Thursday, June 3, 2010

Israel: With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

There is no piece of ground anywhere in this world that has seen more blood spilled upon it than that hotly contested strip of land that today comprises two of the most divisive states in the world: Israel and Palestine.  There is no more tightly interwoven web of intermingled conflicts and interests.  America sits squarely in the center of this web and we have a history there of either snatching victory from the jaws of defeat or just the opposite.

The United States has been, is, and should be the guarantor of the continued existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East.  We made the existence of Israel possible when President Truman made America the first major nation to recognize it.  He felt, and was correct in doing so, that America and the world owed it to the Jewish people after the program of extinction that was perpetrated and allowed by fellow developed nations (not just the Nazis) to give them a state they could call their own.  The U.S. has a responsibility to guarantee the continued existence of the state of Israel.  After what the Jewish people have been through and what they continue to go through, surrounded on all sides by nations that call for their extinction, they have earned our respect.

HOWEVER (a big however), in standing surety for Israel's continued existence, the U.S. has also acquired a collateral responsibility to ensure that Israel acts as a nation worthy of its protection, lest it become too much of a liability.  How can a country that was recognized as a nation in the wake of a racial genocide that included some of the most horrible scenes of human cruelty ever perpetrate comparable acts against another people themselves?  How long can that same nation ignore what are clearly fair and equitable agreements they have agreed to themselves (ie, stop expansion of settlements)?  How long can that nation disrespect America, the very country that first allowed its existence and stands to guarantee it continues to exist?  America takes very big hits in the Middle East due to its continued support of Israel, a region it very badly needs to win support in.

As if things weren't bad enough, add in Turkey, another key U.S. ally and NATO member, also home to military bases vital to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.  Compare that with the vital resources and the admirable audacity of the Israeli intelligence.  Then throw in Arab nations the U.S. also needs as allies in the fight against terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The U.S. is in the middle of more than just a blockade; we are in the middle of a stand off that puts us between countries that we have responsibilities to and whose friendship we badly need.

The question is where should the line be drawn?  Israel will continue to exist and the U.S. will and should continue to guarantee that.  But there is no such thing as a one sided agreement.  As soon as one side doesn't uphold its end, the other may well terminate it.  Israel is an independent sovereign state, but the U.S. bears a large burden in consideration and should receive a requisite amount of influence.  When the burden that we bear as America shifts too far out of balance with the influence we have over Israel, it is time to demand Israel act.  If they do not, then we can fairly withdraw our support (which we shouldn't) or take action such as economic sanctions or a 'pause' on cooperation until the balance is struck again. 

Right now, Israel and Mr. Netanyahu have tipped the scales in the wrong direction.  It started with questionable acts during the most recent Gaza action, continued with ignoring its agreement obligations on the very day Vice President Biden arrived there, and continues with the rash, ill-explained action against an 'aid flotilla.'  The U.S. needs to tell Israel very clearly that they must show they will act in good faith to uphold their agreements and act like a country that deserves support, not as an oppressive rogue or loose cannon.  Their actions are quickly becoming indefensible and too heavy a burden for America to bear.  They must take action or we should take action.  The U.S. will and should continue to support Israel, but Israel must act like a nation that is worthy of that support from America.