Aiding the War Effort

The violence of the past year and a half between Israelis and Palestinians has left more than 2,000 people dead, torpedoed the peace process, and turned the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into battlefields.

As the U.S. reconsiders its role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace, the prospects for a final settlement that recognizes the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political rights of Palestinians seem worse than ever. The Bush administration has abandoned the ambitious approach of its predecessor by emphasizing “assistance” over “insistence.”

Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the issues that have derailed the peace process, American assistance is emerging as a disjointed policy that urges a peaceful resolution to the conflict while boosting military aid to Israel. This military aid has been used in the widespread killings of civilians, destroyed large sections of the infrastructure in Palestinian society, and hardened Arab attitudes toward Israel.

The increases in military aid grow out of a central pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East: strengthening America’s “strategic cooperation” with Israel.

This cooperation currently centers on two categories of U.S. military-related assistance to Israel: Economic Support Funds (ESF) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF). The larger of these two, FMF, is intended to help Israel finance its acquisition of U.S. military equipment, services, and training. FMF is scheduled to increase by $60 million each year, for a total of $2.04 billion in FY2002, as part of an ongoing plan to phase out ESF support by 2008.

Previous discussions about Israel’s security needs following peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinians and a withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip foresee an additional $35 billion of U.S. military assistance, raising the potential total to more than $7 billion per year over the next seven years. This is roughly the same amount currently spent by all of the former Soviet republics combined. Such an enormous increase is based on the confusing assumption that peace agreements with once-hostile neighbors somehow make Israel less secure and require a greatly expanded Israeli military.

Already the strongest military power in the region and the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, Israel does not need additional military assistance. It has one of the most sophisticated, well-equipped, and best-trained armies in the world, and its armed forces are growing faster than those of its neighbors, whose military expenditures decreased during the 1990s. Israel’s annual military expenditures are consistently two to three times as high as those of other countries involved in previous Arab-Israeli wars combined, and Israel leads the region in the number of heavy weapons holdings, armored infantry vehicles, airplanes, and heavy tanks. Israel outpaces Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon in every major category of arms spending.

A careful review of FMF assistance reveals that this program has actually hindered the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, made the Middle East more volatile, and undermined U.S. regional interests.

If the purpose of the FMF program is to improve Israel’s security, the U.S. should reverse its increasing emphasis on military assistance and replace outdated, one-dimensional ideas about Israel’s security with a more extensive definition. Taking into account important nonmilitary aspects of Israel’s security would enable the U.S. to complement its current policy with a variety of alternative strategies designed to identify and address the causes of conflict and create conditions for a sustainable peace.

The primary short-term threat to Israeli security stems from suicide bombers based in Israeli-occupied territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This can best be addressed by improved surveillance and interdiction and, more fundamentally, by ending Israel’s occupation, which has brought enormous human suffering while creating extremists willing to wreak carnage on Israeli civilians. Little of the U.S. security assistance helps protect Israelis from such attacks and, by providing the military hardware for an increasingly repressive occupation, results in the backlash that has manifested itself in the rise of extremist groups committed to terrorism.

The longer-term threat to Israel comes from sophisticated weaponry procured by Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf region, which are the only military systems that come close to challenging Israeli military superiority. Most of these weapons also come from the United States, however, so this threat can best be neutralized not by providing more arms to this overly militarized region, but through arms control. Indeed, Israel announced its support for a moratorium on arms exports to the Middle East in 1991, but the U.S. rejected it, raising serious questions as to whether the U.S. really has Israel’s best interests in mind.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

The violence that erupted in September 2000 highlighted some important points about Israel’s security.

First, the most serious challenge for Israel has not been protecting its existence from hostile neighbors but rather pursuing an increasingly repressive military occupation that has created international diplomatic isolation as well as terrorist attacks.

Second, while armed attacks against Israeli occupation forces and settlers in the occupied territories, suicide bombing attacks against civilians inside Israel, and widespread condemnation by Arab governments have heightened Israeli citizens’ sense of vulnerability, Israel’s neighbors have not seriously threatened Israeli territory.

Finally, Israel’s clear military advantage has not made Israelis feel secure on a personal, individual level.

This paradox of personal insecurity in the face of overpowering military strength stems from an important distinction within Israeli security that Washington’s FMF assistance program to Israel does not address.

