The US Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
U. S policy towards the Israeli-Palestine conflict and by extension to Palestine and Palestinians is characterized by deep perceptual roots buttressed by a series of assumptions, beliefs and misconceptions that have their origins in the 19th century. Over time these assumptions, beliefs and misconceptions have been transformed into “truth”, “common wisdom” or “knowledge”(Rubenberg 286). These beliefs are supported by a mythologized Palestine described in the Bible, as a place where Jesus was born and therefore according to the Judeo-Christian domain, nothing but an extension of the West.
Despite the fact Arab states have refused to recognize Israel, America has acted as Israel’s big brother; a spirit that is congruent to its foreign policy objectives as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The capture, occupation, usurpation and despoilment of Palestine by the Muslims in the 17th century were only viewed as historical wrongs that deserved to be corrected. It is also on the same basis that the Zionist movement succeeded in designating Palestine as the Holy land and proceeded to redeem it with the eventual declaration of Israel as an independent state on May 1948.
A day later, the surrounding Arab states invaded the country but were defeated by the superior Israeli military. Ever since, Israel has continually carried out military operations aimed at protecting the Zionist state from Arab threats while Arabs have consistently retaliated with the objectives of advancing their revisionist agendas(Beyer 113). Some analysts attribute the connection between the United States and Israel to be rooted in the historic fallout following the Holocaust and subsequent American repositioning as Wold War II came to an end as well as the ideological political transformations following the Cold War.
Even though this relationship is attributable to historic events, there exist other dimensions that explain the nature of the special relationship between these two nations and the policy issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, an analysis of the historical ramifications of the United States policy yields credible evidence that such foreign policy strategies are shaped out of the underlying relationship.
As such foreign policy towards the Middle East and specifically towards the Palestinian-Israel conflict, are aimed at maintaining that special relationship, promoting democracy, maintaining the flow of oil by appealing to Arab groups and nations supporting the Palestinian cause(Milton-Edwards 116; http://www. allacademic. com/meta/p154225_index. html). Pro-Arab lobbyists in the United States do not possess much influence as their Pro-Israeli counterparts (Marrar 143)
Conflict resolution and Conflict management as peace progress strategies adopted by the United States form the core of US foreign policy as regards the Middle East conflict. As a way of preventing other world actors such as the former Soviet Union or the European Union from assuming the role of a peace broker, the US has apportioned itself the responsibility to broker the age old disputes between Israel and Palestine. However, owing to the relationship between the US and Israel, America has never been regarded as an honest broker in the Arab world.
Moreover, the degree of domestic lobbying for Israel’s cause unduly influences foreign policy towards Israelis end (Bolt et al 43). The economic and military support to Israel has enabled the country to a military asymmetry of power against Arab nations, Palestine included. Arguably, the United States has maintained humanitarian aid to Palestine, but these cannot be compared to the level of financial support that Israel enjoys (Milton-Edwards 167). Since Israel self proclaimed its dependence. Immediately after peace accord at Camp David in Egypt, US dramatically increased the level of aid to $3.
0 billion (Lukacs 82). Thus, from 1978, the $ 3. 0 billion has acted as the baseline amount in aid to Israel. In addition to this baseline amount, Israel also receives between $1 and $2 in special government funds. The official annual fund is divided into military and economic assistance, For instance $1. 8 billion and $ 1. 2 billion respectively. By the end of the 2008 financial year, the US government planned top phase out non military aid but elevate the military aid to $2. 4 billion. Apart from these direct aid provisions, US exempt Israel from performance standards and project ties.
Israel also receives yearly private gifts amounting to $500 million (http://www. cmep. org/documents/uspolicy. htm). Since Israel’s economy rivals per capita incomes of a number of Western countries, the aid is a crucial supplement. Aid aside, the United States is Israel’s arms supplier. Unlike other countries, Israel can purchase arms directly from American firms. Among the Middle East countries, only Israelis have the privilege to purchase the most advanced weaponry. This privilege is not only limited to the purchase of weapons but also to programs like joint development of weaponry.
Outside NATO, only Israel can bid to supply weapons to US firms. When all these facets of the relationship are added to the fact that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, then it can be surmised that it is in the interest of US policy that Israel maintains absolute military superiority in the Middle East(http://www. cmep. org/documents/uspolicy. htm). Therefore, as America continues to protect its interests and those of Israel, Palestine if forced to view it as an honest broker in the peace process.
Partially, it is this absence of diplomatic and foreign policy leverage in the peace negotiations as well as the unqualified America’s support of Israeli positions that have defined peace progress in the region since the 1950s. It is only in recent times that America has started to include Palestinians in the foreign policy strategies. Earlier American administrations had more or less perceived Palestine with ignorance. In the 1970-1980s, the only image of Palestine that existed in American consciousness was that of terrorist actions.
As the world over viewed Israelis as victims of these terrorist acts, Palestine (as a state) was denied legitimacy. Surrounded by hostile Arab nations, Israel became a beleaguered friend. Recognition of the Palestine only began with the PLO(Tessler 712). Following the September 11, 2001 attacks in US soil, foreign policy to the Israeli-Palestine conflict assumed a new perspective congruent to global security and national security policy objectives (Milton-Edwards 168). To fully understand the developments in foreign policy as regards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the 1990s to the present, a critical exposition is worthwhile.
