By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
It is generally recognized that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), now a 100,000-member pro-Israeli lobbying group, has had an impressive record since the fifties in advocating pro-Israel policies mostly to Congress. But of late several key officials, all American Jews in sensitive government positions, have outpaced this lobbying group established in 1950.
It may be a sign of their self-confidence that these officials are now publicly discussing the role of their colleagues in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians, who have yet to establish their independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip where they number about four million. (Israel’s population totals a little over seven million including some 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs mostly in the Galilee region).
Take the case, revealed recently, of how an unidentified person had inserted in a speech of then Secretary of State Colin L. Powell who had then called nine years ago on the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” This phrase is now belatedly one of the many divisive issues that are plaguing the recently disrupted peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. President George W. Bush and, more recently, President Barack Obama had used the phrase unaware of its damaging potential.
Aaron David Miller, a former State Department official who wrote the first draft of Powell’s speech and had participated in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for many years, told The Washington Post the sentence did not ring many alarm bells when it mysteriously appeared in the speech.
But the then former Israeli ambassador in Washington, David Ivry, admitted that he had contacted the then deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage, and persuaded him to “slip in” the reference to the speech. But Powell told the Post he checked with Armitage and Armitage has no memory of that.
Lately, Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert at the State Department, and now a senior White House aide, has emerged, according to the Post, “as a crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government … to discreetly smooth out differences between the two governments.”
The incentives that Ross thought of offering the Israelis were reportedly leaked to his onetime colleague, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an influential pro-Israel think-tank founded by Martin Indyk, a former deputy research director at AIPAC and now vice president for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution. Until recently Indyk was the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings and had also served two stints as U.S. ambassador to Israel. Makovsky and Ross had co-authored a book titled “Myths, Illusion and Peace: A New Guide for the Middle East.”
Makovsky’s article mentioned a shocking list of assurances to the Israelis, including a lengthy “transitional period” for Jordan Valley security, which Makovsky called “an apparent allusion to keeping Israeli troops in that (Palestinian) region for an extended period of time.”
More about the influence of American Jewish influence within U.S. administration was revealed in the declassification of confidential discussions of top Israel during the Yom Kippur or October War in 1973. Israeli leaders appeared to be at wits end in the early hours of the war for fear that they would be overrun by Arab troops from Egypt, Syria and Jordan. In response, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir considered making a clandestine trip to Washington to request help from then President Richard Nixon.
She did not go and instead chose to appeal to then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As a result, the American president sent an airlift of materiel that made all the difference in Israel’s favor in the 20-day war.
Commenting on the released documents, Yehezkel Dror, described as one of Israel’s most distinguished political scientists, told an Israeli radio audience that the Israeli leaders failed to realize the war’s true goal which he said was to pressure Israel to return the captured Arab territories.
The Egyptians, he explained, “used the war for a political goal. Why didn’t we understand this? Because we didn’t think politically. He who thinks militarily does not understand that the other side sees the arms as a political tool, not to conquest but to reach a better deal on the Sinai.”
The same applied to the Turkish flotilla last May when Israel troops boarded the Turkish boat. What is need in leadership is both subtlety and clarity, Dror stressed. Israel’s approach to the peace process with the Palestinians was another example, he added, reported the Post. “The main question of what Israel wants is unclear.”
Let’s hope Obama will also absorb this point, regardless what the Israeli lobby or his Jewish advisers are telling him.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.