At Real Clear World’s Compass blog Greg Scoblete joins in the general hilarity prevailing among some foreign policy observers about Mitt Romney’s criticisms of President Obama’s policy toward Israel. He’s right that there is more than a touch of hyperbole in Romney’s claim he would do “the opposite” of everything the president has done. Obviously, since despite three years of constantly picking fights with Israel and doing his best to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, the U.S.-Israel tie still exists. The president has been slow to match any action with his tough rhetoric about Iran’s nuclear program. But even though he has made it fairly clear that he is far more worried about stopping an Israel attack than in halting Iran’s progress toward a weapon, Romney would not reverse the sanctions that were belatedly imposed on Tehran. So score a point for Romney’s critics on that one.
But Scoblete finds Romney’s promise not to conduct disagreements with Israel in public even more absurd. To his way of thinking, Romney’s pledge to do the opposite of Obama in that respect is not so much silly campaign rhetoric but represents a view of the American people as children. He believes disputes between the two allies should be carried on in the open much the same way the president’s argument with Canada about the Keystone pipeline has been handled. But in making this p0int, it is Scoblete who is making a mistake, not Romney. The pivotal audience for the administration’s spats with Israel is not the American people, though many if not most of them are distressed by the president’s propensity for demonstrating his animus toward Jerusalem. It is the Palestinians who have drawn the wrong conclusions from Obama’s determination, as was often expressed at the beginning of his administration, to change everything George W. Bush did, especially his closeness with Israel. And it is the Arabs’ misinterpretation of the perception of a shift in U.S. policy that has effectively killed the peace process on Obama’s watch.
What Scoblete forgets is that any daylight between Israel and its own real ally has always served to incite the Palestinians to dig in their heels, as has been the case during the last four years as the Palestinian Authority has refused even to talk with Israel’s government.
For decades, Palestinians have dreamed of the United States someday abandoning Israel. They have been encouraged in this belief by many of their foreign supporters, and this foolish notion has drawn strength from any credibility given to the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis that sees the United States being manipulated by a crafty pro-Israel cabal. Peace will be impossible until a sea change occurs with the political culture of the Palestinians that will make it possible for their leaders to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. But one of the necessary preconditions to that sea change is recognition on the part of the Arab and Muslim world that Israel is a permanent fixture in the region and will never be betrayed by its superpower ally.
That is why administrations that publicly reinforce the Arab myth that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel will eventually be dissolved do a disservice to peace as well as to the stability of the region.
Unlike Canada, which needs fear no repercussions from being snubbed by President Obama, Israel remains besieged and beset by hostile regimes and terrorists (who just this week used the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza to attack the Jewish state with dozens of missiles). Israel will survive even another four years of an Obama administration that would have the “flexibility” to resume the public disputes that were the rule in its relations with Israel before it was forced by the president’s re-election campaign to start the Jewish charm offensive it has been conducting for the past several months. And it is unlikely that a Romney administration would go four years without a policy difference with the Israelis. But if all Romney does differently is to conduct those arguments quietly and thereby avoid the ambushes, staged fights and attempts to humiliate Israel’s government that the president has preferred, his administration would be a marked improvement.