By the end of the 1991, the United States had changed its foreign policy stand to participation and some levels of structural engagement(Bayer 117). In agreement with the United Nations position, the United States also condemned the illegal settlement activities of Israel. Under the Senior Bush administration, the United States pursued “a land for peace” policy where the Bush administration continuously pressured the Shamir government to stop the settlement activities in Gaza and the West Bank.
By adopting such a foreign policy stand, the United States sought to maintain the diplomatic, political and the status quo of the United States and the Middle East with regard to trade. That implied that America could only actively engage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if their interests in the region were at stake. The Madrid negotiations were mainly driven by envisions of a New Middle East which rather pictured a strong Israel state. The Madrid negotiations were carried out at both the bilateral and multilateral level.
In both levels of negotiations, the United States wielded great influence in the shaping of these negotiations to be in line with its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East (Judis 165). It is prudent to reiterate that the Clinton administration held much sympathy for the existence of Israel as a state. Under these circumstances, the Prime Minister Rabin pledged to fulfil the demands of the negotiations. However, for America, its foreign economic policies were more important in the Israeli-Palestine negotiations than foreign security policies.
This transition to economically driven foreign policies in the Middle East, explained why at the Oslo negotiations in 1993, the participation of the United States was not so pronounced. However, the Clinton administration pledged $2 billion in aid to Gaza and the West Bank. In 1993-1995, when the peace process gained momentum, the United States offered support by giving aid to Jordan. Just after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party assumed office, America could no longer afford to continue with the same foreign policy front.
They had to become active participants in the ongoing peace process in the region (Beyer 117). The momentum that the peace process had gained was halted when Netanyahu could not stop further settlement activities as well as limit the troop retraction from the West Bank. The Clinton administration tried to pressure the Israeli government to adhere to the provisions of troop retraction and cessation of the settlement activities but Netanyahu refused top comply. Instead, he lobbied against Clinton in the U. S Congress.
Clinton was later advised against publicly putting pressure on Israel bringing a total break between Netanyahu and Clinton (Judis 164). With the ushering in of a new U. S administration under George W. Bush, a new approach to the conflict was developed. In the President’s National Security Strategy released in 2002, the president explicitly stated that, “There can be no peace for either side without freedom for both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine. ”(Beyer 119).
This was the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian foreign conflict that a sitting American President had called for the creation of the State of Palestine under a reformed government and at the same time calling on Israel to withdraw to the borders prior to 2000. Together with the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, Bush outlined a new strategy called the Road Map for peace. The roadmap featured a number of compromises that both sides had to make before Palestine achieved statehood (Greenstein 113).
Even though there were calls that certain provisions of the Road Map for peace be changed, the U. S administration insisted that the Road Map had to be implemented as it stood without any alterations whatsoever. Israel mounted pressure on America to desist from releasing the document until Palestine had installed in office a democratic government to begin the reform process. In line with Israel’s demands, Mahmoud Abbas was chosen on March 19, 2003. Consequently, the details of the Road Map were released on April 30, 2003.
Analytically, the Road Map called for Palestinian democratization through the installation of a new Palestinian leadership, the creation of unified and centralized security organs, holding of local elections and a crackdown on terrorism. In return, Israel would withdraw to the pre-intifada lines and freeze all settlement activity(Jailer & McAlister 276). These prepositions marked the first phase of the Road Map to peace. The second phase included institution-building and the writing of a new constitution. Finally, under the third phase, Palestine would receive definite borders and exercise certain degrees of sovereignty.
Even though Bush consistently supported the Geneva accords, he pressed with complete compliance to the Road Map where both sides fulfilled their commitments; a steady progress towards lasting peace could be made (Beyer 118, BBC, 24 June 2002). Since Bush’s foreign policy approach to the Middle East was influenced by his “war on terror” policies, Palestinian terrorism had to be condemned to attain a consistency in Middle East foreign policy strategies. However, such condemnations conflicted with the pledged support for reform and creation of the Palestinian state.
Critics argue that the plan was more bent on the fight against terrorism that it was in dealing with the issues of international law or human rights (Beyer 2008 118). The war in Iraq also completely diverted attention from the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hence eroding any hope for peace and further fuelling the bloodshed and Islam extremism in the region (Weiss et al 220; Mockaitis 115). Moreover, in 2004, the President backed Sharon’s plan of maintaining some West Bank settlements while at the same time dismissing the rights of refugees in Palestine to return to their original homes in Israel.
The situation was also worsened with the election of Hamas to government. The European Union, the United States and Israel dismissed the Palestinian government as the Islamist political party was viewed as a terrorist organization. Consequently, foreign aid was cut off. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be described as a catalytic event (Barsalou 54). Its chronic nature has for more than half a century shaped the political discourse within the Middle East (Bregman & El-Tahiri 11).
