by Zalman Shoval
While Kissinger backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and believed Israel could not "be asked to give up conquered territory unless she has new, recognized, secure and guaranteed borders," George W. Bush surprised Israel by announcing his support for the two-state solution.
"Regardless of what the United States does, Israel's diplomatic isolation will increase unless there is a general settlement. Western Europe is more interested in its own economic stability than in the security of Israel. Black Africa has already broken with Jerusalem, and Japan and most of Asia will break diplomatic relations with Israel if the present trend continues. Without a fundamental change, Israel then will wind up in an international diplomatic ghetto, with the United States as its only friend. Even in the United States, Israel's position will not be secure unless she changes her policy . ... This may be Israel's last chance to make a peace that won't be imposed upon her."
Do these words sound familiar? Were they said by U.S. President Barack Obama? Or maybe Secretary of State John Kerry? No and no. They in fact come from a December 1973 New York Times op-ed by James Reston, who was describing then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's views on Israel's diplomatic situation at the time.
Over the past five decades, many things have changed, both in the world as a whole and in the Middle East specifically. But the American position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the involved issues (such as Jerusalem, borders and settlements) has been consistent since Lyndon Johnson's time in the White House. There have, of course, been ups and downs, as well different points of emphasis, over the years, but the basic stance of the U.S. government has remained more or less the same.
During one of the more idyllic moments in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship, when George W. Bush was in power, Elliott Abrams, who was the National Security Council's senior director for Near East and North African affairs at the time, asked to see me. Abrams gave me an unequivocal warning to pass on to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon -- if construction continued in "unauthorized" settlements (that is to say, outside the main settlement blocs), this would harm the entire relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. I do not know why I was chosen to deliver this message to Sharon, although perhaps the Americans thought that my status as a private citizen and my deep familiarity with the U.S.-Israel relationship would give the warning far greater weight. In any case, this chapter was another indication of the basic American view on the "territories" (Judea and Samaria).
On many matters, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to U.S.-Israel ties. By revealing his views to Reston (a prominent journalist at the time), Kissinger was seeking to smooth out America's relationship with the Arab world and bring an end to the Arab oil embargo that was put in place following the Yom Kippur War earlier that year. In more recent times, Obama, in statements given to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, declared his desire to open a "new page" with the Islamic world and create a "new reality" in the Middle East (although this ambition has been thwarted by the differences between the Obama administration and most Arab countries on the Iran nuclear issue).
Despite the consistency of American policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1967, some details have indeed changed and, as always, the devil is in the details. While Kissinger backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and believed Israel could not "be asked to give up conquered territory unless she has new, recognized, secure and guaranteed borders," George W. Bush surprised Israel by announcing his support for the two-state solution. And Obama wants to dictate the borders ahead of time, based on the 1949 armistice lines (the Green Line), with "land swaps," something that Obama's predecessors did not consider to be in line with the principles of Resolution 242. Obama also does not differentiate Jerusalem, the main settlement blocs and the rest of Judea and Samaria.
While in the past there were disputes that made headlines, particularly when George H. W. Bush was president and James Baker was secretary of state, the U.S. and Israeli governments have usually known how to avoid public confrontations. That is also in Israel's interest now, but does it have a partner in Washington?
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