Treaty Can Repair U.S.-Israel Relationship
By Ira Stoll | January 2, 2017, 15:47 EDT
One of the great paradoxes of Zionism is that a movement for Jewish national self-determination has found itself so often at the mercy of Gentiles.
Precedent for this goes all the way back at least to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who roughly 2,600 years ago allowed the Jews to return to the promised land and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
In modern times, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British foreign secretary, issued the landmark Balfour Declaration on November 2, 1917: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” In 1947, the United Nations voted at Lake Success in favor of Israel’s creation. President Harry Truman formally recognized the modern state of Israel at its founding in 1948. In the 1950s, France supplied Israel with weapons and nuclear equipment. More recently, the United States has sent billions of dollars in military aid to Israel.
For Israel, the assistance of foreign powers, while crucial, has also proven disappointingly erratic. The same United Nations General Assembly that had approved Israel’s creation later passed a resolution denouncing Zionism as a form of racism. The Persia of Cyrus has become the Islamic Republic of Iran, funding Israel’s deadly terrorist enemies and denying the reality of the Holocaust. The same Britain that had issued the Balfour Declaration also, in 1939, issued the White Paper harshly restricting Jewish immigration to the promised land at a time when the Jews of Europe were desperately seeking a refuge from the Nazi onslaught. The French who were so helpful with their arms sales to Israel in the 1950s also later helped build the Osirak nuclear reactor for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which aimed to destroy Israel. During the Vichy period of the 1940s, France collaborated in sending 77,000 Jews to die in Nazi camps.
If it seems excessive to mention of the Holocaust in response to the December 23 vote at the United Nations Security Council condemning the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and in its suburbs, forgive me. I invoke the authority of the late senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The U.N. Security Council vote sent me to my bookshelf and to the collected letters of Moynihan that were edited by Steven R. Weisman and brought out by publisher PublicAffairs in 2010. Moynihan had been President Gerald Ford’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1975 when the notorious “Zionism is racism” resolution passed. In 1991, looking back on it, Moynihan wrote a letter to a friend describing that vote as “the last great horror of the Hitler-Stalin era.”
As Moynihan put it in that letter: “I never came near to understanding the Holocaust until I encountered the Zionism resolution. … It was the secret behind the Holocaust. The charge was too hideous to believe. The mind goes blank; denial sets in; avoidance. I thought of the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939. Outward bound from Hamburg with 930 German Jews. Twenty-two allowed to land in Havana. Then back up the Atlantic coast of the United States. Lights ablaze at night. Refused entry. Back to Antwerp and the death camps. We had denied the possibility of death camps.”
If Moynihan erred in that letter it was only, alas, in describing the 1975 vote as “the last great horror of the Hitler-Stalin era.” At the end of last week, a new horror was added. The Security Council voted to condemn as illegal the Israeli presence in the Jewish quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Jewish presence at the Western Wall, the Jewish presence at the tombs of Abraham and Rachel, the Jewish presence in Jerusalem suburbs and in West Bank cities and towns whose positions secure the major population centers of the modern Jewish state from obliteration. Among the U.N. Security Council members who voted to condemn Israel were France, Britain, Spain, Malaysia, Russia, China, Venezuela, Japan, Ukraine, and Egypt.
The votes were reminders of Vichy France, of the Britain of the White Paper. They were a reminder of the Spain of the Inquisition, which not only expelled all its Jews but also, as Benzion Netanyahu recounts memorably in his masterpiece The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain, put to death, by torture, even those Spaniards with Jewish ancestry who had genuinely converted to Christianity.
Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2002, Mahathir Mohamad, banned the showing of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List from movie theaters in that country; instead, the bookstores prominently feature Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Russia, under Soviet rule, long forbade Jews from learning Hebrew or emigrating to Israel; dissenters, like Natan Sharansky, were banished to the gulag.
China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim and Tibetan minorities would be a fine subject for an actual U.N. Security Council resolution; they make the cruelest things Israel has done to Palestinian Arabs look like gentle acts of lovingkindness by comparison. Venezuela’s strongman Hugo Chavez welcomed and embraced Iran’s Holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the two countries cooperate militarily. Japan was allied with the Nazis in World War II. One and a half million Jews in Ukraine were killed in the Holocaust, 33,771 of them in two days at Babi Yar. Egypt has been cruel to the Jews back to the time of Moses and Pharaoh.
As for America, its abstention at the U.N. Security Council was reminiscent of how it treated the passengers on the St. Louis.
