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Levy: Neocons Stoking Fear About US-Israel Relationship To Undermine President Obama

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"Levy: Neocons Stoking Fear About US-Israel Relationship To Undermine President Obama"

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Today the neoconservative-leaning Hudson Institute hosted an all day event entitled “U.S.-Israeli Relations at a Crossroads? Challenges to the Special Relationship.” A quick look at the agenda indicates the event was based largely on the presumption that the Obama administration’s approach to Israel represents a departure from past administrations, and endangers the U.S.-Israel relationship.

In the day’s first panel — “The War of Narratives: Do the Obama Administration and Israel Have Different Views of History?” — New America Foundation’s Daniel Levy attacked that presumption head on, blasting cynical attempts by neoconservatives to raise questions about President Obama’s commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship in order to undermine his Middle East peace agenda. “I think it is irresponsible if not dangerous to turn the US-Israel relationship into an instrument of cheap political point scoring,” Levy said. “And I think those who are serious about the US-Israel relationship should be very, very careful in the way in which they discuss this over the next years.”

Levy’s comments came right after co-panelist Doug Feith delivered a meandering disquisition on the history of the conflict. Unsurprisingly, Feith laid all the blame at the feet of the Arabs for not recognizing the right of European colonial powers to divvy up their land, and faulted the Obama administration for failing to recognize Arab opposition to Israel’s existence as rooted in “principle” — an odd claim, given the existence of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel recognition in exchange for ending the occupation. While Levy agreed that we should have a debate in the U.S. over the U.S.-Israel relationship, he insisted that we shouldn’t use the debate “in a scurrilous way… to undermine the administration.”

“What I think this should really be about is not the historical narratives,” Levy said, “this is really about what do we do next.”

I think there are two key point of departure for this conversation and the first point of departure is that America has an interest in seeing this conflict solved and a new equilibrium created, that there are consequences for American national security interest in the continuation of the conflict and its deterioration. And my second premise and point of departure is that the US-Israel strategic relationship needs to be maintained and there are consequences for the United States if that relationship is not maintained.

Now there are two ways of then relating to this. What I would call the head-banging, hard-line ideological right spends much of their time trying to dismiss the first part of that equation and trying to convince us that in fact there is no cost to America to the conflict continuing as is, and America playing the same role, that this is actually a side show, settlements are not a problem, it’s all about Arab rejectionism, the Arabs don’t really care about the Palestinians, this is all an invention. They don’t live in the real world.

The hard-line ideological left questions the second part of the premise. America doesn’t need to maintain its alliance with Israel, they would say. ‘Let’s haul Israel up in front of the International Criminal Court after the Goldstone Report, let’s through Israel under a bus, let’s cut the aid — let’s end the aid — this is too costly for America. I’d suggest there is a way of squaring the circle, of addressing the US national interest, and of maintaining the relationship with Israel. And that that would be the sensible way forward to create a new equilibrium.

Acknowledging the difficult strategic and political situation in which Israel currently finds itself, Levy stressed the importance of American leadership, advising that “we should take very seriously the notion that the way to help Israel out of this malaise is to help Israel make real choices.”

I don’t rule out Benjamin Netanyahu being a Menachem Begin, who made the historical peace with Egypt and withdrew from all of the Sinai, but I don’t think we can expect it to happen of our own volition. I think we have to take seriously the option of American leadership in getting there. And I think we have to take even more seriously an irresponsible effort underway in this country to discredit an American president who is a friend of Israel, and to use and instrumentalize the U.S.-Israel relationship to score cheap points in ways that will undermine that relationship in the long term.

