The "Special Relationship" between America and Israel that trips so easily off the tongues of politicians addressing Jewish groups, in between mentions of their affection for Jewish deli food and Fiddler on the Roof, may be coming to an end. The relationship has gone through an extremely rough patch over the last few years, but even before that it had foundered on one impossible problem. The problem of peace.
Arab kings and dictators have used the existence of Israel as an excuse for everything from terrorism to totalitarianism and attributed it all to the regional instability caused by the Jewish State. An American diplomat, politician or general who visits with Saudi, Qatari or Kuwaiti leaders is told repeatedly that most of the problems in the region revolve around the Jewish State and the Occupation. Even pro-Israel Senators and Congressmen can't help walking away from meetings like these feeling that Israel is the key to solving all the problems in the Middle East.
The United States expects Israel to make peace, not just with the groups of terrorists squatting in the West Bank and Gaza, but throughout the region, to avoid alienating Washington's Muslim allies. Those same allies turned Israel's existence into a problem for the United States and the United States turned it into a problem for Israel. Israel has tried to solve the problem of Muslim enmity with negotiated peace accords and territorial concessions, without ever achieving anything more than glorified truces.
The Israeli problem has become more urgent for the United States after September 11 when winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world became a diplomatic and military obsession. But for Israel, the American problem is that the "Special Relationship" has shifted from a strategic alliance based on mutual interests to a single issue. The only thing that Washington wants to hear about from Jerusalem is progress in the peace process.
Israel has signed treaties, parceled out crucial strategic territories, evicted its own citizens from their homes and polished a battalion of chairs around negotiating tables. The undoing of the Camp David Accords and two decades of terror stemming from the Oslo Accords have destroyed the credibility of the peace solution. And Israel no longer has the breathing room for strategically risky peace experiments.
Only the fading threat of regional war made it possible for Israel to risk turning strategic border zones into an autonomous territory run by the terrorist clients of its enemies. With the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm in Egypt, the old specter of regional war is back and that transforms Gaza and the West Bank from domestic terrorist threats into weak points in Israel's defense lines against an external invasion.
Under the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian tanks in the Sinai are likely to eventually show up in Gaza and they may not stop there. And that prospect may achieve what two decades of bus bombings could not. If Egypt shifts into the enemy camp, then an autonomous Gaza run by the Muslim Brotherhood's local arm may be a political luxury that Israel can no longer afford. And what is true for Gaza will eventually be true for the West Bank as well.
The time may be approaching when the United States will be forced to decide whether it is willing to accept a relationship with an Israel that is no longer committed to a peace process with its enemies. Ever since Oslo, the American relationship with Israel has revolved around the pursuit of a Two State Solution, and few in Washington seem to realize that the process expired a while ago and has been running on fumes, facts on the ground and foreign aid.
No country and no people have been more hopeful that a new era of peace had come than the Israelis. The sheer number of peace songs that thrived in Israel during the 90s would embarrass a Woodstock reunion. But Israelis have been forced to accept that just because you want something, does not mean that you can have it. And the United States will have to either accept that as well or end its relationship with Israel.
Israel's relations with the United States have declined notably each time a peace accord was signed. After the brief euphoria of handshakes and congratulatory press releases, frustration sets in on the Potomac that the latest accords have not noticeably changed the situation in the region. Israel's attempts to make peace have only raised expectations that are doomed to end in disappointment.
Each president has come into office wanting to stand where Carter and Clinton stood in those famous photos. They will now have to decide whether they want to stand with Israel or whether without the illusion of peace, the special relationship between America and Israel will turn out to have only been a brief affair.