In recent weeks, many of you have asked me to comment on the state of American-Israeli relations. You have shared with me sermons and rants which have been circulating on the Internet filled with "the sky is falling" assessments of the relationship between the government of Israel and the government of the United States. Many critics of President Obama in the American Jewish community have demonized him as an enemy of Israel.
For those more interested in light than heat, let me share a clear and serious analysis of the current situation.I. Israel and American Friendship
The government of the United States remains as strongly in Israel's corner as ever. All of the key public figures in the Obama administration have recently expressed the strongest support for Israel.
The president himself, in a letter to Alan Solow, Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, stated: "Let me be very clear- we have a special relationship with Israel that will not change. Our countries are bound together by shared values, deep and interwoven connections and mutual interests. Many of the same forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States and our efforts to secure peace and stability in the Middle East. Our alliance with Israel serves our national security interests."
You can read a more detailed description of the American- Israel connection in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech
to AIPAC and Vice President Joe Biden's speech
at Tel Aviv University.II. Who Is Setting American Policy?
Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and others have suggested that American Middle East policy is once again being set by Arabists, as it was during the Eisenhower administration. This simply is not true. Among the key people in the White House on Middle East policy is Dan Shapiro, the Senior Director of Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council.
Dan Shapiro, a Shomair-Shabbat graduate of Brandeis University, has a long public record of working in support of Israel. The April 26, 2010 edition of Maariv described a positive meeting between Dan Shapiro and Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to resolve differences. The article noted that "Shapiro conducted the entire meeting in fluent Hebrew, to Yishai's surprise and joy." III. Recent Events
A. Events in Jerusalem in March
Senator George Mitchell, the United States Special Envoy for the Middle East, had arranged for proximity talks. Vice President Joe Biden went to Israel to announce the beginning of proximity talks between Israel and the Palestintian Authority. Interior Minister Eli Yishei of Shas chose that moment to announce 1,600 new homes in Ramat Sholomo. Palestinians reacted by pulling back from the agreement to begin the talks. The announcement upset Biden, not because he was "upstaged," but because the announcements undercut the proximity talks.
The Obama administration did not put the spotlight on Jerusalem; Yishei's announcement did. Like elsewhere in the world, Israeli construction projects proceed in stages requiring a series of public announcements and hearings. Generally, the American government does not comment on Israeli housing announcements. In March Yishei forced the issue into the spotlight.
B. Events in Washington in March
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington for the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. President Obama had expected to be in Indonesia, but changed plans because of the nearing conclusion of the healthcare debate. This created the possibility for a meeting between the two leaders.
A person who was there told me that the press reports of Netanyahu's visit to the White House were not accurate. In truth, the atmosphere was much more positive and constructive than the media in America and Israel reported. The two men met privately for 90 minutes. At the end of that conversation Netanyahu and the Israel team met at the White House rather than moving to the Israeli Embassy. After meeting with his team, Netanyahu requested another session with Obama. Obama agreed and met with Netanyahu for another 30 minutes. The two leaders spent an extraordinary amount of time talking one-on-one. Obama has met with Netanyahu four times in the U.S. This is more than with any other world leader. An American official said, "This is appropriate because of the special relationship between the two countries."
C. Conversations in April
Since the events in March there have been ongoing private conversations. Participants have described these talks as "conversations between friends." As I write these words, the discussions seem to be leading to a new agreement on starting the proximity talks.
On April 29, Ynet reported that "Interior Minister Eli Yishai has been officially invited to visit the White House." This is another indication of the ongoing positive conversations between the two governments.IV. The Palestinians
A. Negotiations with the Palestinians
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly spoken in favor of two states. AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel advocacy group in North America, supports the two-state solution. The Obama administration supports the two-state solution. There are no alternatives. A single bi-national state would mean the end of the Jewish State. Continuing the status quo leads only to ongoing conflict. As Secretary Clinton said at AIPAC, continuing "the status quo strengthens the rejectionists who claim peace is impossible, and it weakens those who would accept coexistence. That does not serve Israel's interests or our own. Those willing to negotiate need to be able to show results for their efforts. And those who preach violence must be proven wrong."
For 43 years, American policy has stayed the same concerning Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a final status issue to be agreed upon by the parties.
None of us can know if negotiations with the Palestinian Authority will lead to an agreement. But the absence of negotiations leads nowhere. An overview and analysis of the issues to be considered in these negotiations will be the subject of a future letter.
B. Building the Institutions of a Palestinian State
At AIPAC, Tony Blair, the official envoy of the Quartet of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, explained: