Myths & Facts Online:
U.S. Middle East Policy
INDEX OF MYTHS:
- “The creation of Israel resulted solely from U.S. pressure.”
- “The United States favored Israel over the Arabs in 1948 because of the Jewish lobby.”
- “The United States and Israel have nothing in common.”
- “Most Americans oppose a close U.S. relationship with Israel.”
- “U.S. policy has always been hostile toward the Arabs.”
- “The United States always supports Israel.”
- “The U.S. has always ensured Israel would have a qualitative military edge over the Arabs.”
- “U.S. aid to the Middle East has always been one--sided in favor of Israel.”
- “Israel doesn’t need U.S. military assistance.”
- “U.S. military aid subsidizes Israeli defense contractors at the expense of American industry.”
- “Israel has no strategic value to the United States.”
- “U.S. dependence on Arab oil has decreased over the years.”
- “The attacks on 9/11 were a consequence of U.S. support for Israel.”
- “Groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas are freedom fighters.”
- “The United States must be ‘engaged’ to advance the peace process.”
“The creation of Israel resulted solely from U.S. pressure.” top
When the UN took up the question of Palestine, President Harry Truman explicitly said the United States should not “use threats or improper pressure of any kind on other delegations.” 1 Some pressure was nevertheless exerted and the U.S. played a key role in securing support for the partition resolution. U.S. influence was limited, however, as became clear when American dependents such as Cuba and Greece voted against partition, and El Salvador and Honduras abstained.
Many members of the Truman Administration opposed partition, including Defense Secretary James Forrestal, who believed Zionist aims posed a threat to American oil supplies and its strategic position in the region. The Joint Chiefs of Staff worried that the Arabs might align themselves with the Soviets if they were alienated by the West. These internal opponents tried to undermine U.S. support for the establishment of a Jewish state. 2
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union also supported partition, the first foreign policy issue on which the soon to be Cold War rivals agreed.
Although much has been written about the tactics of the supporters of partition, the behavior of the Arab lobby has been largely ignored. Arab states and their supporters were, in fact, actively engaged in arm-twisting of their own at the UN trying to scuttle partition. 3
“The United States favored Israel over the Arabs in 1948 because of the Jewish lobby.” top
with David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban
Truman supported the Zionist movement because he believed the international community was obligated to fulfill the promise of the Balfour Declaration and because he believed that ameliorating the plight of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust was the humanitarian thing to do. A sense of his attitude can be gleaned from a remark he made with regard to negotiations as to the boundaries of a Jewish state:
The whole region waits to be developed, and if it were handled the way we developed the Tennessee River basin, it could support from 20 to 30 million people more. To open the door to this kind of future would indeed be the constructive and humanitarian thing to do, and it would also redeem the pledges that were given at the time of World War I. 4
The American public supported the President’s policy. According to public opinion polls, 65 percent of Americans supported the creation of a Jewish state. 5 This public support was reflected in Congress where a resolution approving the Balfour Declaration was adopted in 1922. In 1944, both national parties called for the restoration of the Jewish Commonwealth and, in 1945, a similar resolution was adopted by Congress.
Rather than giving in to pressure, Truman tended to react negatively to the “Jewish lobby.” He complained repeatedly about being pressured and talked about putting propaganda from the Jews in a pile and striking a match to it. In a letter to Rep. Claude Pepper, Truman wrote: “Had it not been for the unwarranted interference of the Zionists, we would have had the matter settled a year and a half ago. 6 This was hardly the attitude of a politician overly concerned with Jewish votes.
“The United States and Israel have nothing in common.” top
The U.S.-Israel relationship is based on the twin pillars of shared values and mutual interests. Given this commonality of interests and beliefs, it should not be surprising that support for Israel is one of the most pronounced and consistent foreign policy values of the American people.
Although Israel is geographically located in a region
that is relatively undeveloped and closer to the Third World than
the West, Israel has emerged in less than 70 years as an advanced
nation with the characteristics of Western society. This is partially
attributable to the fact that a high percentage of the population
came from Europe or North America and brought with them Western political
and cultural norms. It is also a function of the common Judeo-Christian
Simultaneously, Israel is a multicultural society with people from more than 100 nations. Today, nearly half of all Israelis are Eastern or Oriental Jews who trace their origins to the ancient Jewish communities of the Islamic countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
While they live in a region characterized by autocracies, Israelis have a commitment to democracy no less passionate than that of Americans. All citizens of Israel, regardless of race, religion or sex, are guaranteed equality before the law and full democratic rights. Freedom of speech, assembly and press is embodied in the country’s laws and traditions. Israel’s independent judiciary vigorously upholds these rights.
The political system does differ from America’s—Israel’s is a parliamentary democracy—but it is still based on free elections with divergent parties. And though Israel does not have a formal constitution, it has adopted “Basic Laws” that establish similar legal guarantees.
Americans have long viewed Israelis with admiration,
at least partly because they see much of themselves in their pioneering
spirit and struggle for independence. Like the United States, Israel
is a nation of immigrants.
Despite the burden of spending 15.1 percent of its budget on defense,
it has had an extraordinary rate of economic
growth for most of its history. It has also succeeded in putting
most of the newcomers to work. Some immigrants come from relatively
undeveloped societies, such as Ethiopia or Yemen, and arrive with
virtually no possessions, education or training and become productive
contributors to Israeli society.
In the beginning, Israel had a mixed economy, combining capitalism with socialism along the British model. After experiencing serious economic difficulties, created largely in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War by increased oil prices and the need to spend a disproportionate share of its Gross National Product on defense, Israel gradually adopted reforms that reduced the role of the state and shifted the country closer to the free market system of the United States. America has been a partner in this evolution.
The special relationship is also reflected in a variety of shared value initiatives, which cover a broad range of common interests, such as the environment, energy, space, education, occupational safety and health. More than 400 American institutions in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received funds from binational programs with Israel. Little-known relationships like the Free Trade Agreement, the Co-operative Development Research Program, the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program and various memoranda of understanding with virtually every U.S. governmental agency demonstrate the depth of the special relationship. Even more important may be the broad ties between Israel and each of the individual 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In the 1980’s, attention increasingly focused on one pillar of the relationship—shared interests. The Reagan Administration saw the Soviet Union as a threat to American Middle East interests and Israel as a bulwark of democracy in the region. Reagan formally recognized Israel’s role through agreements for strategic cooperation. After the end of the Cold War, Israel has continued to play a role in joint efforts to protect American interests, including close cooperation in the war on terror. Strategic cooperation has progressed to the point where a de facto alliance now exists and the United States knows it can count on Israel.
“Most Americans oppose a close U.S. relationship with Israel.” top
Support for Israel is not restricted to the Jewish community. Americans of all ages, races and religions sympathize with Israel. This support is also nonpartisan, with a majority of Democrats and Republicans consistently favoring Israel by large margins over the Arabs.
The best indication of Americans’ attitude toward Israel is found in the response to the most consistently asked question about the Middle East: “In the Middle East situation, are your sympathies more with Israel or with the Arab nations?”
In 82 Gallup polls, going back to 1967, Israel has had the support of an average of 47 percent of the American people compared to 12 percent for the Arab states/Palestinians. Americans have slightly more sympathy for the Palestinians than for the Arab states, but the results of polls asking respondents to choose between Israel and the Palestinians have not differed significantly from the other surveys.
“The allied nations with the fullest concurrence of our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth.”
— President Woodrow Wilson 7
Some people have the misperception that sympathy for Israel was once much higher, but the truth is that before the Gulf War the peak had been 56 percent, reached just after the Six-Day War. In January 1991, sympathy for Israel reached a record high of 64 percent, according to Gallup. Meanwhile, support for the Arabs dropped to 8 percent and the margin was a record 56 points.
The most recent poll, reported by Gallup in February 2011, found that, for the second year in a row, sympathy for Israel was a near record 63 percent compared to only 17 percent for the Palestinians. Despite the violence of the preceding years, and a steady stream of negative media coverage, this is seven points higher than the level of support Israel enjoyed after the 1967 War, when many people mistakenly believe that Israel was overwhelmingly popular.
Polls also indicate the public views Israel as a reliable U.S. ally. In a May 2011 CNN poll, for example, 82 percent of Americans said Israel is “friendly” or an “ally.” 8
“U.S. policy has always been hostile toward the Arabs.” top
Arabs rarely acknowledge the American role in helping the Arab states achieve independence. President Wilson’s stand for self-determination for all nations, and the U.S. entry into World War I, helped cause the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and stimulate the move toward independence in the Arab world.
Arab leaders assert that Middle East policy must be a zero-sum game whereby support for their enemy, Israel, necessarily puts them at a disadvantage. Thus, Arab states have tried to force the United States to choose between support for them or Israel. The U.S. has usually refused to fall into this trap. The fact that the U.S. has a close alliance with Israel while maintaining good relations with several Arab states is proof the two are not incompatible.
The U.S. has long sought friendly relations with Arab leaders and has, at one time or another, been on good terms with most Arab states. In the 1930s, the discovery of oil led U.S. companies to become closely involved with the Gulf Arabs. In the 1950s, U.S. strategic objectives stimulated an effort to form an alliance with pro-Western Arab states. Countries such as Iraq and Libya were friends of the U.S. before radical leaders took over those governments. Egypt, which was hostile toward the U.S. under Nasser, shifted to the pro-Western camp under Sadat.
