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How Past Leaders Responded to American Pressure

Past Israeli leaders' responses to American pressure make Netanyahu's look tame, says former statesman Yoram Ettinger.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 5/22/2011, 5:41 PM / Last Update: 5/22/2011, 6:56 PM

Flash 90

Was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's response to United States President Barack Obama's pressure on Israel unusually firm, as some pundits maintain? Not at all, says Israel-US expert Yoram Ettinger, who formerly served in Israel's embassy in Washington DC and as Consul General in the southwestern US.

Previous Israeli leaders responded far more firmly to American pressure, Ettinger told Arutz Sheva's Hebrew-language news service in an interview Sunday. Not only did they not harm Israel's relationship with the U.S. in doing so, he added, they actually strengthened it.

American pressure on Israel is as old as the state of Israel, Ettinger stated. The U.S. pressured former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to retreat following Israel's successful battle against invading Arab armies in 1948, a demand Ben-Gurion steadfastly refused, despite Israel's relatively small size and weak position at the time.

Subsequent prime ministers not only did not give in to American pressure when they felt it would harm Israel, but even did the opposite of what the U.S. state department requested. When then-Prime Minister Golda Meir was pressured by U.S. President Richard Nixon to retreat to the 1949 armistice line and redivide Jerusalem, she responded by not only refusing Nixon's demands, but building new Jewish neighborhoods in formerly Jordanian-occupied parts of the city.

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol did the same in his time, building the neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol in response to pressure to stop Jewish building outside the western neighborhoods of the capital. 

Former Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir openly disagreed with senior U.S. officials, bluntly telling then-Secretary of State James Baker, “ Mr. Secretary, you can demand what you choose to demand but this is our country and we will not agree to do anything that will harm its interests and future even if demanded by our best friend.” U.S. Senate leaders George Mitchell and Bob Dole later told Shamir, “You know why we respect you despite our disagreements with your policies? Because you’re tough!”

Shamir also expanded Jewish building in Judea and Samaria despite pressure from U.S. President George Bush (the elder) and James Baker.

America prefers strong allies, explained Ettinger. “Americans don't support us due to love alone, but because on a rainy day they want a strong ally at their side,” he said.

Particularly now, as many Arab leaders have been ousted from power or face widespread protests, Israel stands out as stable, trustworthy and capable, he added.

Netanyahu Should Stand Firm
Netanyahu must stand firm in the face of American pressure and remind Obama that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. goes both ways, Ettinger continued. Netanyahu should not be like those Israeli leaders who “react [to pressure] with obsequiousness, making us look weak,” he said.

Ettinger recalled the words of former White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig, who credited Israel with saving America an estimated $20 billion per year through its intelligence information, advances to American military technology, and more. Israel must remember that it is not merely a recipient of American goodwill, he noted.

Obama Faces 2012 Defeat
Obama faces defeat in the 2012 U.S. presidential elections if he does not change his tactics, predicted Ettinger. “He is discovering that success in the international community does not make up for internal failures,” Ettinger declared. “Obama symbolizes the high unemployment, the price of gas, the housing crisis and the banking crisis.”