American and Israeli Interests Diverge on Talking to Syria

Public broadcasting stars Terry Gross and Judy Woodruff have both now paddled Jimmy Carter for the “provocative” title of his book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid. In each case the gentlemanly grandfatherly prez bore up beautifully under the treatment, stuck to his guns. I chose the title deliberately, Carter said, because Americans don’t understand the situation in the Occupied Territories. In fact, he went on, conditions in the West Bank are “worse” than apartheid. Which is just what a South African church worker told me on my visit to Hebron last summer. I.e., the word “apartheid” is not provocative, but descriptive.

While we’re on provocative matters, let’s talk about Robert Satloff, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Kenneth Pollack, of Brookings’s Saban Center, holding forth on television about Syria. Satloff all but dismisses the idea of engaging Syria. Pollack says (with his usual indirection), There will be a high price for the U.S. to pay.

Syria may finally be the Elian Gonzalez moment I’ve been waiting for on the Israel lobby—the moment when U.S. interests and Israeli interests part sharply, for all to see. It is now a commonplace to hear Republican congressmen saying We should talk to Syria. I.e., any idiot knows we should be talking to Syria, to try and save lives in Iraq.

It may not be in Israel’s interest to talk to Syria. That is, Israel has time and again declined Syria’s overtures in the last few years. For whatever reason, foolish arrogant or visionary, because they don’t want to part with the Golan, or think they have pulverized Hezbollah, Israel’s leaders don’t want to talk to Syria. Their call.

This is a good line in the sand: Israel doesn’t want to talk to Syria, the U.S. maybe does. Where do you stand, Ken Pollack, of the Saban Center (a thinktank funded by an Israeli)? And Satloff of WINEP, hirer of Israeli generals? Are Israeli and American interests always congruent? Now that’s a good question for public broadcasting.