Since World War II, the U.S. has poured economic and military assistance into the region and today is the principal backer of nations such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt and the Gulf sheikdoms. Although the Arab states blamed the U.S. for their defeats in wars they initiated with Israel, the truth is most of the belligerents had either been given or offered American assistance at some time. 9
“The United States always supports Israel.” top
The United States has been Israel’s closest ally throughout its history; nevertheless, the U.S. has acted against the Jewish State’s wishes many times.
The U.S. effort to balance support for Israel with placating the Arabs began in 1948 when President Truman showed signs of wavering on partition and advocating trusteeship. After the surrounding Arab states invaded Israel, the U.S. maintained an arms embargo that severely restricted the Jews’ ability to defend themselves.
Ever since the 1948 war, the U.S. has been unwilling to insist on projects to resettle Arab refugees. The U.S. has also been reluctant to challenge Arab violations of the UN Charter and resolutions. Thus, for example, the Arabs were permitted to get away with blockading the Suez Canal, imposing a boycott on Israel and committing acts of terrorism. In fact, the U.S. has taken positions against Israel at the UN more often than not, and did not use its Security Council veto to block an anti-Israel resolution until 1972.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of American policy diverging from that of Israel came during the Suez War when President Eisenhower took a strong stand against Britain, France and Israel. After the war, U.S. pressure forced Israel to withdraw from the territory it conquered. David Ben-Gurion relied on dubious American guarantees that sowed the seeds of the 1967 conflict.
At various other times, American presidents have taken action against Israel. In 1981, for example, Ronald Reagan suspended a strategic cooperation agreement after Israel annexed the Golan Heights. On another occasion, he held up delivery of fighter planes because of unhappiness over an Israeli raid in Lebanon.
In 1991, President Bush held a press conference to ask for a delay in considering Israel’s request for loan guarantees to help absorb Soviet and Ethiopian Jews because of his disagreement with Israel’s settlement policy. In staking his prestige on the delay, Bush used intemperate language that inflamed passions and provoked concern in the Jewish community that anti-Semitism would be aroused.
Though often described as the most pro-Israel president in history, Bill Clinton also was critical of Israel on numerous occasions. George W. Bush’s administration was considered equally sympathetic, but also criticized Israel. During the first year of the Palestinian War, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on spare parts for helicopters because of anger over the use of U.S.-made helicopters in targeted killings. The Bush Administration also punished Israel for agreeing to sell military equipment to China in 2005. 10
In his first two years in office, Barack Obama was very critical of Israeli policy and publicly demanded a freeze in settlement construction. A number of other confrontations took place publicly and privately, along with reported threats of punitive measures if Israel did not accede to the president’s insistence that settlements be frozen. As a consequence of his approach to Israel and broader Middle East policy, polls in Israel found unprecedented distrust of the president’s commitment to Israel. 11
“The U.S. has always ensured Israel would have a qualitative military edge over the Arabs.” top
The United States provided only a limited amount of arms to Israel, including ammunition and recoilless rifles, prior to 1962. In that year, President Kennedy sold Israel HAWK anti-aircraft missiles, but only after the Soviet Union provided Egypt with long-range bombers.
By 1965, the U.S. had become Israel’s main arms supplier. This was partially necessitated by West Germany’s acquiescence to Arab pressure, which led Germany to stop selling tanks to Israel. Throughout most of the Johnson Administration, however, the sale of arms to Israel was balanced by corresponding transfers to the Arabs. Thus, the first U.S. tank sale to Israel, in 1965, was offset by a similar sale to Jordan. 12
The U.S. did not provide Israel with aircraft until 1966. Even then, secret agreements were made to provide the same planes to Morocco and Libya, and additional military equipment was sent to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. 13
As in 1948, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on Israel during the Six-Day War, while the Arabs continued to receive Soviet arms. Israel’s position was further undermined by the French decision to embargo arms transfers to the Jewish State, effectively ending their role as Israel’s only other major supplier.
