Israel’s 16-year honeymoon with the White House (under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) is over, and the tension between Jerusalem and the Obama administration is “dramatic and considerable,” according to the senior diplomatic correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.
Herb Keinon, a native of Denver who has lived in and covered Israel for 27 years, spoke of “conceptual gaps on two major planes” between the allies in a talk Sunday evening at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, N.J.
He said the administration believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to regional stability, while Israel maintains the Mideast will be unstable until Iran is neutralized. And he asserted that the administration is “locked into a land-for-peace” mindset that Israel believes, after 17 years of pursuing the Oslo formula, no longer works.
Keinon sees the changes coming from Washington rather than from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he said “has not moved” significantly to the right.
While noting that “the sky is not falling” — with Israel’s economy strong, support from Congress solid, and military and strategic cooperation between Jerusalem and Washington at a high level — Keinon, who primarily covers the prime minister and foreign minister, warned of the “deep gaps” in the two allies’ “perceptions of reality.”
Israel, he said, has undergone “a fundamental political transformation” as a result of enduring five years of high-level terrorism, beginning in 2000. He pointed out that whereas Labor and Meretz, the two leading political parties of the left advocating for territorial concessions, received 56 seats in the 1992 national elections, they won only 16 seats in last year’s vote.
“Israel was mugged by reality,” according to Keinon, with missile attacks on northern cities from Lebanon in 2006 and on Sderot from Gaza for years have heightened a national sense of insecurity. Not a time for diplomatic risk-taking and ceding land, he said.
“We can’t go back to the land-for-peace paradigm” the U.S. is calling for now because “we got terrorism for land,” after withdrawing from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005.
“Washington believes in resolving the conflict, but Israelis now talk about managing the conflict.”
Netanyahu has a peace plan, Keinon said, though it is not to Washington’s liking because it calls for gradual rather than dramatic progress, based on creating economic growth for the Palestinians and involving Arab states in the process, as well as insisting on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Obama, by contrast, “needs immediate results,” Keinon said, because he is convinced a resolution of the Palestinian conflict will help speed up the effort to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Keinon, Obama made two serious miscalculations about the Israeli public on coming into office. One was assuming Israelis would not tolerate a governmental clash with Washington, and the second that most Israelis oppose the settlements. That is a key reason why the president pushed hard for a settlement freeze, Keinon said.
“Both assumptions were misguided,” he added, asserting that while Israelis oppose “the hard-core ideology” of some settlers and are against outposts, they are sympathetic to communities in areas like Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim and east Jerusalem with large Jewish populations.
He said Israeli leaders have lost trust in the administration, particularly after the U.S. denied being bound by a commitment from the Bush administration about settlementgrowth, and after Obama reached out to and visited the Arab world without making a similar effort toward Israel.
In the end, Keinon said he is optimistic about Israel, with its vibrant, can-do attitude intact in the face of adversity and isolation. But he is not optimistic about a peace deal “in my lifetime or my children’s lifetime.”
For now, he foresees “no dramatic diplomatic action” but rather an effort to manage the conflict and keep the process continuing without endangering the nation’s security.
When challenged by a questioner about whether time is against Israel accepting a status quo mentality, with the prospect of a one-state solution looming, Keinon said he saw little choice for now with a Palestinian leadership unwilling or unable to make compromises.
His greatest political concern, he said, was that the U.S. promotes the notion that “Israel’s actions are endangering the lives of American soldiers. That is a very dangerous argument,” he said, “and must be countered” by friends of Israel who should not let Jews be blamed for America’s military failures.”
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