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New Phase in the US-Israel Relations?

The wave of pressures exercised by Washington on Israel could signal the beginning of a new era in the relations between the US and Israeli governments.  The administration of US President Barack Obama has reiterated the requirement that a Palestinian state be created, a key issue, which is not supported by the new right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel has to work toward a two-state solution . . . not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement,” said US Vice President Joe Biden, at the same time urging the right-wing Netanyahu coalition to commit itself to a two-state solution to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.  These remarks came on top of Washington’s demand that Israel adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the global pact that seeks to limit the spread of atomic weapons.

On the other hand, the aspirations of the new US president include an attempt at diplomatic rapprochement with Iran.  This aspect is at least questionable for Israel because the Israeli government considers the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran as a direct threat to its very existence.

Political analyst Efraim Davidi of Tel Aviv University, however, says to Radio Nederland that the United States has not radically revised its policy towards the Middle East, Israel, and the yet-to-be-established Palestinian state and that the US statements of the last few days reflect only a difference of opinion between the two countries.

Radio Nederland: Only a few days are left before the first meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the pressure from the White House leaves no room for doubt.  Doesn’t it look as if a change in relations between the two countries is on the horizon?

Efraim Davidi: I think there is room for doubt because US policy has not changed yet if we look at the three main conflicts: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the Iraqi conflict with the occupation of Iraq; and the conflict due to the occupation of Afghanistan.  President Obama has decided to reinforce the occupation in Afghanistan while preparing for some withdrawal from Iraq over a period of two to three years; and, as for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is only a series of statements that break with the previous policy of the Bush administration but that do not define a new policy.

RN: There are substantive differences between the strategic priorities of the two countries, although Israeli President Shimon Peres, who met with Obama on Tuesday, said that Israel should support Washington’s strategy of rapprochement with Iran.

ED: The problem is the following: the United States has military and economic policy levers to influence the policy of Israel if it so desires.  For the time being, all Washington is doing is to make statements.  There are different views on the issues under discussion, but we must bear in mind that the United States has not pressed for or demanded anything so far.  It’s only a matter of difference of opinion, nothing more.

RN: Nevertheless, various statements have been made, for instance, at the United Nations which criticized Israel’s operation against Gaza and its six controversial bombings of UN premises, and there is a demand that Israel sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

ED: For the time being, differences are only at the level of discourse, at the level of opinion.  There hasn’t been any collision, any kind of forceful political confrontation between the United States and Israel.  We can forget about the Bush administration of the last eight years, but even in the Bush era there were differences between the US and Israel governments.  For example, in the Clinton era, there were differences regarding the policy on settlements, regarding the US economic aid and the uses to which the aid money was put.  But clearly it’s not a question of assessing the depth of the discussions between the two sides now — rather, the question is whether the United States is prepared to radically revise its policy on the Middle East, Israel, and the yet-to-be-established Palestinian state, and so far there’s no evidence for that.

RN: What do you think will happen?

ED: That is difficult to predict because as in other cases in the world, for example in the case of Cuba, Obama is rejecting the policy of the previous Republican administration of Bush, and is trying to lay out a new line, the Democrat line, but on the other hand this new policy does not mark a profound break with the past — merely a different accent.

RN: In Jerusalem there is much concern. . . .

ED: They are concerned because this is an ultra-right government, a politically weak one to boot, which can’t appreciate any kind of criticism or difference of opinion.


This original interview “¿Nueva fase en las relaciones EE.UU. e Israel?” was published by Radio Nederland on 7 May 2009. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).


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