It was only after it became clear that Israel had no other sources of arms, and that the Soviet Union had no interest in limiting its sales to the region, that President Johnson agreed to sell Israel Phantom jets that gave the Jewish State its first qualitative advantage. “We will henceforth become the principal arms supplier to Israel,” Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Warnke told Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin, “involving us even more intimately with Israel’s security situation and involving more directly the security of the United States.” 14
From that point on, the U.S. began to pursue a policy whereby Israel’s qualitative edge was maintained. The U.S. has also remained committed, however, to arming Arab nations, providing sophisticated missiles, tanks and aircraft to Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Thus, when Israel received F-15s in 1978, so did Saudi Arabia (and Egypt received F-5Es). In 1981, Saudi Arabia, for the first time, received a weapons system that gave it a qualitative advantage over Israel—AWACS radar planes
Today, Israel buys near top-of-the-line U.S. equipment, but many Arab states also receive some of America’s best tanks, planes and missiles. In addition to the quality of U.S. weapons sold to Arab states, the quantity also endangers Israel. In 2010, for example, President Obama agreed to the largest arms sale in U.S. history, a $60 billion transaction with Saudi Arabia. The qualitative edge may be intact, but it is undoubtedly narrow.
“Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom, and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life.”
— President Lyndon Johnson 15
“U.S. aid to the Middle East has always been one-sided in favor of Israel.” top
After Israel’s victory in its War of Independence, the U.S. responded to an appeal for economic aid to help absorb immigrants by approving a $135 million Export-Import Bank loan and the sale of surplus commodities. In those early years of Israel’s statehood (also today), U.S. aid was seen as a means of promoting peace.
In 1951, Congress voted to help Israel cope with the economic burdens imposed by the influx of Jewish refugees from the displaced persons camps in Europe and from the ghettos of the Arab countries. Arabs then complained the U.S. was neglecting them, though they had no interest in or use for American aid then. In 1951, Syria rejected offers of U.S. aid. Oil-rich Iraq and Saudi Arabia did not need U.S. economic assistance (yet the Saudis did get aid and continue to get assistance), and Jordan was, until the late 1950s, the ward of Great Britain. After 1957, when the United States assumed responsibility for supporting Jordan and resumed economic aid to Egypt, assistance to the Arab states soared. Also, the United States was by far the biggest contributor of aid to the Palestinians through UNRWA, a status that continues to the present day.
Prior to 1971, Israel received a total of only $277 million in military aid, all in the form of loans as credit sales. The bulk of the economic aid was also lent to Israel. By comparison, the Arab states received nearly three times as much aid before 1971, $4.4 billion, or $170 million per year. Moreover, unlike Israel, which receives nearly all its aid from the United States, Arab nations have gotten assistance from Asia, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and the European Community.
Israel did not begin to receive large amounts of assistance until 1974, following the 1973 war, and the sums increased dramatically after the Camp David agreements. Altogether, since 1949, Israel has received more than $100 billion in assistance. In 1998, Israel offered to voluntarily reduce its dependence on U.S. aid and over the next ten years economic assistance was gradually phased out. Arab states that have signed agreements with Israel have also been rewarded. Since signing the peace treaty with Israel, Egypt has been the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid ($1.6 billion in 2010 compared to Israel’s $2.7 billion). Jordan has also been the beneficiary of higher levels of aid since it signed a treaty with Israel (increasing from less than $40 million to $693 million in 2010). The multibillion dollar debts to the U.S. of both Arab nations were also forgiven.
“It is my responsibility to see that our policy in Israel fits in with our policy throughout the world; second, it is my desire to help build in Palestine a strong, prosperous, free and independent democratic state. It must be large enough, free enough, and strong enough to make its people self-supporting and secure.”
— President Harry Truman 16
After the Oslo agreements, the United States also began providing aid to the Palestinians.
Since 1994, Palestinians have received more than $2.9 billion in U.S. economic assistance via USAID projects—more than from any other donor country. In 2010, alone, financial aid exceeded $500 million. 17 More than 60 percent of the PA’s GNP comes from U.S., European Union, UN, and World Bank funds. The PA receives an average of $1,000 per year for every Palestinian citizen from foreign sources. 18
“Israel doesn’t need U.S. military assistance.” top
Israel has peace treaties with only two of its neighbors and the longterm policies of both toward Israel came into question during the “Arab spring” of 2011. The relationship with Egypt, in particular, is a matter of grave concern and will not be clarified until that country’s political future is determined. Israel remains technically at war with the rest of the Arab/Islamic world, and several countries, notably Iran, are openly hostile. Given the potential threats, it is a necessity that Israel continue to maintain a strong defense.
As the arms balance chart in the Appendix indicates, Israel faces formidable enemies that could band together, as they have in the past, to threaten its security. It must, therefore, rely on its qualitative advantage to ensure it can defeat its enemies, and that can only be guaranteed by the continued purchase of the latest weapons. New tanks, missiles and planes carry high price tags, however, and Israel cannot afford what it needs on its own, so continued aid from the United States is vital to its security. Furthermore, Israel’s enemies have numerous suppliers, but Israel must rely almost entirely on the United States for its hardware.
