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National Security Policy Group Memorandum
U.S. Policies and Objectives relating to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Contributors: Aaron Fast, David Jones, John Hale, Laquadra Ponder, John Tucker
I. The History of U.S. Policy relating to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
II. Determinants of U.S. Policy towards Israel and the Palestinian Issue
III. Impact of Israeli/ Palestinian Conflict on American National Security
IV. Factors behind the Failure of the US to Broker an Equitable Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians
V. Proposals for Peace
Analysis: While the U.S. should support Israel and use it as an ally against terrorism, the U.S. should not lose sight of its own national interests. In pursuing U.S. national interests, Washington should take a more equitable approach towards the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Our unconditional support has fomented hatred in the Middle East and has jeopardized relations with moderate Arab countries that would be an asset on the war on terror. Unfortunately, numerous presidents have attempted to treat Israel equal to other allies, but they have been met with fierce resistance from pro-Israeli groups who are primarily concerned with Israel’s interest, not the U.S.’ This memo will touch on the U.S.’ past policies concerning the Israelis and Palestinians, the issue as it relates to terrorism, the determinants of U.S. foreign policy towards Israel, and peace proposals for the future.
Objectives: Both Israelis and Palestinians need a peaceful resolution to help generate reasonable stability in the Middle East. To achieve this, Washington should provide equitable support to both sides. Also, Washington should implement policies that are primarily in the interest of the U.S.; therefore, political figures should mitigate the Israel Lobby’s influence. Finally, the U.S. needs to enhance its image in the Middle East to effectively combat terrorism. To help achieve this goal, Washington should only support Israel when it coincides with U.S. national interests.
Conclusions: The objectives can be achieved by confronting the lobby’s influence on Washington’s policy makers; this way the U.S. can implement an evenhanded policy towards the conflict without pressure from the lobby. To adequately mitigate terrorism and enhance the possibility for peace, the U.S. should advocate for a viable Palestinian State. Before this can occur, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must effectively reduce violence that has hindered the peace process.
The History of American Policy towards Israel and the Palestinians
The United States has been a great ally to Israel since, her birth in May of 1948. Each President from Truman to Obama, has seen our relations with this ally as one of great importance. However there have been problems, as with any nation, since the birth of Israel, there are those that seek its end, or believe that the establishment of the Jewish state is illegal. Because Israel is a vital ally to the United States, our relations toward the state has strengthen over the past 60 years. We will examine the history of these relations from the start of the nation, particularly focusing on select administration’s approach to the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Johnson administration took the United States Foreign policy from neutrality of the previous administrations to being in wholly of support of Israel. Also during this administration was when the United States Foreign policy was geared toward providing more military and economic support toward the Jewish state. As it relates to the Conflict in the area, one suggestion could be that this was a form of containment on the part of the United states, because much of the Arab states were in support of the USSR, therefore the extension of American money and support in in part to this Issue.
When it came to Jimmy Carter, his administration was about the preservation and the fight for human rights. Carter initiated a deal to bring about a peace to the Arab/ Israeli conflict since the creation of the state in May 1948. The Camp David Accords, was an agreement between The President of Egypt Anwar al-Sadat and the Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin. It sought to bring peace in the region and the stop any further violence in the region. Within the agreement the Israelis promised to adhere to UN resolution 242 and 338 provide the peoples with in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaze strip, complete autonomy within five years. Although the Camp David accords began diplomatic relations between the Israelis and the Egyptians, however the consequences further added fuel to the fire and made the Palestinian issue in the Arab Israeli conflict. Since then the Israelis have since not withdrawn their settlers from the occupied territories and have since added more restrictions to the Palestinians.
The next step toward the bring about peace in the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict was the Madrid Peace Conference of 1991. This Conference was sponsored by The USSR and the US, and was hosted by Spain. This conference offered face to face talk between Israel and her neighbors and the Palestinians. These bilateral talks sought to resolve any past conflicts tat may be prevent the peace process. However, no formal peace agreement s came out of the conference, according to Jimmy Carter in We can now have peace in the holy land: A plan that will work “ it began secret negotiations between Israeli and PLO leaders.”
The next step in the peace process between the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict was the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993. This was the first face to face agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. This agreement called for a period of self rule of the Palestinians within five years. It provided for the phasing of the removal of Israeli military forces from the occupied territories and for the Palestinians to start having elections. The points of the process were:
Because of this agreement, the Israeli recognized the Palestinian Authority as the sole representing body of the Palestinian people, however the Israeli also did not set a time table for the exact removal of the military from the territories
After the Oslo, President Clinton, invited Israeli Prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat to discuss a possible end to the conflict in accordance with the ‘93 Oslo accords, however no agreement and more violence engulfed the country.
