Why Israel Is Nervous~By ELLIOTT ABRAMS

Why Israel Is Nervous

Tension is escalating between the U.S and Israel. The problem: The administration views the Israeli-Palestinian issue as the root of all problems, while Israel is focused on Iran’s nuclear threat, says Elliott Abrams.

The tension in U.S.-Israel relations was manifest this past week as an extraordinary troupe of Obama administration officials visited Jerusalem. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, National Security Advisor James Jones, special Middle East envoy George Mitchell and new White House adviser Dennis Ross all showed up in Israel’s capital in an effort to…well, to do something. It was not quite clear what.

Since President Obama came to office on Jan. 20 and then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 31, the main motif in relations between the two governments has been friction. While nearly 80% of American Jews voted for Mr. Obama, that friction has been visible enough to propel him to meet with American Jewish leaders recently to reassure them about his policies. But last month, despite those reassurances, both the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League issued statements critical of the president’s handling of Israel. Given the warm relations during the Bush years and candidate Obama’s repeated statements of commitment to the very best relations with Israel, why have we fallen into this rut?

Lorenzo Petrantoni

U.S.-Israel relations are often depicted as an extended honeymoon, but that’s a false image. Harry Truman, who was a Bible-believing Christian Zionist, defied the secretary of state he so admired, George C. Marshall, and won a place in Israel’s history by recognizing the new state 11 minutes after it declared its independence in 1948. Relations weren’t particularly warm under Eisenhower—who, after all, demanded that Israel, along with Britain and France, leave Suez in 1956. The real alliance began in 1967, after Israel’s smashing victory in the Six Day War, and it was American arms and Nixon’s warnings to the Soviet Union to stay out that allowed Israel to survive and prevail in the 1973 war. Israelis are no fans of President Carter and, as his more recent writings have revealed, his own view of Israel is very hostile. During the George H.W. Bush and Clinton years, there were moments of close cooperation, but also of great friction—as when Bush suspended loan guarantees to Israel, or when the Clinton administration butted heads with Mr. Netanyahu time after time during peace negotiations. Even during the George W. Bush years, when Israel’s struggle against the terrorist “intifada” and the U.S. “global war on terror” led to unprecedented closeness and cooperation, there was occasional friction over American pressure for what Israelis viewed as endless concessions to the Palestinians to enable the signing of a peace agreement before the president’s term ended. This “special relationship” has been marked by intense and frequent contact and often by extremely close (and often secret) collaboration, but not by the absence of discord.

A Relationship Marked by Friction and Warmth

U.S.-Israel relations are often depicted as an extended honeymoon, but that’s a false image.

May 14, 1948

Israel declares independence, President Harry Truman recognizes Israel 11 minutes later, Arab states attack and War of Independence begins.


Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is founded by Yasser Arafat with the goal of destroying the state of Israel.

[Israel]Associated Press



“Six-Day War”: Israel captures Sinai, Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem.

[Israel]Popperfoto/Getty Images



“Yom Kippur War”: a surprise attack on Israel by Arab states on the Jewish holy day. Soviets back Arabs, Nixon orders U.S. arms airlift to Israel.


Oslo Accords are signed; Israel and PLO agree to mutual recognition. Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat receive the Nobel Peace Prize following year.


President Bill Clinton’s efforts to broker Israel-PLO and Israel-Syria peace deals fail. Intifada begins; suicide bombings hit civilian targets in Israel.


President George W. Bush announces that U.S. will support the creation of a Palestinian state.

[Israel]AFP/Getty Images



Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdraws all Israeli settlements from Gaza.

December 2008-January 2009

Israeli forces enter Gaza to fight Hamas, end rocketing across border.

Yet no other administration, even among those experiencing considerable dissonance with Israel, started off with as many difficulties as Obama’s. There are two explanations for this problem, and the simpler one is personal politics. Mr. Netanyahu no doubt remembers very well the last Democratic administration’s glee at his downfall in 1999, something Dennis Ross admits clearly in his book “The Missing Peace.” The prime minister must wonder if the current bilateral friction is an effort to persuade Israelis that he is not the right man for the job, or at least to persuade them that his policies must be rejected. When Israeli liberals plead for Obama to “talk to Israel,” they are hoping that Obama will help them revive the Israeli Left, recently vanquished in national elections. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Mr. Obama and his team wish former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had won the top job and view Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud Party with some suspicion. The result, of course, is to make personal relations among policy makers more difficult, and to make trust and confidence between the two governments harder as well.

But the Obama administration has managed to win the mistrust of most Israelis, not just conservative politicians. Despite his great popularity in many parts of the world, in Israel Obama is now seen as no ally. A June poll found that just 6% of Israelis called him “pro-Israel,” when 88% had seen President George W. Bush that way. So the troubles between the U.S. and Israel are not fundamentally found in the personal relations among policy makers.

The deeper problem—and the more complex explanation of bilateral tensions—is that the Obama administration, while claiming to separate itself from the “ideologues” of the Bush administration in favor of a more balanced and realistic Middle East policy, is in fact following a highly ideological policy path. Its ability to cope with, indeed even to see clearly, the realities of life in Israel and the West Bank and the challenge of Iran to the region is compromised by the prism through which it analyzes events.

The administration view begins with a critique of Bush foreign policy—as much too reliant on military pressure and isolated in the world. The antidote is a policy of outreach and engagement, especially with places like Syria, Venezuela, North Korea and Iran. Engagement with the Muslim world is a special goal, which leads not only to the president’s speech in Cairo on June 4 but also to a distancing from Israel so as to appear more “even-handed” to Arab states. Seen from Jerusalem, all this looks like a flashing red light: trouble ahead.

Iran is the major security issue facing Israel, which sees itself confronting an extremist regime seeking nuclear weapons and stating openly that Israel should be wiped off the map. Israel believes the military option has to be on the table and credible if diplomacy and sanctions are to have any chance, and many Israelis believe a military strike on Iran may in the end be unavoidable. The Obama administration, on the other hand, talks of outstretched hands; on July 15, even after Iran’s election, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “we understand the importance of offering to engage Iran….direct talks provide the best vehicle….We remain ready to engage with Iran.”

To the Israelis this seems unrealistic, even na├»ve, while to U.S. officials an Israeli attack on Iran is a nightmare that would upset Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world. The remarkable events in Iran have slowed down U.S. engagement, but not the Iranian nuclear program. If the current dissent in Iran leads to regime change, or if new United Nations sanctions force Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program, this source of U.S.-Israel tension will disappear. But it is more likely that Iran will forge ahead toward building a weapon, and U.S.-Israel tension will grow as Israel watches the clock tick and sees its options narrowed to two: live with an Iranian bomb, or strike Iran soon to delay its program long enough for real political change to come to that country.

Israel believes the only thing worse than bombing Iran is Iran’s having the Bomb, but the evidence suggests this is not the Obama view.

If Iran is the most dangerous source of U.S.-Israel tension, the one most often discussed is settlements: The Obama administration has sought a total “freeze” on “Israeli settlement growth.” The Israelis years ago agreed there would be no new settlements and no physical expansion of settlements, just building “up and in” inside already existing communities. Additional construction in settlements does not harm Palestinians, who in fact get most of the construction jobs. The West Bank economy is growing fast and the Israelis are removing security roadblocks so Palestinians can get around the West Bank better.

PPO/Getty Images

Special Envoy George Mitchell meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

A recent International Monetary Fund report stated that “macroeconomic conditions in the West Bank have improved” largely because “Israeli restrictions on internal trade and the passage of people have been relaxed significantly.” What’s more, says the IMF, “continuation of the relaxation of restrictions could result in real GDP growth of 7% for 2009 as a whole.” That’s a gross domestic product growth rate Americans would leap at, so what’s this dispute about?

