Paul Pillar

Pence Goes Over the Water's Edge

Pence’s totally taking one side of a bitter conflict inside Israel and inside the Holy Land was further reflected by reactions to the speech within the Knesset.  While right-wingers were joyfully singing along with this music to their ears, MKs belonging to the Joint List, which predominantly represents Arab Israelis, held up signs in protest before they were ejected from the chamber.  Whatever one may think about this protest, Pence’s reacting to the interruption by referring to Israel’s “vibrant democracy” was an insult, given that the lack of political rights of millions of Palestinian residents of territory Israel occupies is at the heart of what makes the conflict at hand so bitter.

Political divisions over there are increasingly linked to political divisions over here.  A new Pew survey of American public opinion shows a continued increase in partisan divisions in attitudes toward Israel and toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Staunch support for Israel has become increasingly identified with the Republican Party; questioning of Israeli policy is to be found much more in the Democratic Party.

Putting this whole picture together, we have more than just partisan differences over foreign policy; again, the United States has had plenty of that since its earliest days.  We have a departure from the traditional limits in which internal political divisions were not permitted to cross the national boundaries, in one direction or another, to determine politics and policies on the other side of the boundary.  There exists today what amounts to a two-nation Likud International, which is determining policy in both Israel and the United States toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Of course, it is not called the Likud International and there are several strands, including Pence’s evangelical Christianity, that weave into it on the American end.  But the nature of the political dynamics involved, and the end result, befit the name.

If there is a positive side to any of this, it may be to lay ever more bare, and to make obvious to more people than ever before, that the direction of U.S. policy on this issue has had far more to do with domestic politics and cross-boundary political intrusion than with any dispassionate and nonpartisan analysis of what would be in U.S. interests.  As with any other foreign policy issue, violation of the traditional American limits about national boundaries and political phenomena that should not cross them does not serve American interests well.  Arthur Vandenberg would have understood.