Saturday, May 28, 2011

US-Israeli Relations a Major Impediment to Middle East Peace

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s State Department speech on May 19 was arrogant and cocky. Netanyahu’s remarks at the White House press briefing, after frosty talks with Obama were vacuous.

Following a rapturously received speeches to Congress and AIPAC, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US, Netanyahu was probably convinced that he held back Obama’s attempt to nudge him down the road to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Charlie Ross in an interview in January 2010 asked George Mitchell, Obama’s former Special Envoy for the Middle East, if the US could deploy any punitive measures against Israel to get progress on the Middle East peace process.

Mitchell, a former US Senator, said that the US could withhold support on loan guarantees to Israel. But it seems that this option is easier said than done. Senator Joe Lieberman thinks any attempt to force Israel o the negotiating table will be met with robust resistance from the US Congress.

So what really are Obama’s options, especially in an election year?

But the tragedy is that the US loan guarantees are the reason Netanyahu is belligerent and cocky. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II. Israel has received $3 billion annually in grants from the US since 1985. Almost all this grant is Foreign Military Financing.

Foreign Military Financing from the US is to ensure that Israel maintains it qualitative military edge, the so-called QME, over potential threats from its Arab neighbors. Israel routinely exaggerates the level of threat posed by its Arab neighbors in order to justify or argue for increased US military support.

In August 2010, the US and Israel announced that Israel will purchase 20 F-35s, the most advanced stealth multirole combat aircraft in the world, at a cost of $2.75billion. The first planes will be delivered in 2015. Understandably, must acquire and maintain better military hardware and training to compensate for numerical inferiority in the event of a regional military conflict.

It is not surprising that with US military aid, Israeli army is one of the most technologically advanced militaries in the world. Moreover, with help from the US Israel has built a domestic defense industry, which ranks among the top 10 supplies of arms worldwide. Furthermore US aid flows have provided vital subsidies as well as US-Israeli Scientific cooperation and enabled the emergence of Israel as fully industrialized nation, at par with western European economies.

More importantly, US assistance is meant to guarantee Israel the security it needs to make concessions necessary for comprehensive regional peace. But the use of US foreign aid to leverage progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement has largely failed. In the 1970s however, the promise of military assistance was critical in the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt. The question is why is progress towards Middle East so difficult?

Many analysts consider foreign aid, especially US loan guarantees to Israel as being antithetical to resolving the complex territorial, cultural and religious differences sown and cultivated over centuries. US guarantees and Israel’s economic and military superiority may in fact be the reason Israel is not committed to a lasting settlement.

I think Israel would act differently if the US reduced loan guarantees and cut military or economic grant aid. But is this even conceivable? On the authority of Senator Joe Lieberman, the answer is no. Implicitly, Joe Lieberman was affirming the unbridled power of the pro-Israel or Jewish lobby over Congress, the GOP, the Democrats and the White House. US Middle East policy is largely written by and for Israel, acting through the powerful US-based well-funded pro-Israeli lobby.

Some analysts have argued that the most effective way to annihilate the Jewish lobbies is to obligate them to register as agents of a foreign power. They are in fact agents of the Israeli state. There is sufficient evidence for instance to show that lobby leaders take their matching orders from the Israeli leadership and serve as funnels of Israeli policies into the US and influence pro-Israel policy and legislation. Elected members of the US Congress and appointed officials will be less zealous to share the platform of an organization that is registered as an agent of a foreign power.

In the absence of any realistic chance for a negotiated settlement, it is unlikely that the Palestinians will put off their quest for recognition of statehood at the September UN General Assembly.

1 comment:

  1. Your suggestion of focusing on the registration of Israeli lobbies in the U.S. as agents of a foreign government is an excellent, practical approach to clarifying for Americans the dangerously blurred distinctions between U.S. and Israel national interests Focusing on the lobbies might also help minimize the revolving door of U.S. political figures who get into office in Washington under one administration and then take blatantly pro-Israeli positions (e.g., joining Israeli lobbies or writing for right-wing Israeli newspapers) when out of power in Washington, all the while pretending to be loyal, patriotic Americans.

    This focus on clarifying the real position of Israeli lobbies could be a useful companion to a fundamental strategic shift in U.S. policy toward the Mideast. In a word, it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to make ties with Mideast moderates the core of its foreign policy. Today, this means shifting from reliance on Israel and Saudi Arabia to relying on Turkey and the newly emerging Egypt. A foreign policy toward the Mideast based on cooperation with Turkey and Egypt would facilitate the U.S. challenge of adjusting to the rapid political changes in the region.

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