Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Strategic Triangle of the Middle East: America, American Jewry and Israel

Adam Garfinkle has a very good piece in Tablet Magazine about the the changing dynamics among Washington, Jerusalem, and American Jewry. He attributes it to changing demographics among both American Jewry and Israeli Jews as well as to the increased power of Israel. From 1948 until 1977 the Israeli leadership and the leadership of American Jews both sprang from Eastern Europe: from the Jewish ghettoes in the major cities and the shetls of the former Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. American Jews could interpret Israel to Washington and Washington to Israel. 
But this became less important over time as goyim, like myself, formed direct impressions of Israel through study abroad programs and more Israelis began to arrive in the United States as either diplomats, yordim (emigres), or military officers. In 1967 Israel demonstrated its value as a strategic asset by not just beating the Arabs as in 1948, or trouncing a single Arab state as in 1956, but in demolishing three Arab armies simultaneously. Then a decade later Oriental Jews began to move into power through the victory of the Likud. The Likud had different values from many American Jews: it was not social democratic, it was annexationist, and even more than Labor it was dependent on the support of religious Zionists and ultra-Orthodox who rejected the Jewish bona fides of much of the American Jewish community i.e. all non-Orthodox denominations.  
This was not immediately important as Washington and Jerusalem had a common interest in resisting the spread of Soviet influence. Then came the end of the Cold War in 1990 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992. After that the common glue holding the relationship together was the resistance to the spread of Iranian influence in the Middle East. But many realists began to question Israel's value in stopping the spread of Iranian influence among Arabs who were anti-Israel. These arguments were similar to those of earlier realists like George Ball and Cap Weinberger, but more influential because the era of conventional wars between Israel and Soviet client states was past. Israel's foes in the Middle East were terrorist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah, both supported by Iran. 

American Jewry also fragmented politically with a greater portion voting both Republican, as Evangelical Protestants made the Republican Party more pro-Israel under George W. Bush, and independent. Why is this important? 
A similar strategic triangle once existed between London, Belfast, and the British Army. Northern Ireland provided many of the generals for the British in both world wars. In the early summer of 1914 British officers at the Curragh Barracks in Ireland stated that they would not fight "kith and kin" if London attempted to force Home Rule on Ulster. A Home Rule bill had passed the British House of Commons and the House of Lords veto was exhausted by three vetoes on the bill. London was committed to implementing Home Rule (autonomy) for Ireland, which the unionists in Ulster opposed as they equated it with Rome Rule. The outbreak of World War I intervened and delayed the implementation of Home Rule. An attempted British conscription of Irish in 1918 led to a widespread Sinn Fein victory and a defeat of the constitutional nationalists backing Home Rule. Before the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919, the Irish War of Independence broke out in January. In the summer of 1921 London partitioned off the six northeastern counties of Ulster (leaving three Ulster counties in Ireland) creating Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. In December 1921/January 1922 Southern Ireland became the Irish Free State and eventually in 1949 the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.

Over time the British Army became less aristocratic and more meritocratic and professional. As Britain decolonized from its African, Asian, and Caribbean colonies in the 1950s and 1960s and turned towards its role in NATO, many British officers became more focused on fighting conventional wars in Europe against a potential Soviet invasion and less interested in the anti-terrorism that was practiced in Northern Ireland. At the same time most British--particularly in England and Wales and among Catholics in Scotland--saw Northern Ireland as a foreign country. Although they did not want to be forced out of it by terrorism they were not emotionally attached to it. Starting in December 1973 London committed itself in writing to abandoning Northern Ireland and allowing a united Ireland when a majority of the adult population voted for this in a referendum.

Unionists in Northern Ireland had always been able to rely on the support of the Conservative Party. But without the British Army as an emotional intermediary, the Conservatives became much less committed to Northern Ireland existing in perpetuity. First, Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with Dublin in November 1985 giving Dublin an institutional consultative role in the running of Northern Ireland. The unionists regarded this as the ultimate betrayal as they thought of Thatcher as one of their own. Then Thatcher's successor, John Major, looked to Dublin as a partner in the Northern Ireland peace process. Major paired with Albert Reynolds, the leader of the irredentist Fianna Fail party, in setting the terms for the peace process. In the end it was Tony Blair of Labor who with Bertie Ahern of Fianna Fail mediated the Good Friday Agreement between nationalists and unionists. 

As the emotional factor provided by the military ties of the Irish Guards regiments alumni in the Conservative Party melted away Britain was able to mediate a peace in Northern Ireland that took care of the interests of all sides. The ultra-nationalist irredentist Zionists of the Likud and Beit Israel are worried about a similar process taking place among American Jewry that might one day lead to a balanced peace process and a Palestinian state. Hence the demonization of J Street.

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