Aaron David Miller: U.S. Acts as Though It Seeks Regime Change in Israel





[Aaron David Miller, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has advised both Democratic and Republican secretaries of State on the Arab-Israeli negotiations. His book "Can America Have Another Great President?" is to be published in 2012.]

Regime change. Generally it's a term and tactic reserved for America's enemies. But what if the Obama administration is developing a more nuanced version for one of the United States' closest allies -- Israel?...

It wouldn't be the first time America meddled in Israeli politics. In fact, the notion that the United States doesn't interfere in Israeli politics is about as absurd as the proposition that the Israelis don't meddle in ours. On at least two occasions I know well, the U.S. not only rooted for preferred candidates (always on the Labor side) but actively took steps to shape Israeli politics, and even electoral outcomes.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III purposely denied Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir housing loan guarantees because of his willful settlement policies -- a move that directly contributed to his defeat by Yitzhak Rabin, who got those same guarantees a year later.

And in another, more direct intervention, President Clinton, in an effort to shore up then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres, orchestrated a summit of Middle East peacemakers at Sharm el Sheik and a high-profile visit to Israel in March 1996. Clinton not only wanted to demonstrate that the U.S. stood with Israel in the face of Hamas terror, but also to support the moderate Peres in his electoral race with Netanyahu. Peres, however, lost the election in a squeaker....

More to the point, the history of peacemaking on the Israeli side is a story of transformed hawks, not impassioned doves. Prime Ministers Menachem Begin (Egyptian-Israeli peace), Rabin (Oslo), Ariel Sharon (Gaza disengagement) and even Netanyahu himself (as the first Likud prime minister to withdraw from any West Bank territory) were right and right-of-center leaders who didn't start out as peacemakers, to be sure. Indeed, in his government, Netanyahu is the center.

The fact is that in 1998, Netanyahu's government fell not because the Clinton administration plotted against him but because it had worked with him and Yasser Arafat for almost a year to reach the Wye River accord. His coalition collapsed in December because it couldn't accommodate that peace process....


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