The G.W. Bush’s approach to the conflict was the road map to peace, which was formed by the International Quartet-- The united states, Russia, EU and the UN. The road map to peace is a proposal of a plan to bring about an end to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict. The road map consisted of three phases:
President Obama’s plan for Israel is to continue the road map for peace ideology originally implemented by the Bush administration, however, Obama seeks for a Palestinian state as well as a secure and safe Israel, Obama would also like for the Muslim world to recognize Israel.
Determinants of U.S. Foreign Policy
Over the past 40 years, there has been an increase in Jewish special interests groups and lobbies that have held powerful influence over the U.S. policymaking apparatus, while there has only been one organization that has been a prominent advocate for the Palestinian cause, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The Jewish special interests groups, otherwise known as the Israel Lobby, have set out to equate Israel’s interest with the U.S.’ The Israel Lobby is a loose coalition of individuals that consists of Jews, Neoconservatives, and Christian evangelicals. While support for Israel is a key component that underlines U.S. foreign policy, the U.S. should not lose sight in advancing the Palestinians interests as well to enhance its image in the Middle East. Therefore, the U.S. should pursue a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by outlining each group’s interest. However, it is easier said than done due to the constant pressure applied by the Israel lobby and the Christian Zionist movement. To mitigate the external pressure from various hard-line lobbies, Washington must work closely with moderate supporters of Israel, pursue new methods of campaign finance reform, challenge the lobby’s interests, and call for more open debate that stimulates new solutions for a complex issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
AIPAC: “A leviathan among lobbies”
In 1954, the American Zionist Council devised the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an organization that became the most powerful Israel lobby in Washington D.C. AIPAC grew substantially after the Six day war. In the 1970’ and 1980’s it became the most prominent arm of the Israel Lobby. AIPAC has been very effective in steering the U.S. political apparatus fulfill Israel‘s interest. For instance, in 1985, the Reagan Administration considered selling arms to Jordan and Saudi Arabia. AIPAC became aware of the arms deal and pressured congress to cancel the sell by introducing a bill to debate the issue. In the end, the U.S. capitulated to AIPAC‘s demands, and no arms deal took place (Stephens: 2004). The power of the lobby derives from a on the basis of a few key factors that influence the U.S. government. First, while the Jews only make up three percent of the U.S.’ population, the Jewish vote is concentrated in key electoral states. Second, ninety percent of American Jews vote. And finally, the Jewish vote can be the deciding factor in a close electoral race, such as the 2000 Presidential Election. While the majority of American Jews are proponents of liberal causes and loyal Democrats who favor a two-state solution, the most influential Jewish groups are administered by right wing hardliners who are underlined by a hawkish element known as the Neoconservatives. The neoconservatives pursued a strong commitment to Israel due to the West’s failure to prevent the slaughter of the Jews during World War Two, and because they view Israel as the lone Middle East Democracy.
According to the National Journal, AIPAC ranks as the second most powerful lobby in Washington. Lee Hamilton espouses “There is no lobby group that matches it.(Mearsheimer and Walt, 117)” AIPAC is one of the primary reasons that the U.S. gives an annual three billions dollar in aid to Israel, despite its per capita income ranking twenty-ninth in the world. Developing countries as well as the U.S. could use this aid money to enhance its infrastructure, but the lobby proves to be to powerful for any former president or member of congress to call in to question the reason Washington provides so much aid to Israel. Due to AIPAC’s influence, Washington has ostracized fully qualified people to administer prominent positions in the intelligence field. For instance, AIPAC was instrumental in preventing Charles Freeman’s from heading the National Intelligence Council. Freeman was a fully qualified pick to fill the position with a career that spanned 30 years as a diplomat and Department of Defense official. However, Freeman was often critical of U.S.’ unconditional support of Israel, fearing that it would undermine any hope for a peaceful two-state solution. AIPAC fueled the campaign against Freeman, citing his connections with Saudi Arabia, with which he was an ambassador. Eventually, every Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee opposed Freeman, as well as prominent as Democratic Senators like Joseph Lieberman and Chuck Schumer. Shamefully, the U.S. lost a key appointee due to AIPAC’s campaigning and the U.S. Congress’ pandering (“The Lobby Falters“).
