GOP Gets It Right on Israel

Newt & Co. Tell Truth and Nurture Conservative Support

Right Points: Republicans have taken heat for hard-line positions on Israel that seem tailored for Christian conservatives. Noam Neusner argues they got things mostly right.
getty images
Right Points: Republicans have taken heat for hard-line positions on Israel that seem tailored for Christian conservatives. Noam Neusner argues they got things mostly right.

By Noam Neusner

Published December 14, 2011, issue of December 23, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Republican presidential contenders have campaigned hard for the pro-Israel vote. Recently they each made bold promises of fealty to Israel while addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition (save for Ron Paul, who wasn’t invited) and sparred verbally, not just over whether the United States should support a Palestinian state, but over whether the Palestinians were even a real people. This is not a late-breaking item. For several years, Republican candidates or possible candidates have visited Israel, voiced support for Jerusalem as its capital, expressed solidarity with the settlers and generally been about as hawkish as Menachem Begin.

Pro-Israel worrywarts fret that all this attention is a mixed bag. Sure, they welcome the love, but they caution that all this neo-Zionism threatens the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus. Not only that, the Republicans may well be painting a policy picture that is impossible to deliver.

On the first issue, the concern is both misplaced and too late. The Republican love affair with Israel, which began in earnest with Richard Nixon, has deep roots in the 50 million-strong evangelical community. The Democratic love affair with Israel, which dates back to Harry Truman, draws its sustenance from Jews and labor unions, at least for now.

That these disparate groups have not much to do with each other besides philo-Zionism doesn’t trouble me. There are plenty of strange coalitions in Washington around issues such as immigration, race-based redistricting and HIV/AIDS programs in Africa. So, why shouldn’t Israel have a motley group of fans? To put it more bluntly, why should abortion rights or gay marriage matter when it comes to who gets to support Israel?

The second concern — promising the unrealistic — is more serious. People running for president must realize at some point that they might win, and if they do, their promises will become their bond. Republican candidates offering to make major changes in U.S.-Israel policy therefore have to contend with the serious charge of policy unseriousness.

Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, for example, is an evergreen promise, but actually doing so would end any pretense that the U.S. is neutral on whether Jerusalem could serve one day as a capital city to the Palestinians. Observers of the peace process may well see such a move as the end of the peace process. Whether on settlements, right of return or Jerusalem, an American position of relative neutrality (or even hostility) to Israeli government policy is an important lever in the peace process, goes this argument. If the U.S. ever sides with Israel on these issues, the Palestinians and their Arab supporters would conclude that there will be no negotiated solution, and therefore only war would suffice.

Yet the Republicans can easily counter: So what? The U.S. has held back from moving the embassy to Jerusalem, but to no effect. The U.S. acts offended each time Israel builds a new house east of the Green Line, but those protests do not bring Palestinians to the peace table.

And it’s not as if moving the embassy is the biggest empty promise out there. A negotiated two-state solution to the conflict seems far more remote, by comparison. But uttering the phrase “two-state solution” is treated seriously, while “moving the embassy” is not. Perhaps we have it backward.

Three U.S. presidents — Bush, Clinton, Bush — engaged Palestinian leadership actively for nearly two decades. President Obama thought that engagement wasn’t enough, and pursued a more aggressive approach to getting Israel to the table. The end result: more Palestinian intransigence.

Truth be told, the Republican promises to reshape U.S.-Israel policy may be dramatic, but they are hardly unserious. If one considers the behavior of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people, the current or next U.S. president is perfectly within his or her rights to conclude that the Palestinians are not prepared to accept the basic outlines of a two-state solution.

And just as incoming U.S. administrations feel free to abandon the commitments of their predecessors to our foreign friends — think about what that “re-set” with Russia meant to the Czech Republic and Poland — a new Republican president should feel free to abandon the diplomatic niceties of the past.

Many of the U.S. policies regarding Israel and her neighbors are, at best, useful fictions. Those fictions are useful, though, only if they serve larger goals — peace, stability and security. The U.S. “one-China” policy comes to mind. But useful fictions also can undermine peace, stability and security.

Take the so-called right of return. Palestinians believe that they will return to the towns and villages of their grandfathers. This belief has no support in reality or in precedent. War refugees from countless conflicts throughout human history are resettled in other places. Resettlement is not a pain-free process, but it is often done effectively. By allowing Palestinians to continue to assert a right of return, U.S. policy — supported by U.S. tax dollars — ruins the lives of millions of third-generation refugees and undermines the ability of Palestinians to focus their efforts on building an actual state in Gaza and most of the West Bank.

On other issues, whether they are settlements, Jerusalem and even incitement, the parties to the conflict have already chosen their paths. It might be refreshing for an American president to say what is, in fact, true about the Israel-Arab conflict: that one side won and it is time for the losing side to accept defeat. The winning side wants to make peace and the losing side should accept the offer. And in war, the winning side can choose the terms of such a peace.

Most people won’t want to hear these things. But saying them out loud may prove far more effective than the current approach, which has given us a process without peace, and plenty of empty promises.

Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies. He is a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.