Look for Israel’s sci-tech capacity to become an important aspect of its relationship with the US.To those attuned to the underlying fabric of ideas that shape public events, the appearance by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert before a joint session of Congress last Wednesday offered a keyhole understanding of the three interwoven threads that sustain the special relationship between the United States and Israel. Throughout his speech, which demonstrated his command of the American political idiom, Olmert clearly displayed this policy pattern.
The first thread is the strategic dimension, namely the common stand of Israel, the United States, and like-minded nations against the same enemy, Islamist totalitarianism, with its terror methods, its culture of hate, and its cult of death. However, that thread also includes the common quest for a better future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Olmert made it clear that while he was the scion of a family that held a strong revisionist conviction on the inalienable right of the Jewish people to their historic homeland, the time has come for Israelis to make room for the Palestinians’ dreams of sovereignty, and thus to adhere to the vision, offered by the Bush administration and endorsed by Congress, of a two-state solution (although based on compromise, not on coercion or on the Arab misreading of “international legitimacy” and the relevant UN resolution).
True, there are nuances to this stance. The United States and its partners seek, at this stage, a strong engagement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (Olmert, for the first time, joined the administration in using this title, rather than chairman.) The Israeli government needs to prepare quickly for the unfortunate but likely prospect that this engagement will fail, given the power held by Hamas, which is Abbas’s rival. But this is not a difference based on substance; rather, it is an invitation to talk in detail about game plans and timetables.
The second thread is the affinity of values, which ranges from the power of Biblical reference in the cultures of both nations to the ever-present remembrance of the Holocaust (like the memorial near Quincy Market, for instance), and from the love of liberty to the exercise of a robust knowledge-based economy.
Olmert mentioned with pride the recent acquisition of a leading Israeli manufacturer, Iscar (which makes precision blades, cutting-edge technology indeed) by American investor Warren Buffet for $4 billion, a reflection of trust in the staying power of Israel’s emerging markets. The Israeli economy, amid all its tensions and political transitions, grew at an annual rate of 6.6 percent in the first quarter of 2006, a remarkable rate.
The third thread is the unique role of American Jewry which, unlike all others in Jewish history, is made all the more American, not less so, by its close and committed association with Israel. This was represented during the speech by Olmert’s guests, the family of Florida high school student Michael Wultz, who recently died from wounds suffered in last month’s terror attack in Tel Aviv. Bringing the story even closer to home, Wultz was a relative of US Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia.
To all of this, Olmert added a new dimension. Historically, Israel and her leaders often came to Washington as supplicants in times of need and crisis. That may happen again, though it is now clear that the menaces Israel faces are not aimed at her alone, but at the West and at other nations in the region.
But during this visit, Olmert was ready to reciprocate, making clear toward the end of his speech that he was offering Israel’s scientific and technological capacity (which in some fields, such as solar energy, has proved to be ahead of the curve) as part of a joint effort to seek energy security and solutions to the challenge of global warming. This kind of thinking, no less than the issues of war and peace, may soon become an important aspect of the special relationship – to the benefit of both countries, as well as many others.
(Originally appeared in the Boston Globe)