Via Laura Rozen, Israel’s Yediot Ahronoth reported yesterday that Vice President Biden had some very strong words for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu behind closed doors:
People who heard what Biden said were stunned. “This is starting to get dangerous for us,” Biden castigated his interlocutors. “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel’s actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.
In response, Abe Foxman deployed one of the most serious weapons in the Israel-debate-policeman’s arsenal:
While much of this is understandable, there needs to be some stepping back so that there are no long-term deleterious results from this contretemps. The vice president’s comments in his Tel Aviv University address softening the U.S. response was helpful. Less helpful were his comments that Israel’s announcement on building in East Jerusalem was endangering American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the kind of rhetoric that does exactly what Mr. Biden has studiously avoided doing, linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to America’s larger Middle East challenges, and it unnecessarily calls into question Israel’s role as an ally and the impact on American interests. The Mearsheimer and Walts of this world will delight in this kind of criticism of Israel.
You’ll notice that Foxman doesn’t offer an actual counter-argument here, he just criticizes Biden’s “rhetoric” by name-checking the dreaded professors Walt and Mearsheimer, which is the equivalent of sticking his fingers in his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA!”
Foxman is quite incorrect that Biden has “studiously avoided” linking the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to America’s larger Middle East challenges. Here’s what Biden said his speech at the 2009 American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference:
The continuation of Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts strengthen Iran’s strategic position. They give Iran a playing field upon which to extend its influence, sponsor extremist elements, inflame public opinion…
There are many reasons to pursue an end to these conflicts. It gives Israelis peace and security they deserve; to help the Palestinians fulfill their aspirations of an independent and better life; to ease tension in the regions — in this region.
The Iraq Study Group came to a similar conclusion, stating in its 2006 report (pdf) that “The United States cannot achieve its goals in the Middle East unless it deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict and regional instability.”
This is, or should be, unremarkable. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a driver (not the only, but one) of extremism and violence in the region, and thus it’s in the U.S. interest to resolve it. As Israel’s key patron and security guarantor, it also stands to reason that bad behavior by Israel reflects poorly on the U.S., and negatively impacts our ability to achieve our goals.
What is remarkable, though, is how unacceptable this is to Foxman, and how nervous he seems to get over the U.S.-Israel relationship being discussed in such terms. Frankly, I think Foxman should show a bit more confidence in the strength of the U.S.-Israel bond. It can withstand this sort of scrutiny. But there’s no U.S. alliance or relationship — no matter how “special” — that should be above criticism or exempt from rigorous strategic analysis.