The point here is not to dwell on Jewish victimhood. It is simply to observe, from the extensive historical record, that not a single one of these nations other than Israel itself could be dependably relied on for Jewish security or even survival.
If America does want to try to turn this one around, the U.S. Constitution provides a path forward for both the Congress and President-elect Donald Trump.
Article Two of the Constitution gives the president “Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.” Article Six adds the emphasis that, along with the Constitution, “all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”
In the absence of such a treaty, the U.S.-Israel relationship will rest on tenuous legal ground no matter how deep it is in other ways. The United States and Israel do have a free trade agreement enacted in 1985. We have a memorandum of understanding on military aid reached earlier this year. And there have been countless other documents governing the relationship, some of which were undercut by Friday’s vote.
There was the letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of April 14, 2004, which stated, “the United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders … As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
That letter was effectively torn to shreds by the December 23 U.N. Security Council resolution.
There was the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, a law that stated as the “policy of the United States” that “Jerusalem should remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected” and “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.”
That law, too, was effectively shredded by Friday’s U.N. Security Council resolution — as it has been, on an ongoing basis, by the State Department’s refusal even to stamp the words “Jerusalem, Israel” on the passports of American Jewish children born in the Israeli capital.
What President-elect Trump and Congress could do with a treaty is to make it clear that neither America nor Israel recognize the validity of or will be bound in any way by the U.N. Security Council resolution passed on December 23. A treaty could make clear that the two nations are united in their dedication to pursuing peace and security in the face of the threat of extremist Islamist terrorism, which has emerged as the national security challenge of the 21st Century in the way that Nazism and Communism were the challenges of the 20th Century.
That doesn’t mean that America needs to embrace every Israeli settlement or every act by every settler. Nor does it necessarily mean that America or Israel needs to give up on the land-for-peace approach and replace it with a peace-for-peace approach. Israelis have their own internal differences on West Bank settlement policy. If the choice were living side by side with a peaceful Palestinian Arab state, a large majority of Israelis would happily give up the arduous responsibility of policing the West Bank. But that’s not the choice. Each time Israel has withdrawn from land — Gaza, Lebanon, Sinai — the land has been used as a staging ground for indiscriminate terrorist attacks on the civilians in the remaining Jewish-controlled territory.
A formal U.S. Senate treaty ratification vote, with the constitutionally required two-thirds margin, is something to which President Barack Obama was never willing to submit his precious Iran nuclear deal. Such a vote on a future U.S.-Israel treaty has the potential to demonstrate dramatically in Washington — the city where President Obama has chosen to live after he leaves office — how far outside the American mainstream is Mr. Obama’s approach to Israel.
The depth of the bipartisan disgust with Mr. Obama’s handling of the issue is clear not only from the many Republican denunciations, but also from the furious statements by Democratic senators and senators-elect. Senator Charles Schumer, the incoming Democratic leader, called the Obama administration’s action “extremely frustrating, disappointing and confounding.” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat, called the American abstention “unconscionable.” Senator Joseph Donnelly, a Democrat of Indiana, said he was “profoundly disappointed by the lack of American leadership shown at the U.N.” Senator Mark Warner, another Democrat, said he was “dismayed.” Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, said, “I am deeply disappointed that the administration set aside longstanding U.S. policy to allow such a one-sided resolution to pass.” Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat of Maryland, said he was “greatly disappointed” by the U.S. abstention. Senator-elect Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire, also opposed the U.N. resolution.
The signing ceremony for an Israel-America treaty could be held in a place with symbolic resonance. Perhaps at Brooklyn, or at Lake Success, or at St. Louis, or outside the United Nations at Turtle Bay, or on Ellis Island. Or at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Or perhaps in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Senator Moynihan gathered in 1995 for a commemoration of 3,000 years of Jerusalem and where Rabin said, “In Israel, we all agree on one issue: the wholeness of Jerusalem, the continuation of its existence as capital of the State of Israel. There are no two Jerusalems. There is only one Jerusalem. For us, Jerusalem is not subject to compromise, and there is no peace without Jerusalem. Jerusalem, which was destroyed eight times, where for years we had no access to the remnants of our Temple, was ours, is ours, and will be ours — forever.”
Any of those spots would be fine for a treaty signing. The U.S.-Israel relationship is special and deep, and it would be useful for both countries to get that relationship back on the right track after the damage wrought by Security Council abstention by the United States. If the repair is successful, one measure of it would be to make sure that Moynihan’s phrase “the secret of the Holocaust” is not ever again applicable to a resolution approved by a body where America has a veto.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of JFK, Conservative.