The Christian Zionists
Aside from the Jewish lobby, many of Christian Evangelical groups staunchly support Israel and the Zionist movement, regardless of Israel‘s treatment of the Palestinians and the tight grip of the Israel Lobby on the U.S. policymaking apparatus. The religious right became key supporters of Israel in the late 1970’s when the Likud Party fervently encouraged churches to back Israel (Merkley: 2004) . This cause was further advanced by Reverend Jerry Falwell’s fundamentalist group, the Moral Majority. The Christian Zionists vigorously oppose a two state solution for a number of reasons. The opposition to a two state solution stems from interpretations of biblical teachings. According to, Christian Zionists, there is no such thing as Palestine. One ardent supporter of Israel, Pat Robertson, said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered from a stroke as punishment for Israel’s withdraw from the Gaza Strip in early 2006. Earlier in 2002, President George W. Bush was pressured by key Christian evangelicals, led by Falwell and Gary Bauer, rescind his demand that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdraw from portions of land on the West Bank given to the Palestinians during the Oslo Peace Process. Eventually, Bush phoned Falwell to reassure him that he fully supported Sharon‘s decision (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007).
Christian Zionists believe they have a “mandate” to support Israel. Their main goal is to convert the Jews to Christianity before a final battle that they believe the book of Revelation describes, which states that the Jews who fail to convert to Christianity will be slaughtered on Mount Megiddo. The religious right’s philosophy of the Jews’ fate is worrisome to progressive Jews who are uncomfortable with foreign policy resulting from theology. The Christian Right’s pro-Israel stance had a heavy influence on prominent U.S. politicians. For instance, Republican leaders, such as Tom Delay and Richard Armey have argued that Israel should “grab the entire West Bank” and have been opposed to a two-state solution. Cornerstone Church Senior Pastor, John Hagee, has rightfully criticized Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements concerning Israel; his notions about Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been debunked by 2007 National Intelligence Estimates (Mearsheimer and Walt, 307).
While the U.S. Government has encountered numerous Pro-Israel entities, it must discern between which group has America’s interest at heart as opposed to a lop-sided interest in Israel that is unconcerned with the Palestinian’s well-being.
Moving Forward in dealing with the Israel Lobby
While it is very difficult to adhere to an even handed policy in regards to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict due to the overwhelmingly influential Jewish Lobby, it must be accomplished to protect America’s interest. In terms of aid, Israel is a wealthy country. A large portion of the aid that is given to Israel via the U.S. Government is military based that totals up to three billion dollars a year. Unfortunately, this military aid is used to suppress Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza. Before taxpayers money is given to a fairly wealthy country like Israel, Congress needs to reexamine how Israel uses the aid. U.S. policymakers need to start actively working together with moderate supporters of Israel who favor a two state solution and who are concerned about the Palestinian population, which would undermine radical resistance groups and the rogue states that support them, such as Iran. The pursuit of a two-state solution will also be key to promoting regional stability. Also, the U.S. policymakers need to effectively use the Israel Lobby as a guide tool to lay out specific policies that share U.S.’ interests as well as Israel’s and that do not overlook the needs of the Palestinians. Israel has nothing to gain by having Washington “subsidize it occupation.” Overall, the unequivocal support Israel receives from the U.S. foments much of the hatred that its neighbors and resistance groups such as, Hezbollah and Hamas aim towards Israel, and Al-Qaeda uses Israel‘s treatment of Palestinians as a recruitment tool. The U.S. should be diligently repairing its image in the Middle East, and AIPAC should be doing everything in its power to help America achieve this, for it secures Israel‘s interests as well (“Saving Israel from itself“).
The Israel Lobby will continue be influential in the policy making process. However, since more and more of younger generation of Jewish Americans favor a more evenhanded policy towards the Palestinians, this could stimulate pro-Israel factions in the United States to take a more moderate position in the peace process. From the U.S. standpoint, effective campaign finance reform can be enforced to mitigate the influence from the lobby. Also, people should not be afraid to engage the lobby and create a healthy dialogue that benefits the U.S. and Israel, without experiencing persecution Charles Freeman. Open discourse can be an effective tool to enlightening the American public about the reasons Washington vigorously backs Israel and can lead to substantive policy solutions that suit both Israel and U.S. interests (Mearsheimer and Walt, 341).
