It is no secret that in the Middle East today, and since its creation in 1948, the government of Israel has stood head and shoulders above the neighboring Arab states as America’s most trusted ally. The reward for Israel for this alliance has translated into unqualified support of Israel by successive US administrations in the Security Council, where the US has vetoed or abstained from every resolution critical of Israel without exception. Israel also tops the list of countries which receive financial and military aid from the government of the United States. The Israeli Defense Forces military hardware includes some of America’s most sophisticated and prized fighter planes, tanks and other weapons of war, some of which are not available to any of the Arab states who count themselves as allies of the US, e.g. Saudi Arabia. According to the Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, US Foreign Aid to Israel Update of January 2, 2008:
U.S. military aid has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated military forces in the world. U.S. military aid for Israel has been designed to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge over neighboring countries, since Israel must rely on better equipment and training to compensate for a manpower deficit in any potential regional conflict. U.S. military aid, a portion of which may be spent on procurement from Israeli defense companies, also has helped Israel to build a domestic defense industry, which ranks as one of the top ten suppliers of arms worldwide.
The comparative military and financial advantage accorded Israel over the Arab states is in addition to the enormous political influence that Israel exercises in shaping US Middle East policy to its obvious advantage. An example of this is the obligatory consultation of the Israeli government whenever the White House plans major arms sales to an Arab or Gulf State ally. In 2007, when the Bush Administration announced the increase in US military assistance to Israel by six billion dollars over the next ten years in annual increments which will reach $3.1 billion a year by 2018, it went to great lengths to ensure that the wording of the announcement would be crafted carefully to satisfy the government of Israel. Part of the statement by Nicholas Burns, then under secretary of state for political affairs, detailed in the above mentioned Report for Congress, read:
We consider the 30 billion dollars in assistance to Israel to be an investment in peace – in long term peace. Peace will not be made without strength. Peace will not be made without Israel being strong in the future. Of course, our objective as a country and our specific objective as a government is to contribute to that peace, a peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, the creation of an independent Palestinian state willing to live side by side in peace with Israel, and a general peace in the region that has eluded the Israeli people for 59 years but which is, we hope, the destiny of the Israeli people as well as the Arab peoples of the region. Our policy in this entire region is dedicated to that final objective.
This obligatory consultation is in sharp contrast to the often high-handed way in which Israel has traditionally dealt with the Palestinians. The thorny issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the other parts of the occupied territories is a good example. Israel continues to build settlements in blatant contravention of the call by President Obama to halt further settlements while the peace process is in progress. Israel also just recently expelled Palestinians from East Jerusalem, an act that is an obvious impediment to the peace process.
The many factions of the Jewish lobby in the US, AIPAC, JDL and B’nai B’rith, constitute a formidable lobbying and public relations front on behalf of Israel in the corridors of power in Washington. This writer is in no way against Israeli interest nor am I coming down on the side of the Palestinians. I am well aware that any criticism of Israel on the issue of peace in the Middle East is quickly seen as anti-Semitism. It is my view, however, that America’s Middle East policy is too heavily skewed in favor of Israel and this unevenness is probably at the heart of the discontent, resentment and restiveness felt by the Palestinians and most of the Moslem world. The extreme manifestation of these negative feelings come back to us in the form of terrorist acts by those radical factions of freedom fighters in Palestine and the rest of the Moslem world, directed at Israel and the United States. The news media here in the US have failed to step up to the plate in articulating the disparity in US Middle East policy and how aversely it affects the Palestinians. Suicide bombing, a terrible act of violence for sure, is always widely covered in the news and roundly condemned by government officials when it happens in Israel. When, on the other hand, the IDF marches into the occupied territories to exact revenge for the suicide bombing, usually in a manner and severity disproportionate to the bombing, the Palestinian casualties of the IDF incursion scarcely get a mention, and nary a quip from the same government officials. The news outlets nearly always feel a duty to offer an explanation for the IDF action before the Israeli government offers one. It is always that the action was in retaliation for the terrorist act by the Palestinian bomber and by extension, the work of Hamas or any of the other resistance organizations fighting Israel’s occupation.
The Palestinian Authority, formerly headed by the late Yasser Arafat and now by Mahmoud Abbas, is virtually impotent in exercising any form of authority in Palestine. Israel orchestrates and controls every aspect of civic life in the occupied territories like a puppeteer controls a puppet show. Water, electricity, roads and movement in the territory are under the strict control of the Israeli government, and can be shut down any time Israel feels like doing so. Unemployment forces most Palestinians to seek jobs in Israel but those jobs are as tenuous as their very existence as free citizens of their country. How often have we read about those same workers barred from entry into Israel following some incident in Israel? Yasser Arafat, although a popular leader of Palestinians throughout his life, was severely marginalized by the vicious propaganda arrayed against him by Israel, which continued to view him as a terrorist and murderer, propaganda that found sympathetic ears in Congress and colored US foreign policy with respect to the Palestinians. In the end, Arafat spent his last years a virtual prisoner in his ever-shrinking compound, under siege by Israeli tanks. He could not travel freely except with Israel’s assent. Following his death, Israel and Washington, in search of a less strident and uncompromising leader to succeed him, called for an election in the occupied territories. In an outcome that was a black eye to Israel and Washington, Hamas won the election in a landslide. To no one’s particular surprise, the Bush Administration and Israel promptly rejected the results of a fair election victory for Hamas on the grounds that Hamas was a terrorist organization; the popular will of the Palestinians did not count. Aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended, among other draconian measures calculated to bring down the Hamas-led government.
America’s role in brokering peace between Israel and the Palestinians will always fall short of total impartiality as long as Israel continues to have such a strong influence on our Middle East policy, tilting it heavily in favor of Israel, while demanding impossible concessions from the Palestinians. This view has been echoed by many prominent world figures, including President Carter and Bishop Desmond Tutu. The best-kept secret in America is the fact that there are strong voices of dissent within Israel calling for a more humane treatment of Palestinians by Israel as a means of achieving the peace that has proved so elusive to both nations since the very creation of Israel. This dissent has found expression even within the IDF where ranking officers have openly refused to serve in the occupied territories. Of course, the Israeli government as a rule does not brook criticism of its treatment of the Palestinians, regardless of the source of such criticism. Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, got a not unexpected hostile reception in Israel and among supporters of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. Another book, “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman Finkelstein, a Jewish scholar and former political science professor at DePaul University, fared no better in Israeli government circles or with right wing Jews. No one can predict how long, if ever, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will take to resolve, paving the way for peaceful co-existence between the two. One thing is clear, though: America’s Middle East policy will need to be more even-handed in order for it successfully to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians.