The US Congress, Israel and the Middle East

Congress's embrace of Israel may result in the scuttling of the nuclear negotiations and worsening relations with Iran that could result in widening turmoil, war and terrorism throughout the Middle East, including the strategic Persian Gulf, especially Afghanistan, in addition to Central Asia.

Posted on 02/9/15
By Robert Olson | Via Today's Zaman
U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC. (Photo by freshwater2006, Creative Commons License)
U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC. (Photo by freshwater2006, Creative Commons License)

As I write this article on Feb. 4, the brouhaha over Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to the US Congress on March 3 is still ongoing. Indeed, as a result of the row between the presidency and Congress, especially the Republican leadership of the Senate, it is likely that the row will continue for some time, perhaps to the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. It must also be considered that a number of Democrats were in cahoots with Boehner.

 

It is also still unclear whether Netanyahu will, indeed, speak to Congress. He might decide not to come and, if he does, he will limit his speech-making to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which will be holding its annual meeting in Washington at the same time with an expected audience of around 15,000.

 

Undoubtedly the emails and envoys have been flying between Washington and Tel Aviv and also between those in Congress and the Knesset, with thousands of sources of input from elsewhere.

 

This is to be expected. As explained by Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff, on Jan. 25 on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, “The US’s relationship with Israel is the most important one in the world.” McDonough repeated similar sentiments on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying: “Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding. It’s focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.”

 

Taking it for granted that McDonough was speaking for the executive branch, one can only doubly emphasize Congress’s embracing support for Israel and for those values — freedom, democracy, free speech — ensconced in most educated Americans’ realization of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and Americans’ perceptions of the contribution of those values to the creation of Israel and the need for Israel to be maintained as a state.

 

That said, the question is, how does Congress think that inviting Israel’s prime minister to speak to Congress on an issue as important as the US negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear program going to facilitate stability in the Middle East, let alone peace? If Congress cannot depend on US intelligence agencies’ assessment of Iran’s nuclear programs, how can Israel proffer better advice, particularly given the fact that the US and Israel cooperate on most aspects of both countries’ policies towards Iran? And when they do so in relation to every conceivable global national security question that either country has?

 

However the negotiations with Iran are concluded, what is at issue is Netanyahu’s visit to Congress, and I stress Congress, although if Netanyahu does speak to Congress no doubt he and other Israeli officials will meet with other members of the executive branch, if not with Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.

 

Analysts of the history and politics of Middle Eastern countries and non-state actors will have to conclude that if the US Congress’s alliance with Israel is the “most important one in the world,” then what chance do they have when it comes to the multiple differences they have with Israel? What of Congress’s positions towards Middle Eastern countries and non-state actors? What will Congress’s positions be on just two of the major issues confronting Congress and people in the Middle East?

 

For example, Congress’s embrace of Israel may result in the scuttling of the nuclear negotiations and worsening relations with Iran that could result in widening turmoil, war and terrorism throughout the Middle East, including the strategic Persian Gulf, especially Afghanistan, in addition to Central Asia. Such a conflagration in Central Asia would automatically bring in Russia, China and India, all of which have vital interests in this region.

 

By inviting Netanyahu to speak, Congress has basically stated that it will do nothing to stop Israel’s building of settlements in the West Bank or to stop Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Area C, comprising 61 percent of the West Bank.

 

Even if Congress acquiesces to, let alone approves of, Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and the containment of Palestinians in areas A and B, what will Congress do if there is a large outflow of Palestinians to Jordan in the coming years? Will Jordan be able to absorb Palestinians from the West Bank in a country of 6.3 million, 60 percent of whom are Palestinians in origin? Will Jordan be able to accomplish this while giving succor to nearly 1 million refugees from Syria and Iraq? Will it be able to do this with one of the greatest water depletions of all the countries in the central Middle East?

 

Can Jordan accomplish, adjust to and manage all of the above even if it were to receive some $1 billion worth of aid to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria? Can Congress maintain its “enduring, unshakeable and sacrosanct” support for Israel and still manage all of these historical anomalies and contradictions?

 

It is unlikely.

 

Robert Olson is a Middle East Analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky

This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading newspaper of Turkey. Click here to go to the original.

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