The US-Israeli Relationship: Special but Not Exclusive

Article excerpt

In May 2005, I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "Israel's Lawyer," making what I considered an incontestable point: if America wants to help reach an agreement between Arabs and Israelis, it must be an advocate for both sides.

The reaction to the article was fairly intense. The Arabs loved it; Israelis and American Jews loved or hated it, depending on their politics. Like everything else associated with Israel, Jews, and domestic politics, this issue has been misinterpreted, hijacked, and used in the struggle between Israel's supporters and detractors over the US' Middle East policies.

Nowhere is the confusion more apparent than in the discussion, or lack thereof, on how domestic politics shape US policies toward the Arab-Israeli issue. Former National Security Advisor Tony Lake told me that domestic politics is like sex to the Victorians: nobody talks about it, but it is on everybody's mind.

It is time we start talking about it, but we should do so honestly, free from self-delusions or conspiratorial thinking. Unfortunately, too many of Israle's supporters believe that domestic lobbying has little to do with what drives the US-Israeli relationship: shared values. On the other hand, too many of Israel's detractors believe that it is all lobbying and has little to do with value affinity.

After over 25 years of observing our political system, I have come to some basic conclusions about the influence of the pro-Israeli community on the US' Arab-Israeli diplomacy: in our system, domestic lobbying has a powerful voice but not a veto. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the guardian of a fairly strong pro-Israeli predisposition among a sizable number of lawmarkers who care passionately about Israel and a majority who do not feel nearly as strongly, but who have other legislative priorities. In any event, the farther one goes from Congress, the less expansive AIPAC's reach is, and the more other factors influence the US' decision-making.

At the same time, no conspiracy exists where a small number of Jews and an increasing number of evangelical Christians compel an entire foreign policy establishment to support Israel against its collective will. Israel has become part of the American story, resting on a foundation of shared values orchestrated by powerful advocates operating in very friendly circumstances.

The case for Israel is made by five predominant "lawyers": first, a well-organized, affluent, and powerful community of 5. …