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Obama's Seam Line Policy and Israel's Conditional Existence

13 April 2010

By Yisrael Ne'eman

This past Thursday, April 8, Israel's Channel 10 reported that US Administration sources confirmed that as far as Israel is concerned, American policy towards Iran will be linked to advancements made on the Palestinian-Israeli peace front. Such a laconic statement betrays a major shift in American foreign policy, driving home the new foreign policy message of the Obama Administration. Should such a linkage now exist where it never existed before, Israel may very well be facing an existential threat not only in the short term from Iran, but in the overall long run of American foreign policy thinking. The strategic alliance with the United States will now be coming to an end and Jewish national sovereignty under certain circumstances will be considered expendable by the Americans. Previously Israel's existence was an unshakeable "given" as made clear by the previous two administrations. Certainly since 1969 and the beginning of the alliance under Nixon and despite Bush Sr. and even Pres. Carter, it was understood that the existence of the Israeli state was not negotiable. Now it may be.

Iran is physically threatening the extermination of the Jewish State while America wants to restart talks for Palestinian-Israeli conflict resolution. One has little to do with the other unless the Administration has an overall policy of reconciling the Christian West with the Islamic world whereby specific pawns in the chess game may need to be sacrificed to ensure universal stability. In the post-WWII world the West as a general rule stood together and rallied around the Atlantic Alliance believing democracy and western values were best implemented world wide. Israel was not allowed to fully join that club until after the 1967 Six Day War when most became convinced of her national state viability. The US began to view the Jewish State as a strategic asset. All this is in jeopardy today, the present administration does not view the Western alliance as the pillar of its foreign policy. This is made clear through the Obama Administration's overtures to the Muslim/Arab world (Cairo speech) and the de-emphasis on western and central Europe. One can call it a response to the needs of the 21st century's emerging global village.

Obama clearly sees the need to stitch the "seam line" between the West and the Muslim Middle East as a first step in establishing global harmony. The Americans seek reconciliation with moderate Muslims while battling the more extreme forces (which are no longer to be spoken about in terms of "Jihad" or radical Islam). To close the gap both the Middle East and West must make concessions. In order to solve the more localized Arab-Israel conflict over the years the Americans have objected to Israeli settlement activity and any territorial solution not based on the 1949-67 Armistice lines. America never made Israel's existence conditional upon the acceptance of this policy objective or any other American policy

Jewish independence was seen as a moral imperative, a "right" similar to that of any other nation. Strategically, Israel was an asset in the Western camp. Today it appears Jewish independence is negotiable and conditional. Israel may be considered legitimate but its independence may be considered too costly (a reminder of the British newspaper "Guardian" editorial of about a decade ago). Worse yet, Jewish sovereignty may not be considered a right in itself, after all even Anwar Sadat admitted that theoretically he did not believe the Jews had a right to independence but came to conflict resolution as pragmatic need. Should this Palestinian-Iranian linkage prove accurate the moral ethical commitment to Jewish national existence may now be over ridden by practical need, similar to Sadat's reasoning (but rather its flip side) of why he signed the 1978-79 Camp David Accords.

The issue is that Israel is seen as more of a liability than an asset to the West, especially in the attempt to stitch the seam line and encourage "moderate/secular" Muslims to participate alongside the Americans in restraining extremism. For Obama the seam line physically falls on the permanent status borders to be established between Israel and a future Palestinian State. This means a full Israeli withdrawal with land swaps and a divided Jerusalem. Obama has promised to reveal the full extent of this plan for an enforced solution in September. Bridging gaps and sowing together this part of the world fabric is considered so essential that the US is willing to cast into doubt Israel's right to exist should she not cooperate. Taken in its harshest terms, the demise of the Jewish State for blatant non-cooperation can be seen as a setback for certain western understandings but would remove an obstacle in facilitating a policy of tying the seam line together and enhancing American influence in the intermediate and long term future.

The Administration is weighing the need to resolve issues between the Muslim/Arab world (pop. 1.6 billion) and the West vs. what they can see as a recalcitrant Israel with world Jewish support (pop. 13 million). Israel is being reduced to its "true size" and influence in relation to American global policies. For America to continue supporting Israel, she must fall into line.

Israelis and concerned Jews around the world are delving into side issues of little strategic importance when arguing over territories, settlements, Jerusalem, etc. Whether one is Left, Right, Center, religious or secular none of these issues are of any great importance should Israel be devoid of international support when facing a possible Iranian nuclear onslaught with Hezbollah and Hamas in supporting roles. By highlighting all these negotiable matters we are dealing in distractions, exactly what the Administration and the Israeli government could hope for. The discussion now revolves around Israel's right to exist depending on adherence to the grand American foreign policy objectives and strategy – stitching the seam line and ensuring stability. Jewish independence can be compromised and if so once, the question must be asked, whether this does not set a precedent even should the Jewish State acquiesce to all American demands?

Implications of such a seam line policy validate the foreign policy claim by much of the Muslim world who consider Jewish independence a humiliating affront with which they cannot continue to live – even within the 1967 borders. Should this force Israel to abdicate sovereignty even if to do so would be considered neither moral, ethical nor legal?

But it gets more problematic – What other ally/patron exists besides Washington? It appears that Israel really has very few options in the grand sense. As far as one can see, the clash with Iran is here as they ratchet up their nuclear potential and continue speaking of Israeli extermination.

In an interview VP Joe Biden inferred Israel's right to defend itself, even with preemptive action. Later Pres. Obama contradicted that stance. Does Israel have the right to defend itself – after attacked? Most likely the Americans would have to agree, but what damage will be caused to the Jewish State by absorbing the Iranian first strike? And at what level would Israel be allowed to strike back in a battle for the survival of the Jewish State? Will there be American support for an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities in the absence of even an interim agreement with the Palestinians? And will America support Israel against an Iranian (plus Hezbollah and Hamas) onslaught if there is still no agreement at all with the Palestinians? What will America deem as enough progress to allow for an American go-ahead on the two above questions?

The Palestinians are now brought in as arbiters in US-Israeli relations vis-à-vis the Iranians should the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord be understood by them to result in a weakening of American support for Israel when facing a life and death challenge by Iran. Like it or not, many Palestinians want to see Israel disappear completely.

Our best bet is in keeping with the continuity of policy determined through the Bush "Road Map" (2003), accepted by Ariel Sharon at the time and PM Netanyahu at present (including his Bar Ilan speech, June 2009). It is time to move to Stage II and the "demilitarized" Palestinian State with non-permanent borders on the way to the two-state solution. Keeping American support is of the essence as is disentangling from the Palestinians. Such a move will re-enlist American support and give Israel the time necessary to deal with the Iranian crisis to remove the existential threat. The international relations deck of cards will be reshuffled in the event of an Israeli success. With Khomeinist Iran out of the way or severely curtailed, Israel may regain its relevance in American foreign policy. After all from the American perspective, the Arab Gulf oil producing states will no longer be under threat. Such a move will reinstate Israel as a strategic ally, even if we can forget about sentiment for the next few years.