The world has finally bid adieu to the most formidably talented politician of our generation – a man able to project intimate emotional contact to millions. Among those who will miss President Clinton most are Israelis. According to last week’s Yediot Ahranot poll, 72% of Israelis like Clinton. Yoel Marcus’ farewell in Ha’aretz, in which he described Clinton as the "friendliest, most involved, most caring, most well-meaning American president ever,’’ was typical fare.
Yet if confronted with the standard question in American political campaigns – Do you feel more secure and confident about the future than you did eight years ago? – an overwhelming majority of Israelis would answer in the negative. Like other special friends of Bill, it is not clear that Israel has been well-served by the relationship.
For the first time, Israeli Jews – 67% according to an October Yediot poll -- express doubts about Israel’s continued existence. Former Supreme Court President Moshe Landau recently told to Avi Shavit of his doubts that his grandchildren will live out their lives in Israel.
Clinton’s final present, the Clinton plan, which was accepted by Prime Minister Barak, would leave Israel defenseless. Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz told the Knesset Foreign Relations and Defense Committee that the plan would render Israel far more vulnerable to terrorists, destabilize Jordan, and with it Israel’s entire Eastern flank, and threaten dozens of Jerusalem neighborhoods with the fate of Gilo.
Clinton did not initiate the Oslo process; nor did he single-handedly sustain it. Internal Israeli weakness and messianic delusions fueled that process. But he pressured successive Israeli governments into an ongoing stream of concessions without receiving the one thing that could justify the process: Arafat’s commitment to peaceful co-existence and willingness to prepare his own people for the necessity of compromise. The Palestinian demands remain today exactly the same as in 1993.
Israeli protests of Palestine Authority violations of the Oslo agreements were consistently ignored. So it was, for instance, when Israel protested the doubling and then quadrupling of the Palestinian police forces allowed under Oslo into a full-fledged army.
When the Netanyahu government vociferously insisted on enforcement of PA undertakings, it was treated as an obstacle to peace by the White House. Clinton’s closest political advisors were dispatched to ensure a Barak victory in 1999, as America involved itself to an unprecedented degree in internal Israeli politics.
Clinton took pains to prettify Arafat’s image as a peacemaker in the world and Israel. A 1995 Government Accounting Office study of PA finances was classified and never saw the light of day. After the House International Relations Committee screened film clips of Arafat calling for jihad against Israel in September 1995, Clinton personally intervened with all the major news organizations so that the event was unreported.
Half a year later, he falsely certified before the whole world that the PLO Covenant calling for Israel’s destruction had been revoked when all Arafat had done was to refer the matter to a committee. In his last weeks in office, Clinton announced that Arafat had accepted the contours of his blueprint, even as Palestinian negotiators were explicitly rejecting both the premises and provisions of that blueprint.
Far from acting forcefully to encourage a revision of Palestinian textbooks and an end to incitement against Jews and Israel in the PA media, the United States brokered the 1999 Sharm agreements in which clauses concerning PA incitement were eliminated. The joint American-Israeli-Palestinian task force created under the Wye Agreements to monitor PA incitement ceased meeting in January of this year because of U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk’s lack of interest.
Any true relationship must be based on trust and honesty between the parties. That good faith has often been lacking from the U.S.-Israeli relationship over the past eight years. Most egregious was the broken presidential promise at Wye to pardon Jonathan Pollard. So confident was Netanyahyu of that promise that a senior Israeli Embassy official told reporters that Pollard was already "on the plane.’’
Clinton set Barak up for the role of the abandoned maiden. Like a practiced roue, he showed an instinctive grasp of Barak’s vulnerabilities and psychological needs. The sole desideratum of Israeli foreign policy under Barak has been the need to maintain American approval.
Wild promises that no American Congress would have ever approved – billions of dollars in aid, exclusive technology transfers, the stationing of American peacekeepers – were repeatedly made to Barak. First in return for withdrawal from the Golan, later in return for retreat from Lebanon, and finally as a quid pro quo for reckless concessions to Arafat at Camp David and after. Yet Clinton left office with the upgrade in strategic relations so frequently dangled in front of Barak still unsigned.
The true lover, Plato informs us, seeks the benefit of the beloved. "Our best friend ever’’, however, placed the interests of American arms manufacturers above Israel’s basic security needs. The strenuous Defense Department opposition to the Phalcon sale, three years after first being informed of the deal, was a catastrophic blow to Israel’s defense industry. Clinton repeatedly pressured Israel into granting America a veto over Israeli military sales and required much of American military aid to be spent on American goods, even where superior Israeli products were available.
At a time when America is transferring the same advanced technology to Egypt and Saudia Arabia as Israel, a viable Israeli defense industry is crucial to Israel’s ability to maintain a qualitative edge. That viability has been seriously damaged by American policy.
The fate of Czechoslokia, sealed at Munich, should serve as a permanent reminder of the danger of relying too greatly on the good will of superpowers. The Czechs believed that having ceded territory at Britain’s behest, Britain would commit itself fully to the defense of Czechoslovakia. But superpowers, like the U.S. today and Britain then, have many interests of their own – lessening the threat of Arab terrorism, lower oil prices, a Nobel Prize for the president. They encourage smaller countries to compromise to avoid problems for themselves, not to risk losing their own troops in defense of others.
By succumbing to Clinton’s irresistible charms, Barak has placed Israel in the situation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. Somehow I doubt that’s what Clinton’s pastor had in mind when he adjured him in his dying words: Never do anything to endanger Israel.