As the Bush Administration searches for a way out of Iraq, they've been forced to use diplomacy. In the past few weeks, President Bush and Secretary of State Rice asked Iraq's neighbors to help end the Iraqi civil war. In the process, Dubya had to swallow a bitter pill: acknowledge that his Israeli-Palestinian "policy" isn't working. Our Arab allies told Bush they won't help with Iraq until he agrees to broker a meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.
In a recent interview on the PBS News Hour, former President Carter lamented the failings of the Bush Administration: "There hasn't been a day of negotiation orchestrated or promoted by the United States between Israel and the Palestinians in six years." In a marked departure from the even-handed policy of previous Administrations, the Bush White House adopted a one-sided, laissez faire attitude towards Israel.
It's not difficult to understand the roots of this policy shift: they lie in the Machiavellian politics and pseudo-religiosity of the Bush Administration. Beginning in 1999, Bush's guru, Karl Rove, sought to weaken constituencies of the Democratic Party, such as people-of-color, trial lawyers, blue-collar workers, and Jews. He adopted different tactics for each group. For Jewish voters, Rove advised the President to become aggressively pro-Israel. This had a modest political effect; in the 2004 Presidential election, Bush got five percent more Jewish votes than he did in 2000. However, Rove's tactic had a significant impact on the foreign policy of the United States.
The religious pandering of the Bush White House also influenced their treatment of Israel. Recently, political comedian Bill Maher observed that the political climate in the US has shifted to the extent that no one in Congress will admit to being an atheist: America has become such a religious nation that if you are a politician, it's political suicide to come out as a non-believer. This is one of the consequences of the Administration's calculated play to the religious right. For the record, I'm a Quaker and, therefore, a liberal Christian. Nonetheless, I find America's newfound political religiosity deeply disturbing. Conservative Christian theology that preaches women are subservient to men shows up in the far right's attempt to have government exercise control over women's bodies. And, it affects our treatment of Israel: The Administration tacitly supports the radical Christian position that the "end times" won't happen until the Jews control the Promised Land. This extreme attitude has been at the core of the Bush Israeli policy. It was demonstrated by our support for Israel's invasion of Lebanon. And our willingness to let Israel subject Palestinians to apartheid--a term that former President Jimmy Carter used in the title of his most recent book.
Carter and other American statesmen argue that the Administration's Israeli policy has been counter-productive: It's inflamed the Middle East at a time when we're trying to reduce tension there, when the stated objective of the Bush Administration is to usher in a new era of democracy. As a consequence, the Bush strategy has fueled terrorism at a time when a more rational approach would be to do the opposite.
The dysfunctional Bush Israeli-Palestinian policy gets a lot of attention in the world press: it's a frequent subject on outlets like Al Jazeera and The International Herald Tribune. But the failed Administration policy receives scant mention in the U.S. press. Apparently because of America's new political religiosity, it's become politically incorrect to appear to criticize Israel.
This shift in policy and public sentiment has produced an unbalanced and unhealthy American attitude about Israel, and the Middle East, in general. America has a responsibility to protect Israel, but that's not the same as supporting their actions without reservation. Dogmatically approving of Israeli treatment of Palestinians is not only inhumane--because, on occasion, Israeli action is unjustified and brutal--it's bad global politics: The Bush Administration wants Arab states to help the US control the Iraqi civil war. But Iraq's neighbors aren't interested in helping America because of our one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. They see our foreign policy as self-centered; ask why they should help us when we are unwilling to curtail Israel's bellicosity.
This came to a head on November 29th when President Bush met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki. The American media focused on the Bush-Maliki meeting, but for much of the rest of the world the big news was Abdullah's refusal to talk about Iraq and to, instead, focus on the necessity for the Bush Administration to resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. King Abdullah was direct: Bush wasn't going to get help with Iraq until he brokered a reasonable peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. A stiff challenge for a President who hasn't expressed much interest in diplomacy.
When the 110th Congress convenes in January, Democrats will begin a national debate on Iraq. What they should also do is link Iraq to our dysfunctional Israel policy. Demand that President Bush broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord.