By Yoram Ettinger—
Long-term trends in U.S.-Israel relations do not hinge solely, or even mostly, on U.S. presidents. This has been documented since Israel’s establishment in 1948, and especially since the early 1980s, when, despite systematic presidential pressures on Israel, bilateral cooperation in the fields of industry, commerce, science, technology, agriculture, homeland security and defense has surged beyond expectations.
President Harry Truman pressured Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to end the “occupation” of western Jerusalem and parts of the Negev and Galilee; President Lyndon Johnson pressured Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to refrain from reuniting Jerusalem and building in “occupied areas”; President Richard Nixon pressured Prime Minister Golda Meir to end the “occupation” and refrain from building in east Jerusalem; President Jimmy Carter pressured Prime Minister Menachem Begin to focus on withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, rather than on peace with Egypt; President Ronald Reagan pressured Prime Minister Begin to rescind the application of Israeli law to the Golan Heights and end the pursuit of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon; President George Bush pressured Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to recognize the PLO and refrain from construction in Judea and Samaria.
Despite the presidential pressures — which included arms embargoes, suspensions of deliveries of advanced military systems, denials of loan guarantees, and brutal condemnations — Israel’s role as the United States’ major non-NATO ally and it most effective and unconditional geostrategic ally has catapulted to unprecedented levels.
The assumption that U.S.-Israel relations are shaped from the top down and are determined by U.S. presidents and “elites” constitutes a slap in the face of U.S. democracy, which puts the voter in the center with the thundering battle cry that no elected official can afford to ignore: “We will remember in November!”
According to the most recent annual Gallup poll of country favorability, despite the tensions between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ongoing criticism by the State Department and the “elite” U.S. media and academia, Israel ranks systematically among the most favorable countries to Americans, enjoying the support of 71% of the US constituency, compared with the Palestinian Authority’s 19%.
In fact, U.S.-Israel relations have been shaped from 400-year-old foundations of history, tradition and values based on much older shared Judeo-Christian values. In the 17th century, the early Pilgrims arriving on the shores of what would become the United States saw themselves as landing in a “modern-day Promised Land” after weeks of sailing across the “Red Sea” (the Atlantic Ocean) in an effort to get away from “Egypt” (Britain). The Founding Fathers considered themselves “the people of the modern-day Covenant.” In 2016, these values feature prominently in the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court and the centrality of Judeo-Christian values in the U.S. political, judicial and legal discourse.
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, U.S.-Israel relations have not hinged solely, or mostly, on the executive branch, but at least as much on the equal, codetermining legislature, often in defiance of the executive. The Constitution and Congress’ own track record give Congress the power of the purse. Both houses have demonstrated their awesome muscle in critical junctions of recent U.S. history, including in the areas of foreign policy and national security, such as ending U.S. military involvement in Cambodia/Vietnam (1973), Angola (1976) and Nicaragua (1982-85); bringing down the white regime in South Africa (1986); castrating the U.S. intelligence community (1975) and forcing free emigration upon Moscow (1974).
Congress, along with many state legislatures, has always been the most authentic reflection of the will of the people in the 435 districts and 50 states, authoritatively reflecting the long-held special affinity felt by Americans toward the Jewish state. Some congressmen from districts without a single synagogue are urged by their constituents: “Don’t forsake the Jewish state.”
Furthermore, the future of U.S.-Israel relations hinges less on the next president’s policies toward the Palestinian issue, Jerusalem or settlements than it does on other issues: the president’s own national security worldview; the increasingly anti-U.S., unpredictable, unstable, intolerant and violent international arena; the intensifying threats (especially Islamic terrorism) to national and homeland security in the U.S. and its Arab allies; Israel’s military and commercial capabilities as “the largest U.S. aircraft carrier,” despite not having a single U.S. soldier on board; and Israel as the battle-tested laboratory for U.S. military forces and defense industries in a region critical to U.S. security.
Irrespective of the outcome of this November’s presidential election, 2017 will experience a sustained enhancement of the mutually beneficial U.S.-Israel cooperation in response to global threats and opportunities, consistent with the shared values of justice and liberty that bind the two countries.