Watch it:

Full transcript after the jump.
Transcript:

DANIEL LEVY: Let’s have a debate about what happened in history. But really, let’s not use this in scurrilous way, in a way to undermine [the] administration, and here’s why. Here’s why, in particular I think to turn around and claim that we’re in a period of new narratives, and I appreciate what Aaron said, but I think this is coming from a different place, I think this is coming from a purposeful, intentional, political place. Here’s why I think this is such a mistake. I think it is irresponsible if not dangerous to turn the US-Israel relationship into an instrument of cheap political point scoring. And I think those who are serious about the US-Israel relationship should be very, very careful in the way in which they discuss this over the next years. I can understand the frustration, really I can. I can understand the frustration that some people have that 78 percent of the Jewish community voted for President Obama, and his numbers remain consistently high amongst the American Jewish community. There have been elections, many elections, that have gone ways I wouldn’t have liked them to go. I can understand that, and you even have some doyennes of the neoconservative movement thinking maybe this is the moment where Jews will finally turn away from liberalism. I don’t think it will happen, but don’t align yourself with the Limbaugh-Glenn Beck variations of the movement.

Now, what I think this should really be about is not the historical narratives, this is really about what do we do next, and I’d begin to close in saying the following: I think there are two key point of departure for this conversation and the first point of departure is that America has an interest in seeing this conflict solved and a new equilibrium created, that there are consequences for American national security interest in the continuation of the conflict and its deterioration. And my second premise and point of departure is that the US-Israel strategic relationship needs to be maintained and there are consequences for the United States if that relationship is not maintained. Now there are two ways of then relating to this. What I would call the head-banging, hard-line ideological right spends much of their time trying to dismiss the first part of that equation and trying to convince us that in fact there is no cost to America to the conflict continuing as is, and America playing the same role, that this is actually a side show, settlements are not a problem, it’s all about Arab rejectionism, the Arabs don’t really care about the Palestinians, this is all an invention. They don’t live in the real world. The hard-line ideological left questions the second part of the premise. America doesn’t need to maintain its alliance with Israel, they would say. ‘Let’s haul Israel up in front of the International Criminal Court after the Goldstone Report, let’s through Israel under a bus, let’s cut the aid — let’s end the aid — this is too costly for America, let’s drop America. I’d suggest there is a way of squaring the circle, of addressing the US national interest, and of maintaining the relationship with Israel. And that that would be the sensible way forward to create a new equilibrium. Yes, it means doing things that might not be simple. It means an American leadership role in trying to end the occupation, in trying to get the two state solution, in talking to people — indirectly, I would suggest — that probably need to be brought into this process, probably in coming up with security guarantees and in addressing Israel’s security concerns. If that sounds radical, that’s probably because of the venue we’re at, rather than the radical nature of the suggestions. But I do think this is really what we should be discussing.

Many of you are very familiar with Israel, I don’t need to tell you, it’s not easy to talk about, but what a dysfunctional polity Israel is today in particular, in the following way: the Israeli political system is neither designed nor structured, and perhaps not capable today of taking the big decisions that isreal has to face up to. And I would suggest the following: Israel has no alternative. On many issues Israel has an alternative, on the issue of ending the occupation the Palestinians have alternatives — a one-state solution is a real alternative for the palestinians. For Israel, not so much I would suggest and I don’t want to quote the very uncomfortable words used by Israel’s previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in terms of what it means for Israel and Israel’s future when he used words and comparisons to South Africa. I won’t do that, but that’s what he said and it shouldn’t be sneezed at. Of course, there’s no one Israeli narrative, and the narrative of Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr. Lieberman is different from that of Olmert and even Sharon’s talk of the occupation and Livni and Rabin, but I do think that we should take very seriously the notion that the way to help Israeli out of this malaise is to help Israel make real choices. I don’t rule out Benjamin Netanyahu being a Menachem Begin, who made the historical peace with Egypt and withdrew from all of the Sinai, but I don’t think we can expect it to happen of our own volition. I think we have to take seriously the option of American leadership in getting there. And I think we have to take even more seriously an irresponsible effort underway in this country to discredit an American president who is a friend of Israel, and to use and instrumentalize the U.S.-Israel relationship to score cheap points in ways that will undermine that relationship in the long term.

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