“U.S. military aid subsidizes Israeli defense contractors at the expense of American industry.” top
Contrary to popular wisdom, the United States does not simply write billion dollar checks and hand them over to Israel to spend as they like. Only about 25 percent ($694 million of $2.775 billion in 2010) of what Israel receives in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) can be spent in Israel for military procurement. The remaining 75 percent is spent in the United States to generate profits and jobs. More than 1,000 companies in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have signed contracts worth billions of dollars through this program over the last several years. The figures for 2010 are below:
The Value of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) Orders by State 19
“Israel has no strategic value to the United States.” top
In 1952, Gen. Omar Bradley, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believed the West required 19 divisions to defend the Middle East and that Israel could supply two. He also expected only three states to provide the West air power in Middle Eastern defense by 1955: Great Britain, Turkey and Israel. Bradley’s analysis was rejected because the political echelon decided it was more important for the United States to work with Egypt, and later Iraq. It was feared that integration of Israeli forces in Western strategy would alienate the Arabs. 20
After trying unsuccessfully to build an alliance with Arab states, the National Security Council Planning Board concluded in 1958: “if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, then a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only pro- West power left in the Near East.” 21
Israel’s crushing victory over the combined Arab forces in 1967 reinforced this view. The following year, the United States sold Israel sophisticated planes (Phantom jets) for the first time. Washington shifted its Middle East policy from seeking a balance of forces to ensuring that Israel enjoyed a qualitative edge over its enemies.
Israel proved its value in 1970 when the United States asked for help in bolstering King Hussein’s regime. Israel’s willingness to aid Amman, and movement of troops to the Jordanian border, persuaded Syria to withdraw the tanks it had sent into Jordan to support PLO forces challenging the king during “Black September.” 22
By the early 1970s it was clear that no Arab state could or would contribute to Western defense in the Middle East. The Baghdad Pact had long ago expired, and the regimes friendly to the United States were weak compared to the anti-Western forces in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Even after Egypt’s reorientation following the signing of its peace treaty with Israel, the United States did not count on any Arab governments for military assistance.
The Carter Administration began to implement a form of strategic cooperation (it was not referred to as such) by making Israel eligible to sell military equipment to the United States. The willingness to engage in limited, joint military endeavors was viewed by President Carter as a means of rewarding Israel for “good behavior” in peace talks with Egypt.
Though still reluctant to formalize the relationship, strategic cooperation became a major focus of the U.S.-Israel relationship when Ronald Reagan entered office. Before his election, Reagan had written: “Only by full appreciation of the critical role the State of Israel plays in our strategic calculus can we build the foundation for thwarting Moscow’s designs on territories and resources vital to our security and our national well-being.” 23
Reagan’s view culminated in the November 30, 1981, signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on “strategic cooperation.” On November 29, 1983, a new agreement was signed creating the Joint Political-Military Group (JPMG) and a group to oversee security assistance, the Joint Security Assistance Planning Group (JSAP).
In 1987, Congress designated Israel as a major non-NATO ally. This law formally established Israel as an ally, and allowed its industries to compete equally with NATO countries and other close U.S. allies for contracts to produce a significant number of defense items.
“Since the rebirth of the State of Israel, there has been an ironclad bond between that democracy and this one.”
— President Ronald Reagan 24
In April 1988, President Reagan signed another MOU encompassing all prior agreements. This agreement institutionalized the strategic relationship.
By the end of Reagan’s term, the U.S. had prepositioned equipment in Israel, regularly held joint training exercises, began co-development of the Arrow Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile and was engaged in a host of other cooperative military endeavors. Since then, U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation has continued to evolve. Israel now regularly engages in joint training exercises with U.S. forces and, in 2005, for the first time, also trained and exercised with NATO forces.
In 2007, the United States and Israel signed a new MOU formalizing cooperation in the area of homeland security. Even before that, Israel routinely hosted U.S. law enforcement officers and first responders to share knowledge about prevention of terror attacks and response to emergencies.
Today, strategic ties are stronger than ever and Israel has become a de facto ally of the United States. America purchases innovative and advanced Israeli weapons systems, works together with Israeli companies on missile defense, and shares intelligence. Most important, Israel remains America’s only reliable democratic ally in the region.
“U.S. dependence on Arab oil has decreased over the years.” top
In 1973, the Arab oil embargo dealt the U.S. economy a major blow. This, combined with OPEC’s subsequent price hikes and a growing American dependence on foreign oil, triggered the recession in the early seventies.
