(November 10, 2014 / JNS)
The Nov. 4 midterm election results have obvious implications for American domestic policy. For us in Israel, however, the new Congress and the last two years of President Barack Obama’s administration present a unique opportunity.
Now is the perfect time to turn the page on U.S.-Israel relations. Our two governments should use this time to work together as a united front against the challenges facing the free world. While there will of course continue to be areas of disagreement between our governments, we both have much to gain by putting these differences aside and placing the issues that unite us as our top priorities for the remaining years of the Obama presidency.
There is no denying that during the past few months we have witnessed some low points in U.S.-Israel relations, especially in terms of rhetoric used. Like most Israelis of all political persuasions, I was deeply disappointed—and even offended—by the crass words used by senior Obama administration officials to describe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That type of language should never be used in diplomatic parlance, let alone to describe the democratically elected leader of an American ally.
While these anonymous quotes ridiculing Prime Minister Netanyahu were troubling, it is the actions of the Obama administration in recent months that have close observers of this special relationship more concerned than ever. Continued U.S. economic and military support for Qatar is one such example. As Qatar has openly increased its financial and logistical support for the murderous terrorists of Hamas, we did not see our American friends distance themselves from their Gulf ally. Instead, there have been too many instances of declared friendship between the world’s greatest democracy and the Middle Eastern monarchy that supported the terrorists who bombarded our cities in Israel this past summer.
Another example has been the official American reaction to Israel’s construction policy in our capital. I have lost count of the number of times the Obama administration has criticized our government’s decision to plan new housing in Jerusalem, even when these plans benefit both the city’s Jewish and Arab populations. When you compare the official statements coming from the Obama administration with the muted reaction to official Palestinian incitement against Israel and the Jewish people, the situation becomes even more troubling.
Just recently, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas sent a condolence letter praising a terrorist killed after he opened fire on the police officers attempting to arrest him for critically injuring an Israeli in Jerusalem the night before. It is puzzling how senior Obama administration officials view the building of homes in Jerusalem neighborhoods that everyone agrees will remain under Israeli sovereignty in peace agreements as more of a threat to peace than the culture of violence fostered by the PA.
With the forthcoming swearing-in of the new Congress, both of our governments should seize the opportunity to refocus our relationship. It goes without saying that name-calling and public spats in the media should be pushed aside. More importantly, however, our two countries should immediately begin to prioritize our joint efforts in facing the two main threats to peace and security in the Middle East, if not the entire world.
Though Islamic State is still small in numbers, it is quickly growing and capitalizing on the weakness of the Arab states in the region that have been crumbling before our eyes over the past few years. Here in Israel we do not see Islamic State as an existential threat, especially in comparison to other regional terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Islamic State is a serious danger to the Middle East’s moderate regimes, and to our most important ally—the U.S. This is why we should redouble our efforts to destroy this despicable organization.
Even more importantly, now is the time for Israel and the U.S.—together with the international community—to work hand in hand to end the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Through joint cooperation between our governments, we can work to improve the current agreement under negotiation. I know that many in Congress share Israel’s conviction that a bad deal, which removes sanctions and leaves Iran with the capability to arm themselves with nuclear weapons with relative ease, is worse than no deal at all. A comprehensive agreement can only be reached if the Iranians understand that the U.S. and the international community will not only leave the sanctions in place until this is achieved, but are willing to use any and all options available to us to prevent the ayatollahs from threatening world peace.
The key strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship has always been its bipartisan nature. Despite periodic disagreements, our alliance has flourished over the past six decades—whether either a Democratic or Republican president is in the White House and whether either the Likud or Labor governs Israel. This call to refocus our ties on the important interests that bind us does not result from the change to a Republican majority in the Senate, but from the fact that midterm elections have historically been a time for an American administration to take stock of its policies and plan appropriately for the remainder of its term. It is my hope that both sides will heed this call. There are too many important issues at stake and too many interests to safeguard for us not to do so.
Member of Knesset Danny Danon is the chair of the Likud Central Committee and Israel’s former Deputy Minister of Defense.