Has American approval become the kiss of death for Israeli politicians? Is there a chance American politicians will take a second look and pull back a bit from involvement in Israeli politics?
Back in 2000, former President Clinton was on the verge of writing position papers for former Laborite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Barak lost the election to Likud stalwart Ariel Sharon. A couple of weeks ago President Bush endorsed Sharon’s plan to withdraw Israeli settlements from the Gaza strip but keep key settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan River — and the policy of targeted killings of key terrorist leaders.
On Sunday, Sharon’s Likud Party, in a referendum, rejected the Gaza plan by a 60-40 margin. Sharon did survive a vote of no confidence in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. But there is little question his position is now weaker. As a headline in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put it, he has become “a leader without a party.”
Even a tacit endorsement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger couldn’t spare Sharon the embarrassment of public rejection.
Where Israeli politics will go from here is anybody’s guess. Sharon has vowed to amend his Gaza withdrawal plan to win back support from his own party.
Whether an amended plan will do — many settlers and their supporters feel betrayed by what they view as Sharon’s retreat into pragmatism — is an open question. Since no party has a solid majority, Sharon heads a coalition government. So far he has held the coalition together. But former Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waiting in the wings for Sharon to stumble.
At some point the Israelis might even talk with the Palestinians.
The United States, however, would do well to pay heed to Ivan Eland, who heads the Center from Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. “Sometimes you gain more by staying on the sidelines, biding your time until the parties that really matter — the Israelis and the Palestinians — are pushed by events to talk to one another,” Eland said.
Good advice, but it’s unlikely President Bush will take it. Which means the United States will be more deeply involved (and blamed) when things go south again.