Israel and America in 2012: Wait for November

As long as people are making predictions for the new year, I’ll hazard something myself: Israel and America will have a loud diplomatic dispute about 11 months from now.

President Obama’s initial attempts at jump-starting the Mideast peace process were well-intentioned and sound from a policy perspective, but somewhat naive politically.  Demanding a settlement freeze, after all, conforms with decades of US policy and is necessary for the political and demographic survival of the Jewish state.

What he did not count on — but should have — was the Leninism of the Republican Party and the anti-Zionism of the current Israeli government.  The GOP’s current commitment to putting party over country means that it will undermine any policy initiative, no matter how positive, that does not contribute to its assumption of power.  Thus, the right wing immediately spread the meme of Obama’s supposed anti-Israel outlook.  This is nonsense: of all the Presidential candidates, only Obama seems to know or care about the impending demographic disaster that will occur if the settlements persist.  As for the Likud (and its US adjunct, also in the GOP), it seems oblivious to all of this, insisting that Israel is a democracy even if the settlements make it impossible ever to withdraw from the territories.  (Note: this does not mean withdrawal now is necessary; rather, it must be possible, and the maintenance of hundreds of thousands of settlers in West Bank makes that close to impossible).

Seeing the political writing on the wall, Obama backed off.  He basically had no other choice.  But after the election, he will.

This is true whether or not he wins re-election.  It is not too hard to imagine a series of Security Council resolutions demanding settlement freezes, or recognizing a Palestinian state.  They might clarify UN Resolution 242/338 by saying that “the territories” referred to in those resolutions comprise all of the territories in mandatory Palestine conquered in 1967.  These resolutions will not be anti-Israel, but rather anti-Likud, which as I noted above, is now a basically anti-Zionist party.

In the past, we could easily expect a US veto.  But after Election Day, President Obama is a lame duck either way — his term will end either in January 2013 or January 2017.  He will be untouchable politically. It is no accident that Ronald Reagan — that well-known enemy of Israel — initiated the formal US dialogue with the PLO in December 1988, when he had one month left in his term.  It will not be hard for Obama to tell his UN representative to abstain from these motions.  I think he will be particularly happy not to take the phone call from Netanyahu. 

All of this assumes, of course, that the status quo remains in place for the next 10 months — which it might not.  I still believe that even a politician as crass, unprincipled, and oleaginous as Netanyahu will not want to commit national suicide by attacking Iran.  Ditto with mullahs in Tehran.  If not, not.  Then we will have bigger problems.  But assuming complete madness does not overtake the Middle East (always arguable), the smash will come in about 11 months.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

13 thoughts on “Israel and America in 2012: Wait for November”

  1. And since when has O given ANY indication that he would do something bold and daring like this???? Suppose he loses……..he’ll probably still be afraid that the republicans would reconvene congress and impeach him…..even though it wouldn’t matter!

    1. Generally true, but not on national security or foreign policy. Bin Laden assassination, Libya (which in my view was illegal but morally justified), getting out of Iraq, etc. I agree with you that Obama has been horribly weak on using executive power domestically, but not as commander-in-chief.

  2. A guy who’s going to be president for the next four years and two months — signing or vetoing legislation, appointing hundreds of officials, overseeing the Executive Branch, commanding the military, controlling the best bully pulpit on the planet — is not a “lame duck.”

  3. I think the idea that Obama will be unfettered after his last election is just wrong: he will, as all other past-their-last-election Presidents have, pay attention to the effects for his party and allies of his actions. To the extent that the Likudniks have backing among people who have traditionally given money to Dems, he has to pay attention to their desires, no matter what his personal inclinations are. And I’m with Potifar: O seems pretty timid, usually, in foreign affairs. I agree that his inclinations would go in the direction of accepting your imagined “… series of Security Council resolutions demanding settlement freezes, or recognizing a Palestinian state. They might clarify UN Resolution 242/338 by saying that “the territories” referred to in those resolutions comprise all of the territories in mandatory Palestine conquered in 1967. These resolutions will not be anti-Israel, but rather anti-Likud..” but it’s hard for me to see him investing a lot in switching the direction of US policy, when he has a lot else going on.

  4. I, too, hope President Obama has learned something from the past few years. It’s just not anything like what you seem, fixedly, to continue believing.

    I’ll just put it this way: The Palestinian Arabs can completely put a stop to Israeli settlement in any territory making up a Palestinian Arab state by negotiating a resolution to this conflict which demarcates the boundaries between that state and Israel. They don’t have to wait for settlement activity to cease in order to negotiate such a resolution. The sooner they begin, the sooner the parties might succeed in negotiating a resolution. And the sooner they succeed, the sooner the settlement stops.

    Now, unfortunately, I’ll tell you flat out that I have no expectations any more that this is going to happen any time soon. I used to think the issue was borders. I don’t think so any more. Now I think the issue is, what is the definition of a border: specifically, that the state in question gets to decide who gets to cross its borders and (among other things) live inside them, and other states agree to respect that. You might think this is a necessary condition for being what we’d normally call a border between states at peace, and you’d be right. The conclusion I draw from this little exercise in semantics is not optimistic.

    1. Sorry to be dense, but who is it that you’re trying to say doesn’t understand what a border is? It’s not that obvious to me.

      1. Sorry to be elliptical, here’s my point: From Israel’s perspective, the whole conflict has to be settled in a package deal before a Palestinian Arab state can be established. This is the meaning of the “end to all claims” clause they insist on. Specifically, part of the deal has to be an explicit agreement that all Arab refugees from 1948 who lived in what is now Israel prior to that point, and their descendants, will be resettled in the Arab Palestinian state, not Israel. Israel might offer reparations, but there can be no further claim that they have the right to cross the established border and live in Israel. Again this must be explicit, not implicit, the point being that nothing that could be construed as a cause for further conflict between the two states can remain unresolved.

        Until and unless this issue is resolved once and for all, the Palestinian position is that, borders or no borders, there are several million Arabs who they maintain have the right to cross the border and live in Israel. Which is to say, the border isn’t actually a border as far as they’re concerned.

  5. I have a hard time imagining Reagan making such a calculation in December 1988 based on the calculus you describe, because his faculties, always suspect, were so obviously slipping in the last years of his Presidency, and many of his core policy staff were staying on with the Bush administration and so would hardly agree that there were no career consequences to face. I agree he waited until after the election – too risky to have leaks before the election, and cause problems – but I’m less certain it greatly mattered which election, ie that he’d never face another.

  6. Ditto with mullahs in Tehran. If not, not. Then we will have bigger problems. But assuming complete madness does not overtake the Middle East (always arguable), the smash will come in about 11 months.
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