It is, once again, about the subordination of reality to pre-existing theories. In this case, the theory is that every problem in the Middle East is related to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The administration takes the view that “merely” improving life for Palestinians and doing the hard work needed to prepare them for eventual independence isn’t enough. Nor is it daunted by the minor detail that half of the eventual Palestine is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

Instead, in keeping with its “yes we can” approach and its boundless ambitions, it has decided to go not only for a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, but also for comprehensive peace in the region. Mr. Mitchell explained that this “includes Israel and Palestine, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon and normal relations with all countries in the region. That is President Obama’s personal objective vision and that is what he is asking to achieve. In order to achieve that we have asked all involved to take steps.” The administration (pocketing the economic progress Israel is fostering in the West Bank) decided that Israel’s “step” would be to impose a complete settlement freeze, which would be proffered to the Arabs to elicit “steps” from them.

AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, walks with U.S. ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, center, and Israeli Defense Ministry Director-General Pinchas Buchris

But Israelis notice that already the Saudis have refused to take any “steps” toward Israel, and other Arab states are apparently offering weak tea: a quiet meeting here, overflight rights there, but nothing approaching normal relations. They also notice that Mr. Mitchell was in Syria last week, smiling warmly at its repressive ruler Bashar Assad and explaining that the administration would start waiving the sanctions on Syria to allow export of “products related to information technology and telecommunication equipment and parts and components related to the safety of civil aviation” and will “process all eligible applications for export licenses as quickly as possible.” While sanctions on certain Syrian individuals were renewed last week, the message to the regime is that better days lie ahead. Of this approach the Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid told the Wall Street Journal, “The regime feels very confident politically now. Damascus feels like it’s getting a lot without giving up anything.” Indeed, no “steps” from Syria appear to be on the horizon, except Mr. Assad’s willingness to come to the negotiating table where he will demand the Golan Heights back but refuse to make the break with Iran and Hezbollah that must be the basis for any serious peace negotiation.

None of this appears to have diminished the administration’s zeal, for bilateral relations with everyone take a back seat once the goal of comprehensive peace is put on the table. The only important thing about a nation’s policies becomes whether it appears to play ball with the big peace effort. The Syrian dictatorship is viciously repressive, houses terrorist groups and happily assists jihadis through Damascus International Airport on their way to Iraq to fight U.S. and Coalition forces, but any concerns we might have are counterbalanced by the desire to get Mr. Assad to buy in to new negotiations with Israel. (Is the new “information technology” we’ll be offering Mr. Assad likely to help dissidents there, or to help him suppress them?)

Future stability in Egypt is uncertain because President Hosni Mubarak is nearing 80, reportedly not in good health, and continues to crush all moderate opposition forces, but this is all ignored as we enlist Mr. Mubarak’s cooperation in the comprehensive peace scheme. As we saw in the latter part of the Clinton and Bush administrations, once you commit to a major effort at an international peace conference or a comprehensive Middle East peace, those goals overwhelm all others.

Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem.

Israelis have learned the hard way that reality cannot be ignored and that ideology offers no protection from danger. Four wars and a constant battle against terrorism sobered them up, and made them far less susceptible than most audiences to the Obama speeches that charmed Americans, Europeans, and many Muslim nations. A policy based in realism would help the Palestinians prepare for an eventual state while we turn our energies toward the real challenge confronting the entire region: what is to be done about Iran as it faces its first internal crisis since the regime came to power in 1979.

Mrs. Clinton recently decried “rigid ideologies and old formulas,” but the tension with Israel shows the administration is—up to now—following the old script that attributes every problem in the region to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while all who live there can see that developments in Iran are in fact the linchpin of the region’s future. The Obama administration’s “old formulas” have produced the current tensions with Israel. They will diminish only if the administration adopts a more realistic view of what progress is possible, and what dangers lurk, in the Middle East.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He was the deputy national security adviser overseeing Near East and North African affairs under President George W. Bush from 2005 to January 2009.