In 1973, foreign oil accounted for 35 percent of total U.S. oil demand. By 2010, the figure had risen to 63 percent, and Arab OPEC countries accounted for 22 percent of 2010 U.S. imports (with non-Arab OPEC countries Angola, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nigeria the figure is 42 percent). Saudi Arabia ranked number three and Algeria (#6), Iraq (#7), and Kuwait (#13) were among the top 15 suppliers of petroleum products to the United States in 2010. The Persian Gulf states alone supplied nearly 15 percent of U.S. petroleum imports in 2010. 25
The growing reliance on imported oil has also made the U.S. economy even more vulnerable to price jumps, as occurred in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1990, 2000, 2005, 2007/8 and 2011. Oil price increases have also allowed Arab oil-producers to generate tremendous revenues at the expense of American consumers. These profits have subsidized large weapons purchases and nonconventional weapons programs such as Iran’s.
America’s dependence on Arab oil has occasionally raised the specter of a renewed attempt to blackmail the United States to abandon its support for Israel. The good news for Americans is that the top two suppliers of U.S. oil today—Canada and Mexico—are more reliable and better allies than the Persian Gulf nations.
“The attacks on 9/11 were a consequence of U.S. support for Israel.” top
The heinous attacks against the United States were committed by Muslim fanatics who had a variety of motivations for these and other terrorist attacks. These Muslims have a perverted interpretation of Islam and believe they must attack infidels, particularly Americans and Jews, who do not share their beliefs. They oppose Western culture and democracy and object to any U.S. presence in Muslim nations. They are particularly angered by the existence of American military bases in Saudi Arabia and other areas of the Persian Gulf. This would be true regardless of U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nevertheless, an added excuse for their fanaticism is the fact that the United States is allied with Israel. Previous attacks on American targets, such as the USS Cole in 2000, and U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, were perpetrated by suicide bombers whose anger at the United States was unrelated to Israel.
“Osama bin Laden made his explosions and then started talking about the Palestinians. He never talked about them before.”
— Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak 26
Osama bin Laden claimed he was acting on behalf of the Palestinians, and that his anger toward the United States was shaped by American support for Israel. This was a new invention by bin Laden clearly intended to attract support from the Arab public and justify his terrorist acts. Bin Laden’s antipathy toward the United States has never been related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Though many Arabs were fooled by bin Laden’s transparent effort to drag Israel into his war, Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, dean of Shar’ia and Law at Qatar University was critical, “In their hypocrisy, many of the [Arab] intellectuals linked September 11 with the Palestinian problem—something that completely contradicts seven years of Al-Qaida literature. Al-Qaida never linked anything to Palestine.” 27
Even Yasser Arafat told the Sunday Times of London that bin Laden should stop hiding behind the Palestinian cause. Bin Laden “never helped us, he was working in another completely different area and against our interests,” Arafat said. 28
Though Al-Qaida’s agenda did not include the Palestinian cause, the organization began to take a more active role in terror against Israeli targets, starting with the November 28, 2002, suicide bombing at an Israeli-owned hotel in Kenya that killed three Israelis and 11 Kenyans, and the attempt to shoot down an Israeli airliner with a missile as it was taking off from Kenya that same day. 29 In 2005, Al-Qaida also claimed responsibility for firing three rockets from Lebanon into the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. 30
“Groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas are freedom fighters.” top
When the United States declared a war on terrorists and the nations that harbor them after September 11, Arab states and their sympathizers argued that many of the organizations that engage in violent actions against Americans and Israelis should not be targets of the new American war because they are “freedom fighters” rather than terrorists. This has been the mantra of the terrorists themselves, who claim that their actions are legitimate forms of resistance against the “Israeli occupation.”
This argument is deeply flawed. First, the enemies of Israel rationalize any attacks as legitimate because of real and imagined sins committed by Jews since the beginning of the 20th century. Consequently, the Arab bloc and its supporters at the United Nations have succeeded in preventing the condemnation of any terrorist attack against Israel. Instead, they routinely sponsor resolutions criticizing Israel when it retaliates.
“You can’t say there are good terrorists and there are bad terrorists.”
— U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice 31
Second, nowhere else in the world is the murder of innocent men, women and children considered a “legitimate form of resistance.” The long list of heinous crimes includes snipers shooting infants, suicide bombers blowing up pizzerias and discos, hijackers taking and killing hostages, and infiltrators murdering Olympic athletes. Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and a number of other groups, mostly Palestinian, have engaged in these activities for decades and rarely been condemned or their members brought to justice. All of them qualify as terrorist groups according to the U.S. government’s own definition—“Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” — and therefore should be targets of U.S. efforts to cut off their funding, to root out their leaders and to bring them to justice. 32
In the case of the Palestinian groups, there is no mystery as to who the leaders are, where their funding comes from and which nations harbor them. American charitable organizations have been linked to funding some of these groups and Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Authority all shelter and/or financially and logistically support them.