Israeli security has two levels: the macro, or national, level and the micro, or personal, level. The state of Israel is extremely secure in this first sense. Since its declaration of statehood and overwhelming military victory in 1948, Israel has not been attacked militarily within its internationally recognized borders. Peace agreements with Egypt — by far its most powerful adversary — in 1978 and with Jordan — with which it shares its longest border — in 1994 have inordinately improved its security. Military spending by Syria has declined dramatically, Lebanese armed forces have never been much of a threat and Iraq’s military has been decimated as a result of the Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions regime. In addition, cooperation with regional powers, such as Turkey, and decades of U.S. military assistance have combined to create a secure Israel.

At the same time, Israeli citizens continue to be the target of terrorist attacks and violent uprisings. Billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance to Israel are spent each year addressing the wrong type of security. What’s worse, FMF assistance has undermined personal security in Israel by diluting the incentives for seeking peace and by emboldening Israel to avoid making the concessions necessary for peace. This personal security will elude Israelis until the underlying causes of the conflict and the current uprising are addressed.

The current violence grows out of Palestinian frustrations with the peace process. During years of waiting for promised benefits, Palestinians have seen their standard of living steadily decline. In the seven years between the signing of the Oslo Accords and the start of the uprising in September 2000, Israeli policies—including border controls, retention of Palestinian funds, and restrictions on trade, investment, and access to water resources—resulted in growing trade and budget deficits for the Palestinians. Unemployment was hovering at 50 percent, poverty rates increased, health standards deteriorated, and any sense of opportunity among Palestinian youth began to fade.

The anger and despair that ignited the 2000 uprising and the current wave of suicide bombings stems from these policies and their effect on daily Palestinian life. The Spring 2002 re-occupation of Palestinian cities and widespread killings by Israeli forces using American armaments, detention and maltreatment of unarmed civilians, and the wanton destruction of economic and social infrastructure have only increased the Palestinian desire for revenge. This has also strengthened popular support for extremist groups like Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, resulting in less security for Israelis.

For years, most Palestinians have viewed a negotiated peace as the clearest route to achieving their aspirations for an independent state. While they waited for the peace process to produce this result, the Israeli government dramatically expanded its illegal settlements, Jewish — only highways, and related infrastructure in order to establish permanent control over large areas of Palestinian territory. These policies were pursued in large part to make a contiguous viable Palestinian state on the West Bank impossible and were in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a series United Nations Security Council resolutions. This was possible because of the large-scale financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israel by the United States.

As a result, many Palestinians now question the wisdom of pursuing a peace framed and sponsored by the United States. Many Palestinians see negotiation as empty promises and have begun seeking other means — some violent — of obtaining a homeland. As a result, a sense of insecurity grows within the Israeli population, fostered by the very policies that the U.S. and Israel pursue in the name of promoting Israeli security.

In addition to weakening U.S. credibility as a neutral mediator, massive increases in military assistance to Israel undermine U.S. attempts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the region. When Jordan downsized its military and proposed linking further military cutbacks in the region to debt reduction in the early 90s, for example, the U.S. resisted the suggestion and continued shipping arms to Israel at record levels. Following the 1994 peace deal between Jordan and Israel, other Arab states cited Jordan’s relative military weakness as the major reason for its inability to extract more concessions from Israel. The lesson was clear: The American-Israeli military relationship makes unilateral disarmament in the Middle East fruitless, even counterproductive.

Even as Washington cites Iraq’s potential possession of weapons of mass destruction and its failure to adhere to UN resolutions to justify its severe economic sanctions on the Iraqi population and its threats to invade the country, it continues to increase military aid to Israel, a nuclear power that remains in violation of scores of UN resolutions. In fact, states like Iran, Iraq, and Syria view their own efforts to develop and acquire chemical and biological weapons as a counterbalance to Israeli weapons acquisitions.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

The U.S. must recognize that Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Just as the Palestinians will not be granted their rights until Israel’s legitimate security needs are recognized, Israel will not be secure until the Palestinians are granted their legitimate rights.

The U.S. should maintain its moral and strategic commitment to Israel to ensure its survival and its legitimate strategic interests in defending its internationally recognized borders. At the same time, however, the U.S. must also be willing to apply pressure whenever the Israeli government refuses to make the necessary compromises for peace, which requires withdrawal from the occupied territories, removing colonists from the illegal settlements, sharing Jerusalem, and pursuing a just resolution for Palestinian refugees. This would require an immediate suspension of all military assistance to Israel as long as the Israeli government continues to engage in violations of international human rights standards and international law.

Such a position not only would be morally right and would be in Israel’s own security interest, but it would also end the Bush administration’s ongoing violation of the Foreign Assistance Act, which forbids security assistance to any government that “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” without a waiver [22 U.S.C. Secs. 2034, 2151n].

