Briefing: Strains in US 'special relationship' with Israel
The 'special relationship' the US and Israel have long enjoyed is being tested again today as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses AIPAC, the most powerful Israel lobby in Washington.
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“There is no question that Israel is a strategic albatross for the US. The negatives far outweigh the positives,” says John Mearsheimer, coauthor of the controversial book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.” “And this recent crisis in the wake of Vice President Biden’s trip to Israel illustrates that very clearly.”Skip to next paragraph
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If the US is such a close ally, why can’t it help seal a peace deal?
With Democrats’ strong Jewish constituency and Republicans’ pro-Israel Christian evangelical base, US leaders rarely push hard for concessions. And the absence of Israeli concessions makes it tough for Palestinian leaders to convince their constituents that a renewed peace process will yield positive results.
“The problem is that we’ve had this special relationship where American support is completely unconditional,” says Harvard professor Stephen Walt, coauthor of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.” “It’s not that the US doesn’t have enormous potential leverage.... It’s that American diplomats and presidents can’t really use that leverage because of the political price they would pay back here in the US.”
The US must also be careful about not appearing to strong-arm Israel, since that can sow political instability. Israel’s coalition government gives disproportionate strength to pro-settler parties, which makes it hard for any prime minister to act boldly.
“[Prime Minister] Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] may make concessions in favor of Israel-US relations, except such concessions that may risk the life of his coalition,” says former Israeli peace negotiator Ambassador Uri Savir. “Jerusalem is such an issue. Yet he will make an effort to find a middle ground.”
Does Israel need the US to make peace with the Palestinians?
Not necessarily. The 1993 Oslo Accords had little US involvement. But the US – which brings a formidable combination of economic and military strength to its alliance with Israel – is considered by some as critical to sealing a peace treaty, especially to guarantee the security risks of Israeli territorial concessions.
The US also has the trust of most Israelis, as underscored by a recent public opinion poll that showed that 69 percent of Israelis see the Obama administration's Israel policy in a positive light. Despite a long-standing negative view toward other outside actors, Israeli leaders and the Israeli public have developed a profound sense of confidence and trust in the US,” wrote former Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky in their 2008 book, “Negotiating Arab Israeli Peace.”