Who Gets The Glory In Your Story?~Lawman Chronicles

Who Gets The Glory In Your Story?

This Sunday I will be blessed with the opportunity to stand in my pastor's pulpit. He is away on vacation.

The message is titled: "Who Gets The Glory In Your Story? - Marks of a Real Christian Testimony" The text is Acts 26. As we survey the chapter, we will look at several key components of a Christian testimony. We will also consider what our motivation should be for sharing our testimony.

I will share my personal testimony, and the gospel will be preached.

I hope you will consider joining us on Sunday morning, for worship and the study of God's Word.

Granada Hills Community Church is located at:

11263 Balboa Boulevard
Granada Hills, CA 91344

Just one block south of the 118 Freeway.

We have one service, which begins promptly at 10 AM (PST) with a time of personal prayer and repentance. We believe that before we begin to corporately worship the Lord, we should take time to ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to see if there is any hurtful way (unconfessed sin) in our hearts and then to lead us in the everlasting way.

We will never seek to entertain you on Sunday morning. We care too much about you to do that. While we will welcome you with open arms and a smile, you will not be the center of attention. Jesus Christ the Lord is our focus and the only One worthy of worship and praise.

Join us as we worship Him.

Obama's 10 Most Important Faith Leaders

Obama's 10 Most Important Faith Leaders

Pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.
Pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla.

The Rev. Joel Hunter's resignation as president-elect of the Christian Coalition in 2006 over disagreements about the organization's strictly hot-button agenda turned him into an emblem of a new generation of evangelicals, one that toes the conservative line on abortion but embracesprogressive causes like environmentalism. A megachurch pastor based near Orlando, Hunter was among the evangelical leaders whom Obama courted on the campaign trail last year. Hunter delivered the benediction at the Democratic National Convention and has since emerged as a top faith-based surrogate for the president, defending him on matters as diverse as embryonic stem cell research and his selection of Kathleen Sebelius as health and human services secretary. The White House consulted him in drafting Obama's recent address to the Muslim world.

President and Executive Director of Sojourners
President and Executive Director of Sojourners

Progressive evangelical Jim Wallis has been a political oddity ever since he landed in Washington more than 35 years ago. Lobbying for poverty relief and against war, Wallis was at odds with Christian right leaders who claimed to speak for evangelical America. His politics lined up with the Democrats, but the party had little use for evangelical pastors. As younger evangelicals have branched out beyond hot-button issues and Democrats have begun wooing born-again Christians, however, Wallis is suddenly very much in demand. "I've been 40 years in the wilderness, and now it's time to come out," he says. The White House consults Wallis, a friend of the president's since Obama's Illinois legislature days, on a range of issues, but most intensively on poverty relief.

Pepperdine University Law School Professor
Pepperdine University Law School Professor

A top White House lawyer for Ronald Reagan, Douglas Kmiec is an unlikely supporter of Barack Obama—which makes him the president's most important Roman Catholic booster. Kmiec's close ties to the church—he's a former dean of Catholic University's law school—mean he can defend Obama's social policies against critical Catholic bishops without being branded a "Catholic in name only." He supports Obama's approach to reducing abortion through means other than limiting abortion rights. And Kmiec says the president's stances on the Iraq war and healthcare echo Catholic social teaching. Obama recently nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to Malta. But his pro-Obama activism, which includes his 2008 book Can a Catholic Support Him? has also cost him; Kmiec has drawn rebukes from onetime conservative allies and has been denied communion for backing a pro-abortion-rights president.

Director and Counsel of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Director and Counsel of Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Longtime Washington operator David Saperstein has a penchant for strange-bedfellow alliances. He partnered with conservative evangelicals—whom he disagrees with on abortion and gay marriage—to help pass the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. A fierce critic of George W. Bush's faith-based office, he was nevertheless among the first members of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. That also makes him a key liaison between the White House and American Jews, many of whom overcame doubts about candidate Obama to support him in overwhelming numbers last November. Saperstein says Obama's faith-based office is more committed to respecting church/state separation than Bush's was. Still, he has criticized Obama's refusal to prohibit religious groups from hiring only like-minded believers with federal dollars.

