The United States and Israel at a Crossroads


View to Jerusalem old city. Israel

Read the full report here.

Executive Summary

Today, the U.S-Israel bilateral relationship stands at a crossroads.

Increasingly the national interests of the two countries – and in particular its current leaders — are diverging. While the latest crisis is focused on the nuclear talks with Iran, on no issue does this divide have greater long-term implications for U.S. interests in the region than the creation of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. For the United States, this is an imperative; for the current Israeli government it is not.

It is increasingly evident that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing allies are preparing for a one-state future, in which Israel controls the entire territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and the Palestinians are provided a highly attenuated form of “autonomy.” Among Palestinians there is a growing sense of pessimism that their national aspirations will ever be realized and a belief that negotiations with Israel are pointless.

In our new report, The United States and Israel at a Crossroads, we argue that this state of affairs will soon create an untenable situation for the United States – caught between its traditional support for Israel and the pursuit of policies by the Israeli government that will leave the U.S. isolated in the Middle East and among the broader international community.  This dynamic will only accelerate if Prime Minister Netanyahu is asked to form the next Israeli government after national parliamentary elections in mid-March.

For that reason, the United States must take concerted action to achieve a permanent and realistic two-state solution. That effort must begin soon, with steps that make clear to the Israeli people between now and Election Day, the consequences of maintaining the status quo. A change of leadership in Israel that leads to a government that shares an interest in ending the Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair, secure and equitable manner is very much in America’s direct national security interests.

Based on interviews conducted over the past few years in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Washington, as well as a poll commissioned, last month, by the Foundation for Middle East Peace in conjunction with the Israeli firm New Wave Research, we believe that the White House may be pushing against an open door.

Our polling indicates that:

  • Israelis overwhelmingly believe that their country depends on U.S. support.
  • Fifty percent believe there is a growing crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship
  • Approximately two-thirds say that improving the bilateral relationship will play a role in how they vote
  • A plurality agrees that another term as Prime Minister for Netanyahu will see a further deterioration in relations, and that center-left parties are more likely to improve the situation.

There is an opportunity for the United States to sharpen the choice facing Israeli voters – and on two issues in particular, settlements and the peace process.

Our polling found:

  • Three-quarters of Israelis say it is important that the party they support in March makes progress in talks with the Palestinians.
  • This includes 60 percent of self-identified center-right voters.
  • These numbers represent a significant change from the last Israeli election three years ago, when the diplomatic process was a lesser priority
  • A strong majority of Israelis would support the Obama Administration releasing its own framework for a final status agreement.

Such a step by the United States would lend implicit support to parties whom Israelis overwhelmingly believe would be more likely to move forward with negotiations – while also shining a light on the inflexibility of the Netanyahu government.

In addition, while we found that Israelis are generally wary of direct U.S. pressure on Israel, the issue of settlements is an exception.

  • Half of those we polled said settlement expansion was undermining Israel’s legitimacy and its security.
  • Our findings indicate that Israelis are as likely to blame Israel as they are to blame the United States if the latter escalated its criticism of Israel’s settlement policies.
  • Based on our research, we think it is likely that if the U.S. were to support, or abstain from, a UN Security Council Resolution that condemned Israeli settlement expansion, it could have a decisive impact on many persuadable Israeli voters.

Finally, we found little evidence that direct U.S. pressure, if applied carefully, would create a pro-Netanyahu backlash.

  • Forty-six percent of centrist voters that we polled said that if the U.S. were to follow the above course of action they’d be more inclined to vote for a centrist or left-wing party – and an equal number said it would have no effect at all.
  • Less than 10 percent said it would make them more inclined to vote for a right-wing party.

While the impact of any U.S. effort would likely be limited, even the shift of just a handful seats from right to left could determine who is asked to form the next government.

Click here for polling data and methodology.