U.S. policymakers should engage with the moderate lobbies, such as the Israel Policy Forum and Americans for Peace Now, and encourage them to take a more assertive role in lobbying for a more moderate position in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, and to serve as a contrast to hard line factions such, as AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America, and the American Jewish Committee. New groups should be created with the same blue print used by these organizations. In Australia, an organization known as the Independent Australian Jewish Voices was formed which is comprised of Jews who are critical of Israel’s policy toward Palestine, who have often faced strong criticism when espousing their views. This organization can serve as useful model for a new way of addressing the American public about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (Mearsheimer and Walt, 354).
Washington still needs to support Israel, but it must not be afraid to be critical of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, and it must question if Israel‘s interest are always in line with America‘s. Historically, no two country’s interests are completely synonymous. Calling for more rigorous debate and challenging the status quo towards Israel should be embraced by both Washington and the American public.
United States National Security Policy and the Israeli/Palestine Conflict
The current situation of Israeli/Palestine conflict poses many hurdles to United States national security policy at home, abroad, and specifically, the Middle East. Since the founding of Israel by a United Nations mandate in 1948 with the goal of a establishing a Jewish state, there as been constant tension and conflict between the Israelis (prominently Jewish) and the Palestinian Muslims. The Palestinians apprehension towards Israel comes from the forced removal of local Palestinians that took place in 1948 in order to make room for the Jewish state, the Palestinian lands taken over by Israel in multiple military actions over the past 60 years that saw the taking of the predominantly Palestinian areas of Gaza and the West Bank, the division and inaccessibility of the holy city of Jerusalem, the Israeli security barrier which has walled off the Palestinian areas and effectively turned the cities into a prison, and the view that Israel has dealt with Palestine unjustly. This taking of Palestinian lands and other acts in the name of Israeli state security has spawned growing terrorism attacks, massacres, rocket attacks, and an almost constant state of war and/or tension between Israel, Palestine, and their neighbors in region.
This conflict has special implications to the United States because it has maintained a staunch alliance with Israel since it's founding. This relationship was sought by the United States as a way to counter balance the threats that other state actors in the region play and also to be a “shining beacon” of democracy in the Middle East. The US/Israeli relationship has flourished over the years in ways of economic aid and trade, military sales, technology exchanges, and Israeli political backing by Jewish interest groups in the United States. This relationship, although beneficial in creating one of America's only allies in the Middle East and creating a major ally abroad for Israel, has ostracized the Palestinian people and has caused many a consequence for the United States abroad and will dictate American national security policy for the region.
There are three main threats that the Israeli/Palestine conflict present to America's national security and these threats must play an integral role in America's national security policy. These points include the fueling of terrorism abroad by the backing of Israel by the United States in its dealings with the Palestinian people, the possible spilling over of the conflict into other regions of the Middle East, and the undermining of America's credibility and image abroad.
The first threat that America should address in its national security policy involving the Israelis and the Palestinians is the fueling of terrorism and Islamic extremism that the backing of Israel by the United States causes. The threat of terrorism, stemming from geopolitical issues, like the occupation of of the Palestinian inhabited Gaza and the West Bank, and from religious differences will continue to flame the conflict between Israel and Palestine and also direct terrorist aims at the United States because of our unrelenting belief in our alliance with Israel. Israel presents itself as a threat to the Islamic world in those two ways. It is a nation that controls land that Muslims see as integral to their religious order, especially Jerusalem. Moreover, Jewish politicians in Israel have controlled the agenda of the Israeli state and have established settlements in the West Bank. These moves have given a focal point for Islamic extremism around the world and implicates America because we are the primary backers and proponents of Israeli policy abroad.
The “War on Terror” being fought currently stems directly from this point. If America is to fight terrorism and guarantee it's security, we cannot simply go after terrorism, for it encompasses many parts of the world and is found in many nations. We must stop terrorism by cutting off the roots that it feeds on. Terrorism aimed at the United States and Israel, although unacceptable under any circumstances, is a tool of the weak and stems from underlying issues and grievances (like settlements in the West Bank, the Israeli security wall, and United States backing of these policies), and should be thought of as a misguided effort to address the issues, not to destroy America because of what we stand for. The goal of a peaceful Israel and Palestine is a necessity in order to "end the festering despair that terrorism and hatred have fed on," as Jordan's King Abdallah put it in 2003(Zalman). These issues have given specific rise to Palestinian groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, both recognized as terrorist organizations in the United States. These groups feel that the only way to have a Palestinian nation independent of Israel is to resort to extreme acts.