Arguably, the same conflict has successfully retarded the political maturation in the region as many countries, Palestine included, are forced to divert psychic resources, scarce material as well as the political resources for the settlement of pressing internal problems. Successive defeats of military Arab intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has considerably discredited Arab regimes and as a result led to the rise of Islamic extremism. The notion that the conflict is a neuralgic issue in the Arab world has never been in question.
However, the same neuralgism fuels Islamic extremism and hence determine the US foreign policy strategies with regard to the conflict. Thus, the very nature of the conflict begs pertinent questions on how the issue will finally be resolved. Owing to the anger directed by Palestinians to the United States with respect to their favouritism of Israel, it is in the United States foreign policy interest that the conflict solved or mitigated. Any foreign policy aimed at the resolution or the mitigation of the conflict calls for an enforcement of the terms of the agreement between the two parties.
In the absence of a Palestinian authority with the capacity to exercise monopoly in its territories, such an agreement is unlikely to yield sustainable peace. In any case, the existence of violent and disintegrative trajectories has greatly complicated the peace progress and is likely to hinder any such processes in the future (Angel & Benard 48). Thus an assessment of any future US foreign policy strategies can only be analyzed with regard to a number of situational fronts of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Given the well known cooperation between the Israel and the United States, there needs to be a change in the status quo.
US foreign should shift from conflict resolution to an approach definitive of conflict management. Even though such a cognitive shift is difficult due to the underlying foreign policy interests, it holds some hope for the peace process. The Palestinians will not accept the status quo hence predictably, more violence and military mobilizations on both sides will continue. Constant political tensions would necessitate the rise of more Palestinian terrorist groups and strengthen Jewish extremist parties. Further, the United States cannot afford criticism of Israel as it would strain the Israeli-US special relationship.
On the other hand, increased anti-Americanism in Palestine could endanger the flow of oil from the Middle East to the United States. All these factors negatively influence on the peace process, create regional instability and hinder democratic change(Beyer 122;Avineri 2001). With regard to the nature of both the Israeli and the Palestine governments with the centre left government under the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Hamas holding the power reigns in the Palestinian Authority, a uniquely complicated situation has been created for the United States policy makers.
While the Israeli government seems to be committed to withdrawing from the West Bank, Hamas is showing disinterest in the talk’s altogether (http://www. brookings. edu/papers/2006/0519middleeast_indyk. aspx). With such an environment, the Israeli Prime Minister moved to Washington to discuss the consolidation plan also called the convergence plan with President Bush.
As humanitarian crisis and violence loomed during such periods of diplomatic stalemates, the United States policy makers were held in a dilemma; both to endorse Olmert’s consolidation plan and give Hamas a win in principle or stick to stick to the provisions of the two-state solution as prescribed in the Master Plan. Given that the United States does not recognize the Hamas government as it falls short of the international community standards, an endorsement of the consolidation plan was against the two state solution.
Moreover, Israel cannot negotiate with the Hamas led Palestinian Authority as it rejects its very existence. These are the dilemmas that stall further negotiations of the Master Plan for peace. Negotiations such as those over a two-state solution can not resolve the conflict in the short term, other interventions needs to be put in place before peace under a two-state solution as prescribed in the Master Plan becomes to full operation. Brown (2009) posits that instead of pursuing such dead ends, negotiations should instead be focussed on a short term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
The short term ceasefire could then be used to pave the way to a more sustainable armistice. According to Brown, novel diplomatic approach could involve the proper negotiation of a ceasefire in the first stage, followed by a medium term armistice and the last stage of the negotiations will be geared towards addressing the root causes of the conflict. For the ceasefire agreement to be agreeable to both the Hamas and the Israelis, the Hamas must be enticed freedom of operation in Palestinian territories, opening of border points, freezing of Israeli settlements and a cessation of further attacks (Daalder et al 48).
For the agreement to be acceptable to the Israelis, arms supply to Hamas and all the other extremist groups must be halted. Coupled to these provisions, there should be in existent mechanisms for enforcing border inspections and settlement monitoring. Finally, as a major player in the Israeli-Palestine peace progress, through its policies, the United States could encourage Arab and European efforts in the negotiations.
As the United States continues to play its contradictory role as the mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while at the same time acting as a diplomatic supporter of Israel’s military excursions and settlement activities, the talks are bound to continue collapsing (http://www. fpif. org/fpiftxt/413). Whether, this is in congruence to the with the United States foreign policy objectives is a matter of further analysis, what is certain is that the status quo of the United States with regard to the peace negotiations is not supportive of sustainable peace in the region(Carpenter 122).
It is no secret that US diplomacy encourages exaggerated anti-Jewish sentiments in the Arab world, as it propagates the belief that Jews continually exercise their lobbying power to influence not only policies towards Israel but also towards the Israeli-Palestine conflict. If US continue being the broker of the peace process, then a well balanced policy is urgent. In a nutshell, the United States has lost the moral authority and the political credibility to act as an honest broker in the resolution of the crisis.
A more reliable option would be the United States to support the United Nations efforts in resolving the conflict in line good faith negotiations and international law.
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