Mon 19 Feb 2024 5:24 pm - Jerusalem Time

Hebrew Medi: Bad news from Washington

By Amos Yadlin

Last week, I visited Washington, and during that time, I met officials at the political and professional levels, in both the administration and Congress, major research institutes, senior journalists, and influencers of public opinion. In the discussion and meeting rooms, during many previous visits to Washington, I have always felt the stability of the relationship and friendship between the two allies, even when there were differences of opinion between them. This time, I felt that something had cracked in American confidence in Israel.

Doubts in Washington are deepening regarding the nature of relations with Israel, and those related to the question of whether Israel's policies serve American strategic interests, but also whether these policies serve Israeli strategic interests themselves. These feelings toward Israel prevail among those considered to be part of the American “mainstream,” and not only among parts of the progressive left in the Democratic Party.

It is surprising, somewhere, that this worrying mentality in Washington comes precisely after the “massacre” that occurred on October 7, and in light of the unprecedented mobilization of the United States, under great guidance and leadership from Biden, to support Israel politically and militarily on all fronts. The confrontation that was imposed on her. In many of the meetings, those I spoke to repeated their questions regarding the reasons that lead the Israeli government to choose public conflict with the American administration that stands by its side in its darkest situations, saying that it is appropriate today for Israel to hold a dialogue with this administration regarding partnership in determining the future of the region. And the future of the Palestinian arena within it, in a way that guarantees the Israeli security interest.

The US administration is deeply aware of the importance of dismantling Hamas, and also realizes that Israel will not be able to stop the war, especially at a time when 134 kidnapped persons are being held in Gaza. Moreover, and in a way that contradicts the most important Western countries, the administration also recognizes the need to carry out military activity in Rafah, and does not reject it at all, but demands solutions for the 1.4 million Gazans who remain there.

Washington is also making efforts to give Israel more time and continue its support, even if this incurs heavy political costs, which President Biden will pay in this election year. At the same time, the administration expects the Israeli government to coordinate its position with it, and it expects it, in particular, to ensure the entry of humanitarian aid in sufficient volume, and to make military activities in the Gaza Strip precise in order to reduce civilian casualties (losses that would exacerbate pressures On the administration), in addition to curbing nationalist violence [settler violence] in the West Bank. However, the administration doubts Israel's ability to achieve the goals it set for the war through military effort alone, without working politically in parallel to create an alternative to Hamas in Gaza.

What is seen as Israeli avoidance of making practical and political decisions regarding the “next day” in Gaza and the region raises deep frustration in Washington, and makes it difficult for it to continue supporting Israel in the war, and this political vacuum has been entered by other parties in the American administration, and Europe, And the moderate Arab countries are pushing towards recognition of a Palestinian state.

The United States has a great interest in the region’s problems. Israel does not exploit this interest

It is clear that Israel has no interest in the Palestinian people, large sectors of whom support Hamas's "crimes" on October 7, enjoying international legitimacy and a "prize" represented by recognition of a Palestinian state. The way to prevent such scenarios from being achieved is to conduct a constructive dialogue with the American administration regarding a common regional vision, in cooperation with the camp of moderate Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia. Within the framework of this dialogue, Israel must stipulate, when looking to reach any political solution, that the entity be The Palestinian politician is disarmed, and is not allowed to engage in “terrorist” activity from his lands, and stops paying salaries to “saboteurs” and incitement against Israel. Most of these conditions are accepted by the Americans, as well as by moderate Arabs, and Israel has a historic opportunity to consolidate them in international discourse.

The American strategy, to get out of the crisis in Gaza and the Middle East, depends on the immediate implementation of an exchange deal that would lead to a truce in the war, and allow for several measures to be taken, including: accelerating comprehensive reforms in the Palestinian Authority (according to Biden’s vision of the “renewed” authority), Stabilizing the situation in the West Bank on the eve of Ramadan, which is considered a sensitive month, and the Jewish holidays that follow it, and beginning to create an authoritarian alternative to the Hamas movement in Gaza, while recruiting the Gulf states, and pushing towards a political settlement with Lebanon, based on Security Council Resolution No. 1701, which will prevent the outbreak of a large-scale war between Israel and Hezbollah.

