March 24, 2010 12:50PM

Robert Wright on Being–and Not Being–“Pro-Israel”

The U.S.-Israel relationship has been in the news a lot lately. First, Israel humiliates the American Vice President by announcing an expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem during his trip to that country. Then, Gen. Petraeus states in congressional testimony [.pdf] that the Israel/​Palestine imbroglio “foments anti‐​American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” which in turn creates a dynamic where “Al Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

For those with interest in the subject, Robert Wright’s piece on the New York Times’ website may be of interest. Wright looks at how chauvinistically Gary Bauer, Max Boot, and Abraham Foxman define “pro‐​Israel” and writes

If Israel’s increasingly powerful right wing has its way, without constraint from American criticism and pressure, then Israel will keep building settlements. And the more settlements get built — especially in East Jerusalem — the harder it will be to find a two‐​state deal that leaves Palestinians with much of their dignity intact. And the less dignity intact, the less stable any two‐​state deal will be.

As more and more people are realizing, the only long‐​run alternatives to a two‐​state solution are: a) a one‐​state solution in which an Arab majority spells the end of Israel’s Jewish identity; b) Israel’s remaining a Jewish state by denying the vote to Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, a condition that would be increasingly reminiscent of apartheid; c) the apocalypse. Or, as Hillary Clinton put it in addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference on Monday: “A two‐​state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”

So, by my lights, being “pro‐​Israel” in the sense embraced by Bauer, Boot and Foxman — backing Israel’s current policies, including its settlement policies — is actually anti‐​Israel. It’s also anti‐​America (in the sense of ‘bad for American security’), because Biden and Petraeus are right: America’s perceived support of — or at least acquiescence in — Israel’s more inflammatory policies endangers American troops abroad. In the long run, it will also endanger American civilians at home, funneling more terrorism in their direction.

I have been and remain skeptical that Washington could successfully force a deal on the Israelis and Palestinians. To my mind, neither side seems willing to make the sorts of very painful concessions that would be necessary for peace. I think that the big problem the I/P dispute presents for the United States is less inherent in the conflict than it is in the fact that the United States has placed itself in a position, as George Kennan wrote, where “each [side] has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party.”

But as long as we’re implicated in this sorry affair, we ought to be throwing our weight around to try to push both parties in the directions we think they ought to go. As Wright writes, smiling and nodding no matter what Israel does isn’t friendship.