“The United States must be ‘engaged’ to advance the peace process.” top
The European Union, Russia, and the UN all have pursued largely one-sided policies in the Middle East detrimental to Israel, which has disqualified them as honest brokers. The United States is the only country that has the trust of both the Israelis and the Arabs and is therefore the only third party that can play a constructive role in the peace process. This has led many people to call for greater involvement by the Obama Administration in negotiations. While the United States can play a valuable role as a mediator, history shows that American peace initiatives have never succeeded, and that it is the parties themselves who must resolve their differences.
The Eisenhower Administration tried to ease tensions by proposing the joint Arab-Israeli use of the Jordan River. The plan would have helped the Arab refugees by producing more irrigated land and would have reduced Israel’s need for more water resources. Israel cautiously accepted the plan, the Arab League rejected it.
President Johnson outlined five principles for peace. “The first and greatest principle,” Johnson said, “is that every nation in the area has a fundamental right to live and to have this right respected by its neighbors.” The Arab response came a few weeks later: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it. . . .”
President Nixon’s Secretary of State, William Rogers, offered a plan that sought to “balance” U.S. policy, but leaned on the Israelis to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, to accept many Palestinian refugees, and to allow Jordan a role in Jerusalem. The plan was totally unacceptable to Israel and, even though it tilted toward the Arab position, was rejected by the Arabs as well.
President Ford’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had a little more success in his shuttle diplomacy, arranging the disengagement of forces after the 1973 war, but he never put forward a peace plan, and failed to move the parties beyond the cessation of hostilities to the formalization of peace.
Jimmy Carter was the model for presidential engagement in the conflict. He wanted an international conference at Geneva to produce a comprehensive peace. While Carter spun his wheels trying to organize a conference, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat decided to bypass the Americans and go directly to the Israeli people and address the Knesset. Despite revisionist history by Carter’s former advisers, the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement was negotiated largely despite Carter. Menachem Begin and Sadat had carried on secret contacts long before Camp David and had reached the basis for an agreement before Carter’s intervention. Carter’s mediation helped seal the treaty, but Sadat’s decision to go to Jerusalem was stimulated largely by his conviction that Carter’s policies were misguided.
In 1982, President Reagan announced a surprise peace initiative that called for allowing the Palestinians self-rule in the territories in association with Jordan. The plan rejected both Israeli annexation and the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel denounced the plan as endangering Israeli security. The plan had been formulated largely to pacify the Arab states, which had been angered by the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, but they also rejected the Reagan Plan.
George Bush’s Administration succeeded in convening a historic regional conference in Madrid in 1991, but it ended without any agreements and the multilateral tracks that were supposed to settle some of the more contentious issues rarely met and failed to resolve anything. Moreover, Bush’s perceived hostility toward Israel eroded trust and made it difficult to convince Israelis to take risks for peace.
“The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and as unshakeable as ever.”
— President Barack Obama 33
President Clinton barely had time to get his vision of peace together when he discovered the Israelis had secretly negotiated an agreement with the Palestinians in Oslo. The United States had nothing to do with the breakthrough at Oslo and very little influence on the immediate aftermath. In fact, the peace process became increasingly muddled as the United States got more involved.
Peace with Jordan also required no real American involvement. The Israelis and Jordanians already were agreed on the main terms of peace, and the main obstacle had been King Hussein’s unwillingness to sign a treaty before Israel had reached an agreement with the Palestinians. After Oslo, he felt safe to move forward and no American plan was needed.
In a last ditch effort to save his presidential legacy, Clinton put forward a peace plan to establish a Palestinian state. Again, it was Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s willingness to offer dramatic concessions that raised the prospects for an agreement rather than the president’s initiative. Even after Clinton was prepared to give the Palestinians a state in virtually all the West Bank and Gaza, and to make east Jerusalem their capital, the Palestinians rejected the deal.
President George W. Bush also offered a plan, but it was undercut by Yasser Arafat, who obstructed the required reforms of the Palestinian Authority, and refused to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and stop the violence. Bush’s plan morphed into the Road Map, which drew the support of Great Britain, France, Russia, and the United Nations, but was never implemented because of continuing Palestinian violence. The peace process only began to move again when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made his disengagement proposal, a unilateral approach the State Department had long opposed. Rather than try to capitalize on the momentum created by Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip, however, the Bush Administration remained wedded to the Road Map.
President Barack Obama did not propose a peace plan, but focused instead on a demand for a settlement freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem. This, combined with other public comments and policies, caused the Israeli government to doubt his commitment to Israeli security and created tension in the U.S.-Israel relationship. Simultaneously, because Israel agreed only to a temporary freeze in the West Bank, Arab leaders saw Obama as too weak to force Israel to make concessions and refused to respond positively to the administration’s requests that they take steps to show their willingness to make peace with Israel if a Palestinian state were established. Meanwhile, the Palestinians, who had negotiated for years without insisting on a settlement freeze, refused to talk to the Israelis unless a total settlement freeze was imposed. After two years, Obama had succeeded in alienating all the parties and the Palestinians refused all Israeli invitations to restart peace talks.
