Reading the tea leaves about U.S.-Israel relations is a major industry in our community. But it’s easy to be misled by the day-to-day shifts in a multilayered, vastly complex relationship between allies that have critical interests in common, but sometimes see international affairs through different lenses.
That complexity was apparent this week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington to address the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Many in our community were alarmed by the Obama administration’s seeming snub of the prime minister when it put off a decision on a White House meeting until Netanyahu was en route and by the striking lack of public pomp surrounding the grudging get together.
Some on the left saw that as a positive sign that the administration is ready to get tough with Netanyahu on breaking the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate; some on the right saw little more than the hostility to Israel they see as the engine behind its Middle East policy.
The truth is, whatever the dynamics between the two leaders, the fundamentals of U.S.-Israeli relations remain strong. So does this country’s commitment to a secure Israel enduring as a Jewish state.
There is a shared understanding on the nature of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, if not on the timetable for tougher action. There is agreement the Palestinians have not done nearly enough to help revive bilateral peace talks. There is uncertainty about what to do about the Fatah-Hamas split, but a common belief that Hamas is beyond the pale when it comes to negotiations. Strategic cooperation in a host of areas continues to deepen, hardly suggesting a diplomatic chill.
We disagree with those who portray this administration as hostile to Israel, but we also question its strategy and vision. President Barack Obama’s initial insistence on a full settlements freeze without demanding much of the Palestinians, the dizzying lurches in statements during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to the region and the awkward handling of this week’s Netanyahu visit suggest an uncertainty and unevenness that can only undercut the president’s lofty aims for the region.
That said, all the evidence suggests the fundamental relationship remains strong. So does this administration’s commitment to the peace and security we all want for Israel, even if there are differences about the best way to achieve it.