Although democracy, capitalism, and modernism have played a part in the dislike of America by some in the Muslim world, the grievances are what makes radicals take the final steps. Our current strategy involves pursuing the terrorist enemy in far off places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, but in order to stop it we must eliminate where the hatred comes from. This hatred from across the Muslim world has come from the heavy handed treatment of Palestine by Israel and the United States and has already began to shape the way in which some Muslims view America.
One example of this world view that some Muslims share of America are the sociometric surveys carried out in non-Arab Malaysia from the 1970s to the 1990s. These “showed that Israel was more reviled by Muslim Malays than any other government or nationality and the Palestine Liberation Organization were resounding praise”.(Howell) Another poll conducted in the Arab world shows that the US is seen as a greater threat more than any other government or nation than Iran, and that “successful peace efforts in Palestine could be the most important factor in improving it's citizen's opinion of America”. (Carter p.101) Both show how the Palestinian cause is viewed in the rest of the Muslim world and how important it is in fueling Islamic terrorism aimed at the United States and the allies of Israel abroad.
Another example of how the Israel/Palestine Conflict has spread Islamic terrorism is the May, 2008 tape released of Osama Bin Laden. In it, Osama bin Laden says that al-Qaida will continue its war against Israel and its allies until it liberates Palestine. Bin Laden also talks about the fight for the Palestinian cause was the most important factor driving al-Qaida’s war with America and had fueled Muslims to carry out the suicide attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. He states directly that “The Palestinian cause is the major issue for my (Islamic) nation. It was an important element in fueling me from the beginning and the 19 others with a great motive to fight for those subjected to injustice and the oppressed,”. He then goes on to say that America and the news media has “portrayed the Jewish invaders, the occupiers of our land, as the victims while it portrayed us as the terrorists.” In his tape he also touches on the roots of the geopolitical aspect of the conflict, “Sixty years ago, the Israeli state didn’t exist. Instead, it was established on the land of Palestine raped by force. Israelis are occupying invaders whom we should fight.” and “We will continue our struggle against the Israelis and their allies,we are not going to give up an inch of the land of Palestine.”
These instances show how far reaching of an effect that the Israeli/Palestine conflict has on global terrorism aimed at America. In order to curb the growing resentment of America in the Muslim world, we must strike a balance between supporting Israel while sustaining a dialogue with the Palestinians and helping them to realize their goals of regaining their homeland. America must also be unbiased and receptive towards Palestinian concerns in order to prevent some of the disdain aimed at America throughout the Muslim world.
Although it is important to accomplish these goals to ensure our security from terrorism, America must also worry about the conflict spilling over into other parts of the Middle East. This is the second point that that must play a major role in shaping the United State's national security policy.
It is important that the United States is involved in the conflict between Israel and Palestine because America must be an intermediary that can restrain Israeli and Palestinian force and temper the emotions of both parties so the conflict between the two groups does not get out of hand. If the conflict were to escalate by certain actions taken by either side, examples such as an attack on Muslim holy targets by Jewish extremists or the killing of Israeli political figures by radical Muslims, it could have far reaching implications for America's interests in the Middle East by spreading into other nations in the region. If this were to happen, the United States would be at the forefront in the mind's of Muslims when it would come time to blame those who are responsible for the expansion of the conflict. (Doran) Even our allies in the region would have to distance themselves America, which would have grave effects on our efforts in the “War on Terror”. King Abdallah II of Jordan is a prime example. (Karp) He has spoken out in support of the United States and its counter-terror efforts, has pledged Jordan's full support. However, Jordan's population is also about 60% Palestinian. This can be attributed to prior exoduses of Palestinians from Israeli territory. Abdallah and Jordan already have an uneasy peace with Israel (1994 peace treaty with Israel) and have been supporters of American interests in fighting the “War on Terror”, but a spilling over of the conflict would raise suspicions of U.S. Intentions, many of which are already held by the Jordanian people. An eruption of violence in the Israel/Palestine conflict may threaten the stability of the Jordanian government and it would certainly stop Jordan's cooperation with American in fighting terrorism.