History has shown that Middle East peace is not made in America. Only the parties can decide to end the conflict, and the terms that will be acceptable. No American plan has ever succeeded, and it is unlikely one will ever bring peace. The end to the Arab-Israeli conflict will not be achieved through American initiatives or intense involvement; it will be possible only when Arab leaders have the courage to follow the examples of Sadat and Hussein and resolve to live in peace with Israel.
1 Foreign Relations of the United States 1947, (DC: GPO, 1948), pp. 1173–4, 1198–9, 1248, 1284 [Henceforth FRUS 1947].
2 Mitchell Bard, The Water’s Edge And Beyond, (NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1991), p. 132.
3 FRUS 1947, p. 1313; see also Mitchell Bard, The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance that Undermines America’s Interest in the Middle East, (NY: HarperCollins, 2010).
4 Harry Truman, Years of Trial and Hope, Vol. 2, (NY: Doubleday, 1956), p. 156.
5 John Snetsinger, Truman, The Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel, (CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1974), pp. 9–10; David Schoenbaum, “The United States and the Birth of Israel,” Wiener Library Bulletin, (1978), p. 144n.
6 Michael Cohen, Truman and Israel, (CA: University of California Press, 1990), p. 157.
7 Mitchell Bard, U.S.-Israel Relations: Looking to the Year 2000, AIPAC Papers on U.S.-Israeli Relations, (1991), p. 3.
8 CNN, (May 31, 2011).
9 See Bard, The Arab Lobby.
10 Nathan Guttman, “US Stopped parts sales during intifada,” Jerusalem Post, (September 22, 2005); Ze’ev Schiff, “U.S. Sanctions still in place, despite deal over security exports,” Haaretz, (August 28, 2005).
11 “The Obama Presidency–Pro Israel/Pro Palestinian,” Jerusalem Post, (May 24, 2010).
12 Memorandum of conversation regarding Harriman-Eshkol talks, (February 25, 1965); Memorandum of conversation between Ambassador Avraham Harman and W. Averill Harriman, Ambassador-at-Large, (March 15, 1965), LBJ Library; Yitzhak Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, (MA: Little Brown and Company, 1979), pp. 65–66.
13 Robert Trice, “Domestic Political Interests and American Policy in the Middle East: Pro-Israel, Pro-Arab and Corporate Non-Governmental Actors and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1966–1971,” (Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1974), pp. 226–230.
14 Foreign Relations of the United States 1964–1968, Vol. xx, “Arab-Israeli Dispute 1967–8,” Document 306, (DC: GPO, 1969), p. 605.
15 “Public Papers of the Presidents of the USA–Lyndon Johnson,” (DC: GPO, 1970), p. 947.
16 “Public Papers of the President Harry Truman, 1945–1953,” Truman Library, #262.
17 “U.S. Assistance to the Palestinian Authority,” U.S. Department of State, (November 10, 2010).
18 “Gil Kol, “Research: PA highly dependent on aid,” Ynetnews, (January 16, 2011).
19 Israeli Ministry of Defense.
20 Dore Gold, America, the Gulf, and Israel, (CO: Westview Press, 1988), p. 84.
21 “Issues Arising Out of the Situation in the Near East,” July 29, 1958, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, Vol. XII (“Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula”), Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993, pp. 114–124 at p. 119.
22 Yitzhak Rabin, address to conference on “Strategy and Defense in the Eastern Mediterranean,” sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Israel Military Correspondents Association, Jerusalem, (July 9–11, 1986).
23 Reagan Address to B’nai B’rith, cited in Mitchell Bard, U.S.-Israel Relations: Looking to the Year 2000, AIPAC Papers on U.S.-Israel Relations, p. 6.
25 U.S. Energy Administration “Petroleum and other Liquids,” U.S. Department of Energy, 2010, accessed April 15, 2011; Index Mundi, United States Oil Consumption, accessed April 15, 2011.
26 Newsweek, (October 29, 2001).
27 Al-Raya (Qatar), (January 6, 2002) cited in “Special Dispatch #337,” MEMRI, (January 29, 2002).
28 Washington Post, (December 16, 2002).
29 CNN, (December 3, 2002).
30 CNN, (December 30, 2005).
31 “Definitions: Terrorism,” Federal Bureau of Investigation.
32 Jerusalem Post, (October 17, 2001).
33 Statement on the 61st anniversary of Israel’s independence, (April 28, 2009).