Pastor Emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland
Pastor Emeritus of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland

A former associate of Martin Luther King Jr., Otis Moss may be President Obama's closest remaining tie to the black church tradition that brought him to Christianity in Chicago in the 1980s. Moss's son, Otis Moss III, replaced Obama's controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ when Wright retired last year. Obama, who had an eclectic religious upbringing, was drawn to Christianity by Wright's brand of black liberation theology, a '60s-era tradition emphasizing black empowerment. Moss Jr., who held leadership positions in King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, hails from a similar tradition. He was among the first members of Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core
Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core

One of two Muslims on President Obama'sAdvisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Eboo Patel represents a younger face of American Islam in the same way that figures like Rick Warren represent a younger face of evangelical Christianity. Patel's Interfaith Youth Core works to facilitate interfaith bridge-building among young people by involving them in service projects around the globe. He's pressing the White House to adopt the same model as it seeks to improve U.S.-Muslim relations: "I’m trying to use this as an opportunity to take interfaith youth work to the next level." A former Rhodes scholar, Patel was one of a handful of American Muslims who advised the White House on Obama's recent speech to the Muslim world from Cairo. His advice: Focus on young Muslims.

Pastor and Founder of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.
Pastor and Founder of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif.

A confidant of George W. Bush, evangelical megapastor Rick Warren has forged a surprisingly close relationship with President Obama based on Warren's desire toshed his partisan image and on Obama's strong overtures to white evangelicals, a solidly Republican voting bloc. Obama made repeated appearances at Warren's Saddleback Church before the last election. And he sparked outcry among gay rights activists and his liberal base by inviting Warren to give the benediction at his inauguration. The president's refusal to rescind the invitation and Warren's refusal to back out showed the strength of their friendship. "Rick Warren’s relationship with President Obama is personal, similar to Billy Graham’s with other presidents in that it started well before he got into national office," says Warren spokesman A. Larry Ross, who reports that the president and the preacher continue to talk.

General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

She may not cut a national profile, but the Rev. Sharon Watkins has made plenty of history. She's the first woman to lead a mainline Protestant denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, which has 700,000 members. And President Obama selected Watkins as the first woman ever to give the sermon at the National Prayer Service, held the day after the presidential inauguration. "There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center," Watkins said at the service, held at the Washington National Cathedral. "We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground." Obama, who first met Watkins on the campaign trail last year, has since invited her to join his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston
Senior Pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell was a confidant of President George W. Bush, presiding over his daughter Jenna's wedding last year. By that time, though, he had already endorsed Barack Obama for president. Caldwell, whose Houston-based church is the largest United Methodist congregation in the country, says Obama and Bush share many personal qualities: "They are both Christians. They both love their wives intensely. They’re both very good dads." Caldwell keeps a low media profile and, despite his friendship with Bush, usually steers clear of politics; his donation to Obama's campaign was his first ever to a candidate. But Caldwell has served as an occasional spiritual adviser to the president since Obama resigned from his longtime Chicago church over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy last year.

Pastor of the Potter's House Church in Dallas
Pastor of the Potter's House Church in Dallas

One of the country's top preachers, the Rev. T. D. Jakes is also a wildly successful spiritual entrepreneur, publishing bestselling books, producing popular movies, and spearheading philanthropic projects from Dallas to Nairobi, Kenya. Jakes met Obama at a Chicago meeting last year where the then presidential candidate introduced himself to dozens of Christian leaders, including many conservatives whom Democrats had long ignored. Though he didn't endorse Obama, Jakes's kind words for the White House hopeful drew criticism from some conservative ministers. Jakes participated in prayer calls with Obama during the campaign and delivered the sermon at a private service with Obama on the morning of his inauguration.


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