Suspension of military aid to Israel must be part of a comprehensive effort at regional arms control, including a suspension of U.S. military aid to other Middle Eastern governments, virtually all of which engage in a pattern of gross and systematic human rights violations.

Despite the threat and reality of suicide bombings, Israelis are relatively secure within their country’s internationally recognized borders compared to the soldiers and settlers in occupied Palestinian territories seized by Israel in the 1967 War. Settlements and roads in these areas—reserved for Jews only—not only create an apartheid-like situation, but also make it extremely difficult for Israeli forces to defend against a hostile population angry that foreign occupiers have confiscated what is often its best land. Israel would be far more secure defending a clearly defined and internationally recognized border than this network of illegal outposts within Palestinian territory. Israel’s official borders run for about 500 miles, whereas the demarcation lines between Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas prior to the most recent fighting were closer to 2,000 miles.

It is not surprising, then, that far more Israelis have died in the occupied territories than within Israel itself. Similarly, Israel utilizes far more of its soldiers outside the country maintaining its occupation against the Palestinians than it does defending the country’s borders or maintaining internal security. As reiterated in the recent Arab summit in Beirut, an Israeli withdrawal to within its internationally recognized borders would result in the security guarantees and fully normalized relations with Arab states Israel has long sought. This would put both Israel and its neighbors into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long considered to be the basis for Arab-Israeli peace. While this would not satisfy some Islamic extremists, an end to the occupation would dramatically reduce their following and simultaneously increase the ability and willingness of the Palestinian leadership to crack down on potential terrorists.

A more comprehensive definition of Israel’s security would create greater flexibility in the FMF assistance program, allowing the U.S. to address the personal insecurity of Israelis. Earmarking the ongoing $60 million annual increase for desalination and waste water recycling projects would reduce Israel’s reliance on Palestinian water resources, remove an incentive for maintaining the illegal occupation, and improve Palestinian economic prospects. Other options for applying the assistance include financing joint projects on a regional energy grid or natural gas pipelines, coordinating ecological management strategies, promoting international trade and tourism, and advancing efforts to develop cooperative economic zones along national borders. Tying the region together economically creates collective incentives to promote peace while highlighting the rewards of international cooperation to Arabs and Israelis alike. In this way, U.S. security assistance could bolster Israeli security without increasing military transfers or threatening Israel’s neighbors. Such a broader vision of security is necessary if the U.S. is truly interested in promoting peace and stability for Israel and the Middle East.

http://www.alternet.org/story/13101/aiding_the_war_effort/?page=entire

Challenging the Myths about the Failure of the 2000 Camp David Talks

1. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations, along with leading members of Congress of both parties, have deliberately misrepresented what happened in the peace process before, during, and after Camp David, as well as what has transpired since the outbreak of the second intifada in late September 2000. This has served to justify a policy of supporting an increasingly repressive occupation army, something that would otherwise be unpalatable to the American public.

2. The Palestinians bear some major responsibility for the tragic turn of events following the unsuccessful end of the talks hosted by President Clinton. However, a careful examination of the events appears to indicate that the primary fault for the failure of the peace process and the subsequent violence lies squarely with the occupying power–Israel–and its patron–the United States.

3. Throughout the peace process, the Clinton administration seemed to coordinate the pace and agenda of the talks closely with Israel, ignoring Palestinian concerns.

4. The U.S. insistence to jump to final-status negotiations without prior confidence building measures–such as a freeze on new settlements or the fulfillment of previous Israeli pledges to withdraw–led the Palestinians to question the sincerity of both Israel and the United States.

5. Claims that Barak offered 95% of the West Bank to the Palestinians at the Camp David summit are misleading. This figure does not include greater East Jerusalem, which includes Palestinian villages and rural areas to the north and east of the city unilaterally annexed by Israel. Nor does this figure include much of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea coast and parts of the Judean Desert, which would have remained under exclusive Israeli military control for an indefinite period. Taking these additional areas into account, this offer totaled only slightly more than 80% of the West Bank, forcing the Palestinians to relinquish land needed for their development and absorption of refugees.

6. Also under Barak’s U.S.-backed plan, the West Bank would have been split up by a series of settlement blocs, bypass roads and Israeli roadblocks, by some interpretations dividing the new Palestinian “state” into four non-contiguous cantons. In addition, Israel would have supervision of border crossing between the new Palestinian state and neighboring Arab states. Israel would also control Palestinian airspace, seacoast and aquifers.

