The Buzz

On Israel, Get Back to Interests

It’s that time of year again, when leading American political figures compete to see who can most loudly and passionately declare their absolute devotion to Israel. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has repeatedly blasted President Obama for “[throwing] Israel under the bus.” Obama has responded by asserting his administration’s “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security and touting the “unbreakable bonds” between the two nations.

In this atmosphere, it is refreshing to see an analyst cut through the many platitudes regarding the U.S.-Israeli relationship, as Dov Waxman does in the Washington Quarterly. Waxman’s thesis is simple: the rifts in the relationship stem from the fact Washington and Jerusalem have divergent strategic perspectives on several of the most important challenges facing them. He singles out three such issues:

—Israel-Palestine. Both sides nominally support a two-state solution which establishes an independent Palestinian state, but the U.S. government sees this as a much more urgent and immediate priority than Israel does.

—Iran. While neither nation wants to see Iran succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, this prospect is naturally much more frightening to Israel than the United States. They therefore differ on the questions of if and when they ought to strike in order to prevent it from happening.

—The Arab Spring. Israel “appears to be rooting for the survival of the ruling Arab autocrats,” who have traditionally been friendly to Israel. Washington, on the other hand, has generally been on the side of the street democrats, for ideological reasons.

In short, Waxman argues, “the fundamental problem in U.S.-Israeli relations is not a matter of individuals . . . but increasingly divergent interests.” This should hardly be surprising: America and Israel are two powerful nations with distinct histories and geopolitical positions. It’s natural that their interests will vary at times.

Rather than issuing bromides about not allowing any “daylight” between U.S. positions and Israel’s, or using Israel as a club to beat up political opponents, a much more productive dialogue would address differences honestly. Waxman’s thoughtful piece is an insightful and smart attempt to start such a conversation.