Thursday, April 16, 2009

Begin and Carter

In a book review of "A World of Trouble: America in the Middle East", Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, of The Electronic Intifada, makes some observations on Menachem Begin:

...There was a marked change in US policy with the ascension of Lyndon Johnson who ushered in a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. A convert to Zionism out of political expedience, Johnson was quick to revoke the restrictions Kennedy had been trying to impose on Israel's nuclear program. Kennedy had kept Israel at a wary distance and opted for conciliation with Arabs. In contrast, writes Tyler, Johnson "had put himself in the service of Israel like no other previous president," deferring judgment on key occasions to his coterie of informal Jewish advisers which included among others a former member of the Zionist terrorist group Irgun [?]. Unlike Eisenhower, Johnson would accept Israel's conquests during the 1967 war, ignoring the judgment of his own cabinet, and would thereby permanently undermine the UN charter.

...Jimmy Carter was likewise challenged by the lobby when he became the first US president to broach the idea of a Palestinian "homeland." However, he proved a more formidable adversary. Though he occasionally ceded ground, through sheer tenacity he also managed to extract concessions from the Israelis. The conviction with which Carter threatened to cut funding in response to Israel's 1978 invasion of Lebanon led Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to exclaim "It's over" before ordering a withdrawal. In stormy sessions with Begin, according to Moshe Dayan, Carter delivered his indictments which "could not have been expressed in a more hostile form." (So "disgusted" was Carter with Begin's tactics that he said he would have asked Begin to "get the hell out" had he not been a guest.) It was this same tenacity that would eventually allow him to force Israel to withdraw from the occupied Egyptian Sinai peninsula, despite Begin's reluctance and the opposition of the lobby. Carter's wish for a comprehensive Middle East peace would not come to fruition as a result of his failure to win re-election in 1980.
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