This is only one example of the countries that might be affected by an escalation of violence. Others include Egypt, whose border along Israel and its former ties to Gaza make it especially susceptible to expanded conflict, and Saudi Arabia, who has a quarter of a million Palestinians within its borders and has historically taken an anti-Israel stance in the multiple wars that Israel has been engaged in since its creation. (Falk) The country of Lebanon, who has seen civil strife for many years and also engaged Israel in the Second Lebanon War would also be thrown into further chaos by the inevitable expansion of the conflict into its borders. The American military could also see a renewal of conflict in Iraq that would totally negate any progress made since the Iraqi Invasion. Another nation that would be affected is Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has consistently called for the destruction of Israel in many international forums and could use an expansion of the conflict as an excuse to attack Israel as well as the United States presence in Iraq. This has even greater implications because of Iran's suspected nuclear program. Not only could an escalation of violence cause the above listed military and diplomatic occurrences, but it could also have long lasting economic effects. If Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Iran were to be entangled in conflict, it could effect the world supply of oil and could cause massive shortages and the price of oil to rise dramatically. Because of the political and economic situations that that could arise from the escalation of the conflict it is in America's best interest to ensure the Israeli/Palestinian conflict does not expand.
Not only does the conflict have the potential to have lasting effects in the region and can lead to armed conflict involving the United States, the United States involvement in the conflict by backing Israel can seriously undermine America's credibility in the international arena. It can lead to a loss of diplomatic power that we have in other countries, such as Turkey. By us supporting Israeli preemptive strikes against minor threats to its people, we are supporting a precedent for states to take any violent action of a small group of people against them as an act of war. This could lead to another, more substantial invasion of the Kurdish regions in northern Iraq by Turkey in order to halt the attacks by the Kurdish Workers Party, an ethnic Kurdish group with the goal of establishing a Kurdish state in Northern Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. Besides America setting a precedent for future attacks, we also undermine the United Nations. The United Nations and the United Nations Security Council have officially adopted many resolutions against the seizure of lands by Israel, the establishment of Jewish settlements on these disputed lands, and the divisions of the city of Jerusalem. However, when many of these issues come up, some are vetoed by the America due the veto power is has on the UN Security Council. Others that have made it through the process have simply been brushed away as meaningless by America and Israel. This has not only undermined and disgraced the United Nations, of which America was its biggest proponent while the UN was taking shape after World War II, it has discredited international law and the United States. America, in order to have the political clout to deal with an uncertain international arena in the future, must reign in it's reputation, along with Israel's, and make lasting and meaningful changes to their image in order to regain the credibility that has been hurt by our staunch alliance with Israel.
The nearly unconditional support the United States gives to Israel has alienated the Muslim world and has contributed to the rise of the Islamic terrorism that threatens America, our allies in the region, the stability of the Middle East, and could possibly affect future American oil supplies. It has tarnished our credibility with nations abroad and has made us a contributing factor in the degradation of of the importance international law and the United Nations. Thats why it is in the best interests of the United States and its national security policy to seek an end to the Israeli/Palestine conflict and to help in finding an equitable and fair solution that addresses both the Israeli's and the Palestinians' grievances.
Factors behind the Failure of the US to Broker an Equitable Peace between the Israelis and Palestinians
This section describes two key factors that have contributed to the failure of U.S. administrations to broker a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. These factors consist of the context of the conflict between the two parties, and the imbalance in the peace process due to the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. Two of the most important contextual features that help to explain the difficulty faced by the U.S. in its peace making efforts are Israel’s system of coalition governments, Israel’s strong concern for “security”, and the status of the Palestinians as a stateless and occupied people in asymmetrical conflict with Israel. The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel has led to defective U.S. policy features including, but not limited to, the focus on a bilateral as opposed to a multilateral or regional peace process, the minimization of Israeli violations of international law and failures to comply with U.S. requests, and the elevation of Israeli interests above those of the Palestinians. The context of the conflict and the continuity of imbalanced US policies have reduced the chances for the successful mediation by the US of the core Israeli-Palestinian disputes.
The Context of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
For many Israelis, persistent states of war with neighboring Arab nations and intermittent, but brutal waves of attacks on its civilians from terrorists, have caused apprehension and a reluctance to take steps for peace which might indicate acquiescence to terror. One factor limiting peace initiatives by Israel is its system of coalition governance, in which a concerted opposition of smaller right-wing factions can threaten the governing party’s ability to maintain a parliamentary majority, should it make concessions for peace. In this system, “security” tends to trump “peace”. Another factor that explains Israeli resistance to peace initiatives is the ambiguous meaning of “peace”. President Carter explains, “Peace can easily be projected by opponents as an uncertain route to personal and national danger”. (1) The Palestinian suicide bombings attacking Israeli civilians that began during the Oslo peace process, the repeated rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel, have made the concept of “land for peace” an even harder sell to the Israeli public, since some fear that it is acquiescence to terror.
