Mitigating The 'Dysfunctional' U.S.-Israeli Relationship

Host Rachel Martin talks with Aaron David Miller, Middle East analyst with the Woodrow Wilson Center, about the current state of relations between Israel and the United States, in the context of the upcoming election.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The way that Israelis vote and the policies that motivate those decisions will be watched closely from this country as well.

For more on what this election and events in the Middle East mean for the United States, I'm joined by Aaron David Miller. He's a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He's also a former Middle East negotiator. He joins us now.

Mr. Miller, thanks so much for being with us.

AARON DAVID MILLER: A pleasure, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you tell us in very simple terms why do these elections matter from an American perspective?

MILLER: Well, they matter because the State of Israel is a very close ally of the United States. What it does it does not do on issues that range from the Arab Spring in winter to the question of Iran's determination to acquire a nuclear weapons capacity, to the Israeli-Palestinian issue matters greatly. So how an Israeli prime minister comports himself - or herself - what he does, what he doesn't do, what kind of a relationship he has with an American president or not. And in this case, Obama and Netanyahu have a very dysfunctional relationship with one another; matters a lot.

MARTIN: What is the root of that dysfunction?

MILLER: I think its many things. In fact, curiously it's the most dysfunctional relationship between an American president and an Israeli prime minister, I think, that we've ever had. Begin and Carter cooperated even though they disagreed on many issues. Shamir and Bush 41 disagreed on many things but they had to find a way to move forward together.

This prime minister and the president have not yet found that. And I think part of it is perception. I think that the prime minister sees the president as someone who is not understanding enough of what it's like to be a tiny country with a dark past, living in a dangerous neighborhood on the knife's edge. I think President Obama sees an Israeli prime minister who is not interested in a reciprocal rule of relationship; who pursues his own ideological interest without much respect for the interest of the United States.

So I think this sort of lack of chemistry, an inability to find a level of confidence and trust, coincides with policy differences.

MARTIN: Jeffrey Goldberg, whose the Middle East expert and it a journalist with The Atlantic, wrote a piece this past week. And he quoted President Obama as having said privately that Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are. That essentially Netanyahu is making choices like expanding settlements that are just further isolating Israel. And that in turn is jeopardizing its survival. That's Goldberg's characterization of the presence remarks when you make of that notion, that Israel is, in fact, digging itself into a hole?

MILLER: Well, look. Israel has legitimate security interests. And I would argue that there are times and on certain issues that the Israelis are simply not being smart. When you're a small country - even if you are a nuclear power, and even if you have strong allies like the United States - you have to be much more aware of how your actions influence and shape the attitudes not only of the neighborhood in which you live, but your key ally.

And I think there is a sense, which is right, that Israeli actions take American policy and interests for granted. And that sense of disrespect is I think what the president has identified. And I think it's going to continue to be a problem until these two guys figure out how to find a way to forge a common policy that works and that benefits both of them. That will, in part, mitigate an arc of a relationship that, frankly, is headed south.

MARTIN: Aaron David Miller, he is a vice president and distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

MILLER: It's a pleasure, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILLER: You're listening to NPR News.

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