According to the American perception, achieving security stability in the Levant is a guarantee of the United States’ success in calming the Red Sea and the Gulf, and preventing it from sliding into a large-scale military confrontation with Iran’s supporters in the region, especially the Houthis in Yemen and the Shiite militias in Iraq, a confrontation that could The United States suffers the loss of more American soldiers in the region, and the scope of things could expand into a direct confrontation with Iran.

According to the administration, all of these matters, in parallel with the launch of a political movement that brings together Israel and the Palestinians, and forms a political horizon, will allow pushing towards normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and the formation of the moderate camp in the Middle East, so that it constitutes a counterweight to the escalating threats from Iran and its supporters. 

The US administration is working under an intense and stressful timetable, against the backdrop of the approaching US elections, and estimates within the administration indicate that the window to push towards normalization could close within the next few weeks.

This administration is ready to enter into an in-depth dialogue with Israel regarding the delineation of the general strategic lines of the region, and to invest a lot of attention, such as the effort expended in normal days in competing with China. However, the Israeli government’s reactions and measures are viewed in Washington as rejectionist and ungrateful, and in situations like these, the tendency in Washington seems to be increasing toward pushing for steps from above Israel’s head. 

The mounting civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip have led to the launch of several measures aimed at ensuring Israel is committed to its obligations to use American weapons in accordance with international law, while preserving human rights. The United States, in cooperation with Arab countries, is coordinating multiple steps as part of its preparations for the next day in Gaza, and what are seen as gaps in addressing the problems of national crimes in the West Bank [settler attacks] have led to the imposition of sanctions against settlers. 

The Washington Post indicates that the administration is working with Arab countries on a political initiative to push for a two-state solution, while Washington is also preoccupied with the issue of the possibility of achieving a “small American-Saudi deal,” without “Israel and Congress,” and without the need for approval. on her.

Will Israel thwart the broad American move?

Despite the negative direction in which relations with Washington are drifting, it is important to emphasize that the administration still has a deep willingness to listen to a clear vision from Israel regarding the directions it seeks and the political goals it seeks to achieve historical experience proves that Israel has a wide ability to influence the actions of American administrations, based on the branching channels of communication that exist between the two countries at all levels, and because of the deep alliance that exists between them.

Therefore, the Israeli government’s willingness to enter into a deep and serious dialogue with the administration will allow it to influence the policies of the United States, and even shape them, according to vital Israeli interests. Similar to ensuring that Israel maintains broad security control and powers in the area west of the Jordan River in any future political settlement, these powers were completely clear to the administration, even before October 7, and their clarity has increased afterward. 

This is in addition to disarming any Palestinian political entity in Gaza and the West Bank, in addition to preserving the freedom of Israeli security action in the field in order to continue dismantling Hamas cells, for several reasons, including preventing the emergence of the “Hezbollah model” in Gaza, that is, the model that within its framework, the movement continues to achieve its military growth under a Palestinian national unity government that enjoys international legitimacy.

On the other hand, the continuation of the policy of confronting the American administration could obscure Israeli interests, and may even harm them in multiple contexts through the political “Iron Dome” that America provides in various international organizations, especially in the Security Council, in addition to effective protection from missiles launched in our direction from Yemen, in addition to military patience, freedom of movement and deterrence, and we do not forget economic assistance, the provision of advanced technologies, regional integration, influence in curbing the Iranian nuclear threat, and other interests.

The bottom line: It is not too late to change direction, and work in understanding and cooperation with the Biden administration, especially since Israel has no alternative to strong American support, something that became very clear after October 7. 

On the other hand, if Israel continues to follow the current confrontational approach with the US administration, it will be seen as sabotaging the strategic interests of the United States and interfering in internal politics in Washington, and the damage that will be caused to Israel’s standing in the United States will make us deeply regret it.


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