ahronoth in Hebrew. In an interview with reporter Yuval Karni, Boogie laid out the “thinking” of the extreme right wing of the current Israeli cabinet with breathtaking shamelessness and astonishing frankness. Everyone in the White House and Congress, and all Americans for that matter, should take careful note of what this gentleman has to say about what is almost universally recognized to be a core American national security priority, and take the measure of precisely how delusional and dangerous this kind of thinking truly is and what it implies for both American interests and US-Israel relations.

First off, Boogie is quite clear that all dealings with the United States on peace and the whole thrust of Israeli diplomacy regarding negotiations is a conscious deception, at least from his point of view: “Some of what we have to do is maneuver with the American administration and the European establishment, which are also nourished by Israeli elements, which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached.” So, the stupid Americans have to be manipulated into accepting the illusion that the Israeli government, or at least his wing of it, has the least interest or belief in peace. In other words, they have to be successfully lied to. A good example of this kind of “maneuver” in his eyes is the so-called settlement freeze: “We had to do a diplomatic maneuver, and we went with the lesser of the evils.? And all of this deception is required because, “I say out of knowledge, nobody in the forum of seven [the inner Netanyahu cabinet] thinks that we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” So much for American national security priorities and interests!

In his eyes, the American and international consensus regarding the need for a two-state peace agreement and other land-for-peace deals is absurd and not to be considered for a second: “Why is it taken for granted that in order to obtain peace, we must withdraw? As far as I am concerned, there is no discussion of this at all. No discussion.” Asked about the prospect of annexing occupied territory, Boogie says blandly, “We will get to that. At least in the settlement blocs.”

For Ya’alon, the problem between the two governments is entirely due to the Americans and their idiotic misperceptions: ?There are people in America [i.e., the Obama administration and much of the foreign policy establishment] who see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the main cause of instability in the Middle East, and this perspective has support in the administration, but what can we do?” In other words, Israel has no responsibility, its policies are irrelevant to regional stability or politics, and there is nothing Israel can do one way or the other to influence the Middle Eastern scene.

In Boogie’s eyes, the biggest reason for the political confrontation is, again, American stupidity, most specifically in not recognizing the invalidity and “failure” of the land-for-peace formula: “…the idea of land for peace has failed. We got land for terror in Judea and Samaria and land for rockets in Gaza. What, the Americans do not see it?” What a bunch of idiots! It’s very clear that Boogie, the Minister for Strategic Affairs no less, is among those Israelis who feel very strongly that Palestinians do not and cannot pose any kind of strategic threat to Israel and that an agreement with them is neither possible nor desirable, let alone necessary. However, “delegitimization [in the eyes of the international community] is a strategic threat.? Needless to say, he does not recognize the glaringly obvious and intimate connection between the policies to which he is committed, and that are so shocking and obnoxious to the international community, and the international “delegitimization” that concerns him so much.

As for the American public, Boogie actually seems to think there is a possibility that most Americans might side with him and Netanyahu, and not President Obama, Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton: “There is sweeping support for Israel in the United States. I am not sure where the American public stands on this crisis, whom it supports more.” It’s quite clear that this individual has no appreciation whatsoever for the depth of anger among the US government and public regarding the repeated insults delivered first to Biden and then to Obama himself. This is not surprising perhaps, given that he believes that it is all simply the result of American stupidity. And, if anyone was questioning where the impulse was coming from to deliberately announce settlement activities in occupied East Jerusalem strategically timed to embarrass and insult senior American leaders, or what type of mentality would consider that in any sense a good idea, I think they now have their answer quite clearly.

It’s hard to know which is Boogie’s most impressive delusion, but it might be his hilarious protestation that “I come with clean hands.” Or, it might be his insistence that everything is just peachy keen with Israel: “Why do you say that everything is stuck? The country is being built up, the economy is thriving, there are investments in infrastructure and in education, settlement, water projects, alternative energy. What is stuck here? The country is blossoming.” The captain of the Titanic couldn’t have put it any better. Iceberg? What iceberg?

The obvious temptations are to dismissively say either:
1) this guy is cuckoo for cocoa puffs, and not to be taken seriously
2) this is just strategic political pandering to the extreme right, and also not to be taken seriously.

And to be sure, one of the most salient features of this second Netanyahu premiership has been a careful tacking between measures designed to placate the Americans on the one hand and the settlers on the other hand. This Prime Minister has even been careful to always balance statements pleasing to the settlers with every statement pleasing to the Obama administration. So, this could well be an effort on Netanyahu’s part to unleash Boogie in all his unhinged glory to hurl as much red meat as possible in the direction of the extreme right in preparation for the steps that are going to be required to mend fences with the Americans. It is definitely possible to read this as a not-so-subtle message to the Israeli extremist community not to get too upset about what is going have to be done vis-à-vis the United States in the coming days in order to restore relations. In other words, these comments certainly demonstrate why there is a crisis between the American and Israeli governments, but they don’t necessarily reveal the deepest strategy of the current prime minister. It could all be read as part of an extremely elaborate series of strategic ploys to balance irreconcilable constituencies domestically and internationally. That’s a distinct possibility.

But what if Boogie really does reflect, if not Netanyahu’s fundamental personal attitudes, at least the genuine positions of the Cabinet as a whole, or at very least of the “seven?” First of all, that guarantees an almost limitless series of confrontations with the Obama administration that would be very difficult to contain and would either lead to the forced dissolution of this coalition due to outside pressure or a political deterioration so grave with the United States that it begins to become a real strategic issue between the countries. If the United States regards it as a strategic imperative to have a peace agreement and Israel regards it as a strategic imperative not to, then the confrontations will inevitably shift from the political to the strategic register over time. How far it can go depends on too many variables to decisively evaluate, and it seems unlikely that the Israeli public would sit back and let it go that far, but with outlandish comments such as this made so breezily and so publicly, one certainly has to wonder.

One also has to wonder what that wing of the Israeli national security establishment, especially in and around the military, which may be skeptical about the mechanism for achieving it but certainly recognizes the strategic need for an agreement with the Palestinians, must be thinking when they read this from their Minister of Strategic Affairs in Israel’s most widely-circulated Hebrew daily. Only a few weeks ago at the Washington Institute, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, “A successful peace process ? especially with the Palestinians… is a compelling imperative for the state of Israel.” He called this, “the uppermost responsibility of any Israeli government.” I think it’s pretty clear that not only does he mean this, but that he speaks for and represents that wing of the government that is closest to much of the uniformed defense establishment in Israel.

The always-impressive Shai Feldman of Brandeis University said at a panel on which we were both speaking the other day at Boston College that there are three separate governments in the present Israeli cabinet: a Barak government aligned with the military and the defense establishment that understands the strategic need for an agreement with the Palestinians; a Lieberman government aligned with the settlers and the ultra-right that does not think any such agreement is either possible or desirable; and a Netanyahu government that likes to play the referee and has constructed an aura of ambiguity on the question of peace. Boogie is reportedly very close with Bibi, so given Feldman’s analysis, the question would be: is he part of the Lieberman/ultra-right camp that has its own perspective but does not really dominate or define the thinking of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet as a whole; or is he part of the Netanyahu camp and these words are a roundabout way of the Prime Minister himself expressing his views and explaining, in Hebrew, to his Israeli audience why there is suddenly a crisis with the moronic gringos? I think the answer to that question will determine a very great deal about where not only peace, but US-Israel relations, go in the coming months and years.