Is using aid to Israel as leverage becoming a mainstream idea?

Two establishment columnists raise what has long been a taboo topic when it comes to Israel.

Published November 8, 2009 10:09AM (EST)

Tom Friedman today has some very harsh words for both the Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom -- he claims -- are not serious about reaching a peace agreement.  As a result, these are the principles which Friedman -- rather surprisingly -- advocates the U.S. should follow:

Let’s just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: "My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It’s just you and me and the problem we own."

Indeed, it's time for us to dust off James Baker’s line: "When you’re serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix." . . .

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us.

The only specific course of action Friedman explicitly advocates to fulfill those principles is that the U.S. cease its efforts to forge a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and stop trying to pressure them into concessions, instead leaving each side to stew in the status quo -- in other words, do exactly that which the Netanyahu government would like most.  That would be a perfectly fine suggestion if not for the fact that the U.S. is heavily invested in the outcome of that process and its interests substantially and directly impacted by what happens.  That's because we single-handedly enable Israeli behavior with our massive amounts of military aid, diplomatic protection, and weapons supplying, which means Israeli behavior is rationally perceived by much of the Muslim world as being one and the same as American behavior.  Muslim anger towards Israel will inevitably translate into Muslim anger towards the U.S. for as long as we continue to flood Israel with aid and cover.

Friedman doesn't explicitly advocate this, of course, but isn't the logical outcome of his prescription -- that we "just get out of the picture" and tell them to "stay out of our lives" and no longer "subsidize it" -- the cessation of all of that massive aid and assistance to Israel?  How are we remotely "getting out of the picture" and telling these governments "to stay out of our lives" and no longer "subsidizing" the conflict if we remain the single largest financial and military enabler of Israeli actions as long as they continue on their current path?  While Friedman isn't willing to follow his surprisingly blunt premises to their logical conclusions, Time's Joe Klein is willing do so, as this is what he wrote earlier this week about what the Obama administration should do in the face of Israeli recalcitrance:

It should start by putting a hold on all economic and military aid to Israel; the aid should not be discontinued, just held, for a nice long review until the Netanyahu government comes to understand that Jerusalem must be the capital of both Israel and Palestine, and that if you actually want peace, you don't build illegal settlement colonies in the Palestinian capital.

When is the last time there were serious discussions like this in the establishment media about cutting off aid to Israel if they refused to cease taking actions that harmed American interests?  That was probably 1992, when then-Secretary of State Jim Baker repeatedly tried to link continued American aid and loan guarantees to Israeli cessation of settlement expansions and increased good faith in negotiating a peace agreement with the Palestinians -- which caused a major political backlash in the U.S., fueled by what then-NYT-reporter Tom Friedman described as "a number of pro-Israeli Senators."  It's amazing how little has changed vis-a-vis American debates over Israel in the 17 years since then.

In countless ways, our foreign policy has long and directly violated George Washington's 1796 warning that "nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded"; that "the nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave"; and that "a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."  The typical justification for violating those warnings is that our interests are served by maintaining and steadfastly supporting permanent alliances of this sort.  

Yet here is one such nation that receives more American support than any other, stubbornly refusing to cease conduct which our government officially proclaims to be deeply harmful to our interests, and the notion of using our vast leverage to make them change behavior is decreed to be one of the most impenetrable taboos (even the Executive Director of the ostensibly orthodoxy-fighting J Street recently demanded that such a step not even be entertained).  For so long, it's been an unchallengeable given that we are required to continue to lavish Israel with aid and diplomatic protection even if they do things that our own government believes (or at least claims to believe) is directly harming the United States.  Perhaps Friedman's implicit (if unintended) call for that to change -- and Klein's explicit call that it change -- signals a long-overdue erosion of that taboo.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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