No up side to Israeli meddling in US politics

From The Washington Post: Obama and Kerry must see the [Iran] negotiations through to completion in June, a goal that remains in question, given some of the missing details. Obama, in particular, must try to sell any final agreement in the face of fierce opposition from Republicans and some Democrats at home — and Israel abroad — and skepticism across the Middle East, including from its ally Saudi Arabia.

From The New York Times: As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama wwill make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.

Without comment on the emerging deal to regulate Iran’s nuclear program, or on the pros-and-cons of President Obama’s foreign policy, it is becoming increasingly clear that the politics surrounding the deal will be an unmitigated disaster for Israel.

According to a ABC News/Washington Post poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans support a deal to reign in Iran’s nuclear program, with identical numbers saying they have little confidence that such a deal would work.

Significantly, the Republican majority in Congress leads American opposition to dealing with the Ayatollahs, and skepticism about the possibility of Iran keeping the terms of a negotiated agreement. Congressional opposition to a deal would certainly align with Israeli, Saudi and other US interests in the Middle East.

But it should be clear that both Republicans and Democrats alike view the deal in strictly American terms. In other words, the American debate over the framework agreement has only to do with whether or nor the deal will serve American interests, not whether plusses or minuses of the deal for American allies in the Middle East. Viewed with that lens, the debate between Congress and the White House boils down to this: Congress believes that a deal that exposes US interests to a nuclear Iran is bad for America. President Obama believes it is in America’s interest to pursue a negotiated settlement that brings Iran back into the family of nations. If that means (potentially) exposing Israel and the Sunni Arab states to a nuclear, the president appears to believe either that that threat has been greatly overstated, or he has re-thought America’s foreign policy needs on the most fundamental level. In either event, the risks to traditional US allies inherent in a world-sanctioned Iranian nuclear program are no longer of primary concern to the White House.

Regardless of one’s analysis of that debate, it is hard to see a positive side to the perception that Israel now yields direct political clout over US politicians, influence paid for with big bucks from Israel supporters like Sheldon Adelson, on an issue that Americans believe should be entirely a domestic US debate.

Traditional “winners-and-losers” analysis would appear to finger Israel as a “winner” if Congress were to scuttle a deal favoured by the Administration. In that case, Prime Minister Netanyahu would have successfully bypassed the president and thrown his considerable political weight behind a movement to oppose the Framework Agreement, and emerged with a favourable result.

In real terms, however, that Israeli “victory” would look quite a lot like a group of international Jews using their influence to affect American domestic and foreign affairs. It is hard to see the upside in that formulation for Israel.

In contrast to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman – no less threatened by a deal with Tehran than Israel – who kept largely silent in recent months as negotiations proceeded in Lausanne and reacted last week to the deal saying only that he hoped it would bring “stability and security” to the region, Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken a central role on the American political stage to oppose the deal.

Supporters of the prime minister will correctly note that support for Israel across the United States remains high. Seventy percent of Americans continue to identify with Israel’s narrative of the Israel-Palestinian conflict (we tried to make peace, the Arabs have rejected peace plan after peace plan and repeatedly attacked us).

But a deeper analysis of that fact shows that Israel is becoming a partisan issue in the U.S.: Since 1988, when Republicans and Democrats said they supported Israel in about equal numbers (c. 47 percent), today those numbers are widely disparate: 83 percent of Republicans say they sympathise more with the Israelis than with the Palestinians, while just 48 percent of Democrats hold the same view.

It is hard to see a positive side to that split.

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