7. Although Barak’s offers did go further than any previous Israeli government, they fell well short of what Israel was required to do under basic international legal standards–such as the Fourth Geneva Convention–and a series of UN Security Council resolutions. These include the departure from the Jewish settlements, rescinding the annexation of greater East Jerusalem and withdrawal from territories seized in the 1967 war in return for security guarantees.

8. Clinton naively thought that he could pressure Arafat to accept Israeli terms, even though negotiations up to that time indicated that the two sides were still far apart on some key issues. Even if Clinton had been successful in forcing Arafat to agree to Israeli terms, there simply would not have been enough support among the Palestinian population to make it a viable agreement.

9. The Palestinian uprising in late September was a spontaneous eruption exacerbated by excessive use of force by Israeli occupation troops. There is no evidence that Arafat or anyone else the Palestinian Authority planned it.

10. Clinton’s peace plan in December improved Israel’s July proposal only slightly and was initially rejected by the Palestinians. However, Israeli-Palestinian talks in Taba the following month, without active U.S. participation, led to major concessions by both sides and came within striking distance of a peace agreement. The Israelis balked at the last minute, however, soon followed by Barak’s electoral defeat.

11. The bipartisan consensus in the U.S. is that the fate of the Palestinians is up to their Israeli occupiers. Statements by both the Clinton and Bush administrations and congressional resolutions passed by huge bipartisan majorities have made it clear that Washington conditions Palestinian independence to Israeli terms.

http://www.fpif.info/fpiftxt/423

Congress Attacks Human Rights

On Thursday, both the House of Representative and the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions defending the policies of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in the occupied territories. Human rights activists are alarmed, both at the strong Congressional support for a repressive military occupation as well as the fact that the resolutions are being widely interpreted as an attack on the credibility of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Last month, Amnesty International published a detailed and well-documented report on the situation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, noting how “the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity.” The report goes on to document unlawful killings, destruction of civilian property, arbitrary detention, torture, assaults on medical personnel and journalists, and random shooting at houses and people in the streets.

By contrast, the House resolution, passed by a 352-21 margin, claims “Israel’s military operations are an effort to defend itself . . . and are aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.”

This not only puts the House of Representatives in direct contradiction of reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but of Israeli peace and human rights groups like B’Tselem, Gush Shalom and Yesh G’vul. These Israeli organizations, which have many IDF reservists in their ranks, have reported that the apparent goal of the Israeli offensive was to dismantle much of the civilian infrastructure of Palestinian society. The Israeli and international news media have graphically shown the wanton destruction of homes, offices, schools and utilities with no connection whatsoever with any “terrorist infrastructure.”

It is perhaps not surprising that the more harshly-worded House resolution, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was backed by virtually the entire Republican Right. Yet the chief co-sponsor of the resolution was none other than Tom Lantos, the liberal California Democrat who chairs the Human Rights Caucus. Other prominent liberals supporting the resolution included Nancy Pelosi, Robert Matsui, Maxine Waters, Henry Waxman, Mark Udall, John Lewis, Lane Evans, Barney Frank, Edward Markey, Major Owens, David Price and Patrick Kennedy, among others.

That so many supposedly progressive voices in the House of Representatives would take the word of Tom DeLay over that of Amnesty International is indicative of how little regard there is in Congress for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization.

The House resolution also called for an increase over the already more than two billion dollars of annual military aid sent to Israel and praised President George W. Bush for his policies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate, in a 94-2 vote, passed a similar resolution, again referring to the assault on Palestinian towns and refugee camps as a case of Israel taking “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas,” with every liberal Democrat voting in the affirmative.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans blame both sides for the violence, though the resolutions passed Thursday put the blame exclusively on the Palestinians. More strikingly, a Time/CNN poll revealed the 60 percent of Americans believe the United States should suspend some or all aid to Israel to force them to pull back from their offensive in the West Bank while only 1 percent believed U.S. aid should go up. Yet over 90 percent of the House of Representatives supports just such an increase in military aid.

The huge majorities in support of these resolutions can not be attributed to a need to secure the “Jewish vote” in this election year. American Jews are increasingly divided over the policies of Israel’s rightist prime minister and the vast majority of the resolutions’ Congressional backers are from states or districts with only tiny Jewish populations.

Similarly, most of these resolutions’ supporters are from safe enough seats so as not to need campaign contributions from the conservative political action committees supportive of Ariel Sharon.

For most members of Congress, then, it is simply a reflection of their sincere ideological support for Israel’s occupation policies and their low regard for internationally-recognized human rights standards as well as the failure of the peace and human rights community to mobilize as effectively on the Middle East as they have on other areas of U.S. foreign policy.

