The Israel-US relationship: Where is the love?
Speaking at the Israeli Presidential Conference earlier this year, former US Ambassador Martin Indyk described Israel’s psyche – of wanting not only to hear about but also “feel” the United States’ love for it – as “neurosis.” The truth is, Israel’s neurosis has long paid off. Successive US administrations, diplomats and presidential hopefuls spare no opportunity to shower their love and reiterate that the bonds between the two countries are “unshakeable.”
All healthy relationships require affirmation. When only one party expresses affection, praise and love, the other feels resentful and taken for granted. In the case of the “unshakeable” relationship between Israel and the United States, that affirmation is a one-way street.
For many Israeli opinion- and policy-makers, the United States can never love Israel enough. No matter how many times Washington says “I love you,” Jerusalem says “prove it.” When American leaders and opinion-makers highlight the military, financial, diplomatic and moral support they give Israel, Israelis insist it’s not enough.
To be sure, a small number of Israel’s top government ministers and most of its diplomats publicly acknowledge the great, widespread and unwavering support the United States gives Jerusalem. But more often than not, criticism, rather than praise and thanks, is par for the course.
There is no doubt that the beginning of the Israeli-US relationship was based on strategic interests. When Washington began its full-fledged support for Israel in the late 1960s, the world was divided by the Iron Curtain and Israel truly was one of America’s few allies in the Middle East. Today, however, one is hard-pressed to find such clear-cut examples of vital US strategic interests in Israel.
While Israel is busy touting its self-declared status of “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the United States has spent the past decade, upwards of $1 trillion and sacrificed thousands of lives to create others.
Meanwhile, the main area that the US views as a strategic interest vis-à-vis Israel is the very issue the current government in Jerusalem appears furthest from advancing – making peace with the Palestinians. As countless American leaders have argued, achieving Middle East peace is a fundamental strategic, financial and military interest of Washington.
Leaders in Jerusalem have themselves been careful not to publicly disparage American support for Israel but yet they have done nothing to dispel the near-constant attacks on the current administration. Nearly every morning in Israeli newspapers one can find opinion pieces deriding President Barack Obama for being “soft on Iran.” Obama’s audacity to say out loud what has been known and accepted for decades – that the 1967 Armistice Lines will be a starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians – is described as “throwing Israel under the bus.” That the US President visited Cairo but has yet to arrive in Jerusalem is used to delusionally speculate that he not only favors Arabs and Muslims over Jews and Israelis, but to arrogantly assert that America’s own national interests in improving ties with the Arab world should take a back seat to a 30-minute tour of Yad Vashem.
Just as politicians and officials in Washington go out of their way to reaffirm their sometimes seemingly irrational “love” for and “unshakeable” commitment to Israel, it wouldn’t hurt Israeli leaders to publicly express their own appreciation for America’s truly unprecedented loyalty and support. Regardless of whether US support can actually be taken for granted, Israeli leaders only harm themselves by projecting the perception that their national interests supersede those of their lone patron state. The United States has interests of its own, and while Israel may very well be one of them, it would serve the American and Israeli publics to be reminded why exactly that is.