Haim Malka, deputy director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), is American-educated and has lived and worked in Israel. He is a prolific writer and speaker. In the present short study (110 pages) on the future of the U.S.-Israel partnership, Malka makes a number of assumptions and assertions, some of them historically superficial, others indeed astute. His object is to warn us that the partnership that traditionally binds the United States and Israel is in trouble. He tries to explain why this is so and offers suggestions for how it might be secured for the future.
It is clear that Malka supports the U.S.-Israel alliance. Yet, at least in print, he is naive about what really holds it together. For instance, he accepts without question the assumption that the relationship between the two countries is based on "an exceptionally deep and abiding commitment to Western style democratic society" (p. xviii). He also asserts that the two nations are partners because they "share a common strategic outlook on regional threats" (p. xix). This is pretty standard stuff from the Zionist perspective, yet, historically, it is highly questionable.
Let us analyze these assumptions. Why should the United States see an image of its own democratic values in Israeli political practice? Israel's "abiding faith" in "Western-style democracy" has, "from its inception in 1948," been restricted to a rather imperfectly implemented one-person-one-vote scenario — and that, only within the 1967 green line. In all other ways, non-Jews have been systematically discriminated against. Indeed, Israel's segregationist-style "democracy" was legally discarded by the United States back in 1954 with the Supreme Court's decision on Brown vs. Board of Education. Yet the myth of shared values prevails. Why?
The same analytical approach can be applied to the claim of a shared strategic outlook. The standard U.S. strategic goals worldwide are political stability that allows for economic penetration. During the Cold War, corresponding capitalist ideological considerations reached the point of obsession. In comparison, certainly since 1967 if not earlier, Israel's strategic goal has been territorial expansion, which has resulted in the exact opposite of regional stability. And, during the Cold War, Israel's aggressive behavior facilitated the spread of anti-capitalist Soviet influence into the Middle East. This drive for expansion is basic to Zionist ideology and makes Malka's assertion that "U.S. assistance and support for Israel" has led Israel to "help the United States promote regional stability for decades" (p. 107) something of an illusion. To this can be added the fact that, domestically, Israel was a socialist country until 1977. Yet, none of this has dented the myth of the strategic importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance. Why?
These questions are never asked. Malka simply accepts the conventional assumptions of shared values and strategic concerns. Consequently, he fails to note a deeper truth: The U.S.-Israeli alliance has always been held together by a more fundamental aspect of American domestic political practice, the power and influence of the Zionist lobby. This is allowed for by the structural nature of the U.S. political system — not only to skew the Middle East policy of the U.S. government, but also to maintain a behind-the-scenes pressure on the mainline media, which, until relatively recently, suppressed all non-Zionist counter narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Malka tells us that the Israel-U.S. partnership is in danger because of demographic changes in Israel and political shifts in the United States. He asserts that it is only since Menachem Begin's rise to power in 1977 that Israel has become more nationalistic and religious, as well as aggressive, in its foreign policy (p. 19). As a consequence, the "erosion of liberal politics" (p. 20) has led to a decline in Israel's appeal as an ally to both the U.S. government and people.
As this commitment to American-style liberal values was never strong in Israel, the process of erosion did not start in 1977. Conservative right-wingers like Begin had always been present; at times they sat in emergency-generated "unity governments" with the leftists of the Labor Party. The right-left difference in attitude toward the Palestinians has always been quantitative and tactical rather than qualitative and strategic. It is the Labor Party that put into practice the Iron Wall strategy of conservative right-wing leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, and Labor that began the illegal settlement process after 1967. Finally, the demographic growth of the orthodox and ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews has been ongoing since the founding of the state. The Labor Party's "father of the country," David Ben-Gurion, made the political deal establishing the potential power of the transplanted orthodox communities that survived the Holocaust.
Nonetheless, as Malka points out, changes in Israeli demographics are speeding up, and this will continue to affect the political nature of the Israeli state. The rapidly growing conservative orthodox communities have as little regard for democratic institutions as do the large number of Russian Jews who poured into Israel in the 1970s. Cumulatively, their growing political influence has, according to Malka, transformed into a minority the "liberal" element of Israeli politics, the very element that, allegedly, can best relate to U.S. leaders (p. 21).
However, the democratic values of a client state have never been the touchstone of U.S. support. The United States has overthrown any number of democracies (including the one in Iran in 1953) with no popular protest from Americans. If Malka is correct on the value of shared democratic values, we should hear some concern from U.S. officials about Israel's anti-democratic trend. But, at least in public, we do not. Malka does not account for this discrepancy. To do so, he would have to reference the Zionist lobby's machinations, which can account for the silence of U.S. politicians and media.
Despite these shortcomings in Malka's analysis, he has some insightful things to say. He understands that Israel's refusal to come to anything approaching a fair accommodation with the Palestinians carries significant potential to degrade U.S.-Israeli relations: "The U.S. national security establishment increasingly sees the Arab-Israeli conflict as a source of regional instability and fuel for the fire of anti-Americanism in the broader Middle East. For hundreds of millions of Arabs, solving the Palestinian issue is the test of U.S. power and sincerity" (p. 66). But he does not acknowledge that the only thing that can paper over this alarming sentiment is, again, the actions of the Zionist lobby. Malka might have asked how much longer the lobby can finesse this problem.
Instead, Malka tries to convince us that, while the United States pushes for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, what really concerns Israel is the lack of a militarily aggressive U.S. stand against a nuclear Iran. Malka accepts Israeli concern at face value and fails to note what every objective American and Israeli intelligence officer knows: there is no substantive evidence that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. This reduces the issue of Iran from a seminal problem to a useful bit of agitation-propaganda for right-wing Israeli politicians. They feed it to their own public (and indeed to themselves) and to American politicians and media. In the meantime, the Israelis pursue their first-order goal of absorbing the occupied territories, a process that makes impossible the achievement of regional stability — what is most important to the United States.
To date, the Zionist lobby has covered up this contradiction with talk about democracy and shared values and Israel's "strategic importance" to the United States. Yet Malka senses that this line of argument won't suffice forever, given the growing realization that Israel is purposely avoiding peace with the Palestinians. Thus, "ever-larger numbers of Americans argue that Israel's policies are shortsighted and detrimental to the interests of both countries …" (p. 57). He is quite right in this regard.
Malka's failure to acknowledge both the role of the Zionist lobby in the United States and the foundational role of territorial expansion in Israel undermines his ability to offer meaningful answers to the problems disturbing the U.S.-Israeli partnership. As a result, his two main recommendations are also rather superficial:
• Israel must keep the United States on its side by facilitating the American national interest of regional Middle East stability.
• The corollary to this recommendation is the successful solving of the "Palestinian issue." Only with such a solution can "U.S.-Israeli ties improve" (pp. 104-05). Yet how can these things happen when they contradict the seminal Zionist goal of territorial expansion?
Malka understands that, if the partnership is to survive, the burden of change is on Israel. Yet such change cannot come by merely replacing right-wing leaders with those from the left. The problem requires a more fundamental understanding of what motivates Israeli policy, on the one hand, and restrains Washington's, on the other.