With only 17 Democrats in the House and two Democrats in the Senate voting against the bill, perhaps the biggest winner is the Green Party, that has long argued that even on an issue as basic as human rights, there is no difference between the two major parties. Already, there are growing numbers of disaffected Democrats who are beginning to realize they can not support human rights and support the Democratic Party at the same time.

The biggest loser in Thursday’s votes is the struggling Israeli peace and human rights movement and their moderate Palestinian counterparts, whose defiance of their violent leaders and efforts towards reconciliation have once again been sabotaged by the U.S. Congress.

http://www.alternet.org/story/13041/congress_attacks_human_rights/?page=entire

Congress Ignores Human Rights Groups In Pro-Israel Resolution

Republican Right and congressional liberals join together to show support for Sharon government despite reports by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch detailing gross human rights abuses.

Despite new public opinion polls showing rising public concern about unconditional U.S. support of Israel, recently the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions defending the policies of right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in the occupied territories. Human rights activists are alarmed, both at the strong congressional support for a repressive military occupation as well as the fact that the resolutions are being widely interpreted as an attack on the credibility of Amnesty International and other human rights groups.

Last month, Amnesty International published a detailed and well-documented report on the situation in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, noting how “the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity.” The report goes on to document unlawful killings, destruction of civilian property, arbitrary detention, torture, assaults on medical personnel and journalists, as well as random shooting at people in the streets and houses.

By contrast, the House resolution, passed by a 352-21 margin, claims “Israel’s military operations are an effort to defend itself … and are aimed only at dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.”

This not only puts the House of Representatives in direct contradiction to reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but also of Israeli peace and human rights groups like B’Tselem, Gush Shalom, and Yesh G’vul. These Israeli organizations, which have many IDF reservists in their ranks, have reported that the apparent goal of the Israeli offensive was to dismantle much of the civilian infrastructure of Palestinian society. The Israeli and international news media have graphically shown the wanton destruction of homes, offices, schools, and utilities with no connection whatsoever with any “terrorist infrastructure.”

It is perhaps not surprising that the more harshly worded House resolution, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was backed by virtually the entire Republican Right. Yet the chief co-sponsor of the resolution was none other than Tom Lantos, the liberal California Democrat who chairs the Human Rights Caucus. Other prominent liberals supporting the resolution included Nancy Pelosi, Robert Matsui, Maxine Waters, Henry Waxman, Mark Udall, John Lewis, Lane Evans, Barney Frank, Edward Markey, Major Owens, David Price, and Patrick Kennedy, among others.

That so many supposedly progressive voices in the House of Representatives would take the word of Tom DeLay over that of Amnesty International is indicative of how little regard there is in Congress for the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization.

The House resolution also called for an increase of the already more than two billion dollars of annual military aid sent to Israel–and praised President George W. Bush for his policies.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate, in a 94-2 vote, passed a similar resolution, again referring to the assault on Palestinian towns and refugee camps as taking “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas,” with every liberal Democrat voting in the affirmative.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans blame both sides for the violence, though the resolutions passed Thursday put the blame exclusively on the Palestinians. More strikingly, a Time/CNN poll revealed the 60% of Americans believed Washington should suspend some or all aid to Israel to force them to pull back from their offensive in the West Bank, while only 1% believed U.S. aid should go up. Yet over 90% of the House of Representatives supports just such an increase in military aid.

The huge majorities in support of these resolutions cannot be attributed to a need to secure the “Jewish vote” in this election year. American Jews are increasingly divided over the policies of Israel’s rightist prime minister and the vast majority of the congressional backers of these resolutions are from states or districts with only tiny Jewish populations.

Similarly, most of these resolutions’ supporters are from safe enough seats so as not to need campaign contributions from the conservative political action committees supportive of Ariel Sharon.

For most members of Congress, then, it is simply a reflection of their sincere ideological support for Israel’s occupation policies and a demonstration of their low regard for internationally recognized human rights standards.

The biggest loser in Thursday’s votes is the struggling Israeli peace and human rights movement and their moderate Palestinian counterparts, whose defiance of their violent leaders and efforts toward reconciliation have once again been sabotaged by the U.S. Congress.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/congress_ignores_human_rights_groups_in_pro-israel_resolution

Why the U.S. Supports Israel

In the United States and around the world, many are questioning why, despite some mild rebukes, Washington has maintained its large-scale military, financial, and diplomatic support for the Israeli occupation in the face of unprecedented violations of international law and human rights standards by Israeli occupation forces. Why is there such strong bipartisan support for Israel’s right-wing prime minister Ariel Sharon’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories?

