Sep 16, 2009 — “If Israel and America have such a special relationship why can’t they get along?” asked Daniel Kurtzer, retired U.S. Ambassador to both Israel and Egypt, and professor of Middle East policy studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The challenges of this special relationship and its prospects for helping to build peace were the subject of “U.S.-Israel Relations in the Era of Obama and Netanyahu,” a conference on Sept. 14 at the Geraldine Schottenstein Cultural Center. The conference was co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Center for Israel Studies, its Rabbi Arthur Schneier Center for International Affairs and Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and American Friends of Bar-Ilan. About 400 people attended.

“The relationship between YU and the State of Israel is central to our identity as a university,” said Dr. Steven Fine, director of the Center for Israel Studies and chair of the department of Jewish history at Yeshiva College. “Coming together with Bar-Ilan to discuss the U.S.-Israel relationship in all of its complexities was exhilarating.”

Dr. Evan Resnick, assistant professor of political science at Yeshiva University, said that a central challenge for the Obama administration is how to “perpetuate America’s special relationship with Israel as it embarks on a more conciliatory policy towards both countries’ shared adversaries in the region.”

Resnick, who is completing a book on constructive engagement and American foreign policy, suggested that past instances in which the U.S. tried to reform adversaries through engagement “typically foundered on the shoals of domestic opposition to the policy at home, and/or duplicitous behavior by the adversary.”

Dr. Efraim Inbar, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan, noted that while radicalism is still a conspicuous part of the tapestry of the Middle East, “the decline of the Arab world economically, educationally and democratically” and the extremism that accompanies this decline have led to a chasm where moderate Arabs feel they have no choice but to consider peace with Israel. “Radical Islamists are such a danger to the moderate states that they are willing to do business with Israel” said Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Dr. Shmuel Sandler, dean of the social science faculty at Bar-Ilan and a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center, commented that in Israel, too, “a new realism” has emerged. With the passage of time and losses suffered, Israelis have moderated on issues such as settlement, he said. “There is a realization that we can’t both hold onto all historic lands and attain peace.”