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Omdahl: Israel lobby prevails

According to The Washington Post, Palestinians were sadly disappointed over the results of the recent meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. They expected an agreement on self-government for a Palest...

According to The Washington Post, Palestinians were sadly disappointed over the results of the recent meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama. They expected an agreement on self-government for a Palestinian state. They should have known better.

While the world expects the United States to take the lead in bringing peace to the Middle East, domestic politics prevents this country from being a neutral party in position to treat all sides fairly. When push comes to shove, we are in Israel's pocket and the whole Middle East knows it, greatly impairing our ability to lead.

While history is replete with evidence of our partiality, recent events continue to underscore our pro-Israel bent. We dropped the prosecution of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman as Israeli spies; we boycotted the World Conference Against Racism at the behest of Israel; Charles Freeman withdrew as chair of the National Intelligence Council when opposed by the Israeli lobby. And so the litany continues.

Aaron Miller of Newsweek magazine recently urged President Obama to get tough with Israel.

"Obama will have to maintain his independence and tactical flexibility to play the mediator's role," he argued. The truth is that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will permit neutrality. Both parties have internal reasons for continuing a pro-Israel policy.

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First, the Democrats. The Jewish community in the United States is an important part of the Democratic constituency. Not only does it vote heavily for Democrats, but it raises millions of dollars for Democratic candidates. Many of the key leaders in the Democratic Party and the Democratic administration are Jewish. A Democratic president is in no position to antagonize this constituency.

When former President Jimmy Carter wrote "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" espousing fair treatment for the Palestinian people, he was called a "bigot" by the Israeli lobby. Speaker Nancy Pelosi protected the Democratic flank by disowning Carter, saying that he did not speak for the party on Israel. It is a hot-button issue in the Democratic Party.

Republicans can offer no leadership in the Middle East because they, too, are captives of internal politics. The "religious right" is the major faction in the Republican Party, and the "religious right" believes fervently in the Old Testament designation of Israel as God's chosen people. Struggling to regroup after the 2008 election, Republicans are in no position to alienate this important block of supporters.

With both parties locked into pro-Israel policy by internal politics, the United States will never be able to present itself to the Middle East as a legitimate negotiator. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama can talk peace every day of the year, and nothing will happen as long as the United States is unable to speak and act with impartial authority that will be accepted through the region.

With the hard-liners now in charge, Israel may need to be shoved toward serious peace negotiations, but internal politics in the United States will not permit any real pushing.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail ndmatters@q.com

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