The close relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been one of the most salient features in U.S. foreign policy for nearly three and a half decades. The well over $3 billion in military and economic aid sent annually to Israel by Washington is rarely questioned in Congress, even by liberals who normally challenge U.S. aid to governments that engage in widespread violations of human rights–or by conservatives who usually oppose foreign aid in general. Virtually all Western countries share the United States’ strong support for Israel’s legitimate right to exist in peace and security, yet these same nations have refused to provide arms and aid while the occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war continues. None come close to offering the level of diplomatic support provided by Washington–with the United States often standing alone with Israel at the United Nations and other international forums when objections are raised over ongoing Israeli violations of international law and related concerns.

Although U.S. backing of successive Israeli governments, like most foreign policy decisions, is often rationalized on moral grounds, there is little evidence that moral imperatives play more of a determining role in guiding U.S. policy in the Middle East than in any other part of the world. Most Americans do share a moral commitment to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state, but this would not account for the level of financial, military, and diplomatic support provided. American aid to Israel goes well beyond protecting Israel’s security needs within its internationally recognized borders. U.S. assistance includes support for policies in militarily occupied territories that often violate well-established legal and ethical standards of international behavior.

Were Israel’s security interests paramount in the eyes of American policymakers, U.S. aid to Israel would have been highest in the early years of the existence of the Jewish state, when its democratic institutions were strongest and its strategic situation most vulnerable, and would have declined as its military power grew dramatically and its repression against Palestinians in the occupied territories increased. Instead, the trend has been in just the opposite direction: major U.S. military and economic aid did not begin until after the 1967 war. Indeed, 99% of U.S. military assistance to Israel since its establishment came only after Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

Similarly, U.S. aid to Israel is higher now than twenty-five years ago. This was at a time when Egypt’s massive and well-equipped armed forces threatened war; today, Israel has a longstanding peace treaty with Egypt and a large demilitarized and internationally monitored buffer zone keeping its army at a distance. At that time, Syria’s military was expanding rapidly with advanced Soviet weaponry; today, Syria has made clear its willingness to live in peace with Israel in return for the occupied Golan Heights–and Syria’s military capabilities have been declining, weakened by the collapse of its Soviet patron.

Also in the mid-1970s, Jordan still claimed the West Bank and stationed large numbers of troops along its lengthy border and the demarcation line with Israel; today, Jordan has signed a peace treaty and has established fully normalized relations. At that time, Iraq was embarking upon its vast program of militarization. Iraq’s armed forces have since been devastated as a result of the Gulf War and subsequent international sanctions and monitoring. This raises serious questions as to why U.S. aid has either remained steady or actually increased each year since.

In the hypothetical event that all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately cut off, it would be many years before Israel would be under significantly greater military threat than it is today. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces. There would be no question of Israel’s survival being at risk militarily in the foreseeable future. When Israel was less dominant militarily, there was no such consensus for U.S. backing of Israel. Though the recent escalation of terrorist attacks inside Israel has raised widespread concerns about the safety of the Israeli public, the vast majority of U.S. military aid has no correlation to counterterrorism efforts.

In short, the growing U.S. support for the Israeli government, like U.S. support for allies elsewhere in the world, is not motivated primarily by objective security needs or a strong moral commitment to the country. Rather, as elsewhere, U.S. foreign policy is motivated primarily to advance its own perceived strategic interests.

Strategic Reasons for Continuing U.S. Support

There is a broad bipartisan consensus among policymakers that Israel has advanced U.S. interest in the Middle East and beyond.

* Israel has successfully prevented victories by radical nationalist movements in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as in Palestine.

* Israel has kept Syria, for many years an ally of the Soviet Union, in check.

* Israel’s air force is predominant throughout the region.

* Israel’s frequent wars have provided battlefield testing for American arms, often against Soviet weapons.

* It has served as a conduit for U.S. arms to regimes and movements too unpopular in the United States for openly granting direct military assistance, such as apartheid South Africa, the Islamic Republic in Iran, the military junta in Guatemala, and the Nicaraguan Contras. Israeli military advisers have assisted the Contras, the Salvadoran junta, and foreign occupation forces in Namibia and Western Sahara.

* Israel’s intelligence service has assisted the U.S. in intelligence gathering and covert operations.

* Israel has missiles capable of reaching as far as the former Soviet Union, it possesses a nuclear arsenal of hundreds of weapons, and it has cooperated with the U.S. military-industrial complex with research and development for new jet fighters and anti-missile defense systems.