It is not hard to understand why many Palestinians have responded to Israel’s occupation with violence. First, they lost 78 per cent of their original homeland after the War of 48, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled out of fear, or were expelled from their homes.(2) After the War of 67, Israel occupied the remaining 22 per cent of their historical homeland, and many additional Palestinians became refugees. By 1998, two thirds of the Palestinian people were refugees.(3) The continuing establishment and expansion of Jewish settlements, which the Palestinians view as land grabs, have created increasing misery for the Palestinians. Furthermore, there has been increased harassment, destruction of Palestinian crops, and violence from some settlers. (4) Frequent closures, some of which occurred after instances of Palestinian terrorism, have left a great number of Palestinians jobless.(5) Additionally, the disproportionate force, home demolitions, and land confiscations with which Israel responds to Palestinian terror, and even milder forms of resistance, signifies for many an intentional collective punishment of Palestinians. In their asymmetrical conflict with Israel, it has not been easy for Palestinian leaders to emulate the diplomacy of Sadat and King Hussein, and thus gain the public trust and confidence in Israel. (6) Out of this context, many Palestinians have grown cynical with the peace process, and have adopted the tactic of terrorism.
The “Special Relationship” between Israel and the U.S.
After the War of 67, as a part of its Cold War strategy, the U.S. developed a strategic alliance with Israel. The confluence of support from the Israeli lobby, various constituent groups, and U.S. containment policy makers created the special financial, and diplomatic relationship between the US and Israel that exists to this day. One of the most influential features of US policy, resulting from the “special relationship”, has been the ongoing emphasis on U.S. sponsored bilateral talks for peace, and selective interpretations of UN Resolutions. This policy contrasts with the efforts of the international community to hold multilateral or regional talks to provide a comprehensive peace agreement in harmony with the original meaning of UN resolution 242, which called for full withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied territories.(7) Through the bilateral peace process, Israel has avoided comprehensive talks, which might have required it to resolve differences with the entire region, and it has helped Israel in its negotiations with the Palestinians by allowing it to reference the unofficial U.S. interpretation of 242 (first adopted by the Nixon administration), which interprets 242 to mean “occupied territories” in a way that the U.S. and Israel determine. (8)
Although Israel committed to honoring U.N. resolutions 242, and 338, agreed to grant “full autonomy” to the Palestinians, and to freeze all settlement growth by signing the Camp David Accords, the bilateral nature of the agreement with Egypt did not have the teeth of an international or regional agreement, nor their positive inducements. Thus, Israel was able to avoid fulfilling its promises. According to former President Carter, through “the bilateral treaty, Israel removed Egypt’s considerable strength from the military equation of the Middle East and thus it permitted itself renewed freedom to pursue the goals of a fervent and dedicated minority of its citizens to confiscate, settle, and fortify the occupied territories.”(9)
Another negative result of the special relationship between Israel and the US, affecting the reputation of the US as an impartial peacemaker, has been the minimization by the U.S. of continual Israeli violations of international law and Israel’s obstruction of the peace process. There are numerous examples of this pattern, such as the tolerance by U.S. administrations of Israel’s longstanding violations of numerous U.N. resolutions, such as 446, which prohibits Israel from colonizing the occupied territories.(10) While the U.S. has not bound Israel to 446, it has requested that the Israelis not confiscate land for new settlements, and Israeli only roads, to no avail. The recent Bush administration found that Israel ignored its concerns or refused its demands relating to a host of issues, including Israel’s security wall, which has cut off Palestinian communities from each other, the use of disproportionate force on the Palestinians, and Israel’s responsibilities in the U.S. and internationally backed “Road Map for Peace”. While the Palestinians fully accepted the terms of the “Road Map”, Israel lodged 14 caveats and prerequisites, a number of which would preclude any final peace talks. Thus, as ex President Carter argues, “Israel has been able to use [the “Road Map”} …as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals.”(10) The failure of the US to hold Israel accountable for its refusal to comply with both international and U.S. expectations, while demanding complete cessation of violence from the Palestinians, has weakened the credibility of the U.S. in its role as Mideast peace broker.
