Kristof Pleads for More Debate Over U.S. Embrace of Israel

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By: E&P Staff

Very little criticism of Israel and its policies is commonly voiced on editorial pages and by political figures in the United States, even though America is the prime ally and military supplier of Israel, and what happens in the Middle East impacts us greatly. Nicholas Kristof pointed this out in his Sunday column for The New York Times and called for the kind of brisk debate often heard in — Israel.

Excerpts from his column, at www.nytimes.com (behind the TimesSelect wall) follow.

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Democrats are railing at just about everything President Bush does, with one prominent exception: Mr. Bush?s crushing embrace of Israel.

There is no serious political debate among either Democrats or Republicans about our policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. And that silence harms America, Middle East peace prospects and Israel itself.

Within Israel, you hear vitriolic debates in politics and the news media about the use of force and the occupation of Palestinian territories. Yet no major American candidate is willing today to be half as critical of hard-line Israeli government policies as, say, Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper….

One reason for the void is that American politicians have learned to muzzle themselves. In the run-up to the 2004 Democratic primaries, Howard Dean said he favored an ?even-handed role? for the U.S. ? and was blasted for being hostile to Israel. Likewise, Barack Obama has been scolded for daring to say: ?Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.? In contrast, Hillary Rodham Clinton has safely refused to show an inch of daylight between herself and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert….

For more than half a century, the U.S. was an honest broker in the Middle East. Presidents Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were warmer to Israel and Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush a bit cooler, but all sought a balance. George W. Bush has abandoned that tradition of balance.

Hard-line Israeli policies have profoundly harmed that country?s long-term security by adding vulnerable settlements, radicalizing young Palestinians, empowering Hamas and Hezbollah, isolating Israel in the world and nurturing another generation of terrorists in Lebanon. The Israeli right?s aggressive approach has only hurt Israeli security, just as President Bush?s invasion of Iraq ended up harming U.S. interests.

The best hope for Israel in the long run isn?t a better fence or more weaponry; they can provide a measure of security in the short run but will be of little help if terrorists turn, as they eventually will if the present trajectory continues, to chemical, biological or radiological weapons. Ultimately, security for Israel will emerge only from a peace agreement with Palestinians. We even know what that peace deal will look like: the Geneva accord, reached in 2003 by private Israeli and Palestinian negotiators….

Last summer, after Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped two others, Prime Minister Olmert invaded Lebanon and thus transformed Hezbollah into a heroic force in much of the Arab world. President Bush would have been a much better friend to Israel if he had tried to rein in Mr. Olmert. So let?s be better friends ? and stop biting our tongues.

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