U.S. Aid Increases as Israel Grows Stronger

The pattern of U.S. aid to Israel is revealing. Immediately following Israel’s spectacular victory in the 1967 war, when it demonstrated its military superiority in the region, U.S. aid shot up by 450%. Part of this increase, according to the New York Times, was apparently related to Israel’s willingness to provide the U.S. with examples of new Soviet weapons captured during the war. Following the 1970-71 civil war in Jordan, when Israel’s potential to curb revolutionary movements outside its borders became apparent, U.S. aid increased another sevenfold. After attacking Arab armies in the 1973 war were successfully countered by the largest U.S. airlift in history, with Israel demonstrating its power to defeat surprisingly strong Soviet-supplied forces, military aid increased by another 800%. These increases paralleled the British decision to withdraw its forces from “east of the Suez,” which also led to the massive arms sales and logistical cooperation with the Shah’s Iran, a key component of the Nixon Doctrine.

Aid quadrupled again in 1979 soon after the fall of the Shah, the election of the right-wing Likud government, and the ratification of the Camp David Treaty, which included provisions for increased military assistance that made it more of a tripartite military pact than a traditional peace agreement. (It is noteworthy that the additional aid provided to Israel in the treaty continued despite the Begin government’s refusal to abide by provisions relating to Palestinian autonomy.) Aid increased yet again soon after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 1983 and 1984, when the United States and Israel signed memoranda of understanding on strategic cooperation and military planning and conducted their first joint naval and air military exercises, Israel was rewarded by an additional $1.5 billion in economic aid. It also received another half million dollars for the development of a new jet fighter.

During and immediately after the Gulf War, U.S. aid increased an additional $650 million. When Israel dramatically increased its repression in the occupied territories–including incursions into autonomous Palestinian territories provided in treaties guaranteed by the U.S. government–U.S. aid increased still further and shot up again following the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

The correlation is clear: the stronger and more willing to cooperate with U.S. interests that Israel becomes, the stronger the support.

Ensuring Israel’s Military Superiority

Therefore, the continued high levels of U.S. aid to Israel comes not out of concern for Israel’s survival, but as a result of the U.S. desire for Israel to continue its political dominance of the Palestinians and its military dominance of the region. Indeed, leaders of both American political parties have called not for the U.S. to help maintain a military balance between Israel and its neighbors, but for insuring Israeli military superiority.

Since the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, there has again been some internal debate regarding how far the United States should back Israeli policies, now under the control of right-wing political leader Ariel Sharon. Some of the more pragmatic conservatives from the senior Bush administration, such as Secretary of State Colin Powell, have cautioned that unconditional backing of Sharon’s government during a period of unprecedented repression in the occupied territories would make it more difficult to get the full cooperation of Arab governments in prosecuting the campaign against terrorist cells affiliated with the al Qaeda network. Some of the more right-wing elements, such as Paul Wolfowitz of the Defense Department, have been arguing that Sharon was an indispensable ally in the war against terrorism and that the Palestinian resistance was essentially part of an international terrorist conspiracy against democratic societies.

Other Contributing Factors

Support for Israel’s ongoing occupation and repression is not unlike U.S. support for Indonesia’s 24-year occupation of and repression in East Timor or Morocco’s ongoing occupation of and repression in Western Sahara. If seen to be in the strategic interests of the United States, Washington is quite willing to support the most flagrant violation of international law and human rights by its allies and block the United Nations or any other party from challenging it. No ethnic lobby or ideological affinity is necessary to motivate policymakers to do otherwise. As long as the amoral imperatives of realpolitik remain unchallenged, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere will not reflect the American public’s longstanding belief that U.S. international relations should be guided by humanitarian principles and ethics.

Some of the worst cases of U.S. support for repression have not remained unchallenged, leading to reversals in U.S. policy on Vietnam, Central America, South Africa, and East Timor. In these cases, grass roots movements supportive of peace and justice grew to a point where liberal members of Congress, in the media and elsewhere, joined in the call to stop U.S. complicity in the repression. In other cases, such as U.S. support for Morocco’s invasion and occupation of Western Sahara, too few Americans are even aware of the situation to mount a serious challenge, so it remains off the radar screen of lawmakers and pundits.

