PHILIP GORDON is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2013 to 2015, he was Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region.
Is the U.S.-Israeli relationship in serious trouble? Do the public disputes of the past few years—over Iran, the Palestinians, and the state of Israel’s democracy—represent nothing more than the latest round of a long-standing family feud, or do they amount to a more fundamental breach? And is there anything the next U.S. president can do to repair the relationship?
Three new books, each in its own way, help answer these questions. Dennis Ross’ survey of U.S.-Israeli ties since the Truman administration reminds readers that crises in the relationship, even serious ones, are hardly new. Ross contends that common interests and values still bind the two countries together, and with sound management by both sides, the partnership can continue to flourish.
Dana Allin and Steven Simon are not so sure. They argue that powerful demographic, political, and cultural trends in both Israel and the United States are changing the relationship in fundamental ways. In their view, the tensions between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constitute symptoms of more serious, underlying problems—ones that portend real trouble in the future.
Dov Waxman, focusing on shifting attitudes among American Jews, also has his doubts. He argues that the American Jewish community is increasingly divided and that its support for Israel—or at least certain Israeli policies—can no longer be taken for granted.
Together, these excellent studies provide a deep understanding of the historical, strategic, and political roots of one of the closest and most enduring bilateral partnerships in the world. They also make clear, however, that the circumstances that have sustained the relationship in the past are changing. Jerusalem and Washington still share many basic interests, but it would be naive to assume that the partnership can automatically withstand future challenges. Without real effort by both sides, the divisions of the past eight years will likely intensify under the next U.S. administration and beyond—to the detriment
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