Another example of the damage resulting from the perceived and actual pattern of bias of the US in favor of Israel, was the failure of the Clinton administration to complete the Oslo peace process at Camp David in the Summer of 2000. While President Clinton, and his chief Mideast advisor, Dennis Ross, have publicly blamed Yassir Arafat for the failure at Camp David, other American officials at the talks place the blame mostly on the Clinton administration for its lack of impartiality in the peace process, as well as its lack of adequate preparation leading up to the summit. According to Aaron Miller, one member of the Clinton negotiating team at Camp David, the Clinton administration acted as “’Israel’s attorney’”, rather than as a fair mediator in negotiations. Miller argues that the Clinton team’s habit of clearing its proposals with Israel first, "stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking. Far too often . . . our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one – Israel.” (11) This lack of neutrality is evident in the Clinton team’s support of Ehud Barak’s Camp David peace proposal to Arafat.
Ironically, Barak’s own former foreign minister said he would have rejected the proposal had he been a Palestinian at Camp David. (12) Barak’s “generous offer” called for a Palestinian state made up of three to four pieces in the West Bank and Gaza. (13)The capital city would have consisted of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem not contiguous with each other or the rest of the state. 80 per cent of the Jewish settlers and all of East Jerusalem’s settlers would have remained in their same locations, which Israel would annex. To connect these settlements, the 300 mile road network of “Jewish only” roads through out the West Bank would stay as well. (14)The fifteen per cent of the West Bank that Israel would annex(15) consisted of settlements, Israeli-only roads, and checkpoints, each of which separated Palestinian communities from one another.(16) Israel would retain control of most Palestinian water resources.(17) Finally, there would be no right of return for any significant number of refugees, nor compensation by Israel for its role in the refugee crisis.(18) Various sources agree that what was offered to Arafat did not meet the minimal requirements for a viable Palestinian state. (19)
Although President Clinton demonstrated greater appreciation for Palestinian aspirations than any previous active president, his overriding concern for Israeli interests prevented him from having a sufficient understanding of the steps necessary to fulfill the legitimate needs of the Palestinians, and thus gain their confidence. Nor could he appreciate the fact that Arafat continued to express a desire to continue negotiations, and along with Israel, accepted in principle, six months later, general parameters that could serve as a basis for continued negotiations. (20) Rather than reflecting on how he and the next US administration could improve their ability to gain the trust of the Palestinians, President Clinton vilified Arafat and accused him of starting the Second Intifada, which Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, argues was not prepared or triggered by Arafat.(21) Clinton has become, in the eyes of the Palestinians, an apologist for Israel rather than an honest broker for an equitable peace.
What Arafat’s critics like Clinton either ignored or did not realize is that during the eight years of the Oslo Peace Process preceding the Camp David talks, Israel actually consolidated its occupation of the West Bank. In fact, during this period, Israel confiscated more than 40,000 acres of Palestinian land, constructed thirty new settlements,(22) doubled the number of settlers in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem),(23) built 250 miles of bypass and security roads, and choked Palestinian freedom of movement with a new system of checkpoints.(24) Due to the checkpoints, increased Israeli control of the Palestinian economy, and corruption in the Palestinian Authority, the GDP decreased every year from 1993-97.(25)The Second Intifada was a grassroots uprising of increasing cynicism and anger toward a peace process with no progress.
The landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is riddled with many challenging factors – from mutual distrust, irredentist longings on both sides, the overarching need for security for some, and a just settlement for others, even at the expense of human life for both. The “special relationship” between Israel and the U.S. has produced policies and an unbalanced concern for one side’s interests that have not helped the U.S. sponsored peace process to navigate this rough terrain.
Proposal for Peace
At the centerpiece of any peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians must be an acknowledgement and understanding of both Israeli and Palestinian core desires. Any road map for peace must address the Israeli’s desire not to diminish the Jewish character of the Israeli state; and the Palestinian desire for a viable state with a right of return for its refugees. The ongoing conflict that rages between these two peoples stems from those central desires, and any attempt at a peace agreement must, in turn, be educated by this reality. The problem is, however, that granting either group’s full request would, by nature, make the other state’s requests impossible to fulfill. Thus, the first requirement of any successful peace process is that each side must be willing to acknowledge that compromise is necessary. The Palestinians have been forced into compromise and have, albeit unwillingly, relented to the occupation of 78% of their original land; however the Israelis continue to expand their settlements and refuse to acknowledge the Palestinian right to exist in nothing less than the remaining 22 per cent of their original homeland. There are four central issues that continually spark conflict and controversy and have yet to be resolved—these issues being the centerpiece of every attempt at peace thus far.
Israeli Settlement Expansionist Policy
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