The case of Israel and Palestine is different, however. There are significant sectors of the population that question U.S. policy, yet there is a widespread consensus among elite sectors of government and the media in support of U.S. backing of the Israeli occupation. Indeed, many of the same liberal Democrats in Congress who supported progressive movements on other foreign policy issues agree with President George W. Bush–or, in some cases, are even further to the right–on the issue of Israel and Palestine. Therefore, while the perceived strategic imperative is at the root of U.S. support for Israel, there are additional factors that have made this issue more difficult for peace and human rights activists than most others. These include the following:

* The sentimental attachment many liberals–particularly among the post-war generation in leadership positions in government and the media–have for Israel. Many Americans identify with Israel’s internal democracy, progressive social institutions (such as the kibbutzim), relatively high level of social equality, and its important role as a sanctuary for an oppressed minority group that spent centuries in diaspora. Through a mixture of guilt regarding Western anti-Semitism, personal friendships with Jewish Americans who identify strongly with Israel, and fear of inadvertently encouraging anti-Semitism by criticizing Israel, there is enormous reluctance to acknowledge the seriousness of Israeli violations of human rights and international law.

* The Christian Right, with tens of millions of followers and a major base of support for the Republican Party, has thrown its immense media and political clout in support for Ariel Sharon and other right-wing Israeli leaders. Based in part on a messianic theology that sees the ingathering of Jews to the Holy Land as a precursor for the second coming of Christ, the battle between Israelis and Palestinians is, in their eyes, simply a continuation of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, with God in the role of a cosmic real estate agent who has deemed that the land belongs to Israel alone–secular notions regarding international law and the right of self-determination notwithstanding.

* Mainstream and conservative Jewish organizations have mobilized considerable lobbying resources, financial contributions from the Jewish community, and citizen pressure on the news media and other forums of public discourse in support of the Israeli government. Although the role of the pro-Israel lobby is often greatly exaggerated–with some even claiming it is the primary factor influencing U.S. policy–its role has been important in certain tight congressional races and in helping to create a climate of intimidation among those who seek to moderate U.S. policy, including growing numbers of progressive Jews.

* The arms industry, which contributes five times more money to congressional campaigns and lobbying efforts than AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups, has considerable stake in supporting massive arms shipments to Israel and other Middle Eastern allies of the United States. It is far easier, for example, for a member of Congress to challenge a $60 million arms deal to Indonesia, for example, than the more than $2 billion of arms to Israel, particularly when so many congressional districts include factories that produce such military hardware.

* The widespread racism toward Arabs and Muslims so prevalent in American society, often perpetuated in the media. This is compounded by the identification many Americans have with Zionism in the Middle East as a reflection of our own historic experience as pioneers in North America, building a nation based upon noble, idealistic values while simultaneously suppressing and expelling the indigenous population.
The failure of progressive movements in the United States to challenge U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine in an effective manner. For many years, most mainstream peace and human rights groups avoided the issue, not wanting to alienate many of their Jewish and other liberal constituents supportive of the Israeli government and fearing criticism of Israeli policies might inadvertently encourage anti-Semitism. As a result, without any countervailing pressure, liberal members of Congress had little incentive not to cave in to pressure from supporters of the Israeli government. Meanwhile, many groups on the far left and others took a stridently anti-Israel position that did not just challenge Israeli policies but also questioned Israel’s very right to exist, severely damaging their credibility. In some cases, particularly among the more conservative individuals and groups critical of Israel, a latent anti-Semitism would come to the fore in wildly exaggerated claims of Jewish economic and political power and other statements, further alienating potential critics of U.S. policy.

Conclusion

While U.S. support for Israeli occupation policies, like U.S. support for its allies elsewhere, is primarily based upon the country’s support for perceived U.S. security interests, there are other factors complicating efforts by peace and human rights groups to change U.S. policy. Despite these obstacles, the need to challenge U.S. support of the Israeli occupation is more important than ever. Not only has it led to enormous suffering among the Palestinians and other Arabs, ultimately it hurts the long-term interests of both Israel and the United States, as increasingly militant and extremist elements arise out of the Arab and Islamic world in reaction.

Ultimately, there is no contradiction between support for Israel and support for Palestine, for Israeli security and Palestinian rights are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent on each other. U.S. support of the Israeli government has repeatedly sabotaged the efforts of peace activists in Israel to change Israeli policy, which the late Israeli General and Knesset member Matti Peled referred to as pushing Israel “toward a posture of calloused intransigence.” Perhaps the best kind of support the United States can give Israel is that of “tough love”–unconditional support for Israel’s right to live in peace and security within its internationally recognized border, but an equally clear determination to end the occupation. This is the challenge for those who take seriously such basic values as freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

http://www.fpif.org/articles/why_the_us_supports_israel