American leaders and commentators often refer to Israel as our ally. Yet despite six decades of relationship, this term gained wide usage only after President Bush declared alliance with Israel against the terrorists after 9/11/01. American forces have never joined Israel in any military campaign.
Always a Friend, Never an Ally
In 1948, President Truman recognized Israel on its first day of statehood, but offered the Israelis no help in their battle with Arab nations bent on driving them into the sea and aborting Israel’s birth. In 1956, when Israel invaded the Sinai in support of British and French efforts to reverse Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal, President Eisenhower ordered Israel’s withdrawal, stating that Egyptians had every right to the canal. He demanded that Britain and France recognize Egypt’s legitimate authority.
During 1967’s Six Day War, after Egypt blockaded the Strait of Tiran and increased troop levels nearby, Israelis again invaded the Sinai and Gaza. They also took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Under American influence, the U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 242 requiring Israel to stop the war and return captured lands on the guarantee of secure borders by its Arab neighbors.
In a 1973 effort to regain lost land, Syria and Egypt surprise attacked Israel on Yom Kippur, a Jewish holy day. Israel swiftly retaliated, even to the point of crossing the Suez into Egypt proper. President Nixon ordered Israel to withdraw to a line north and east of the canal.
Despite Military Aid to Israel, U.S. Remains a Neutral Broker
The U.S. did increase aid to Israel during the 1970s, triggering the Arab oil embargo of 1973, and continues to maintain that aid at about $3 billion annually. But our primary influence in the Arab/Israeli conflict has been as a neutral broker.
In 1978, President Carter brought Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Manachem Begin together to write a framework agreement setting goals for a treaty to end hostilities, define borders, and achieve mutual recognition. In the next year, they signed a treaty that holds to this day. Carter served as neutral broker, not an ally of either, but a friend of both.
President Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, visited exiled Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, in Tunisia in 1988. Schultz convinced him to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state, allowing Arafat to participate the 1990s peace process.
In 1990, President George H W Bush asked Israel not to join the Desert Storm campaign to evict Iraq from Kuwait. Doing so would have caused Muslim countries to drop out.
In 2000, after seven years of “peace process,” President Clinton brought Israel’s Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat together to negotiate at Camp David. Arafat rejected Israel’s “best offer” since it effectively divided the West Bank into three administrative cantons for the Palestinian Authority but retained Israeli control of all borders and two east-west corridors.
Current Policy Articulated by W
Within a year after 9/11/01, President George W. Bush joined the UN, the EU, and Russia to form the Quartet. It proposed a “Roadmap for Peace.” Like the Arab League’s earlier initiative, it offered secure Israeli borders through negotiations based the UN’s 1967 Resolution 242. While Israelis had accepted 242 then, during the ensuing thirty-five years they built settlements on Palestinian land accommodating a half million Israelis. Many months after the Quartet’s proposal, Israel accepted the Roadmap with fourteen conditions that compromised its goals.
Speaking at Tel Aviv University in March this year, Vice-President Biden proclaimed “no daylight” between Israeli and U.S. policy. But before he left Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced plans for 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem in violation of Palestinian conditions for direct talks.
President Obama insists that our “alliance with Israel” is strong and that both Israeli and U.S. security depend on resolution of conflict between Israel and Palestinians. After speaking earlier this year with many Arab leaders, Obama’s military advisors unanimously recommended timely negotiations for Palestinian statehood. Arab leaders point out that failure to conclude successful negotiations would weaken U.S. influence in the region and keep the Middle East as a terrorist breeding ground.
President Obama has been friendly with both sides. He should avoid the phrase “alliance with Israel” in order to be a strong neutral broker and increase the chance for peace. Φ
Jack Kirkwood is a retired secondary teacher, having taught in Hillsboro School District, in schools for military dependents in France and Germany, in a mission school on the Navaho Indian Reservation and in a junior high school in Vallejo, CA. He also farmed in the Aloha area, until it became urbanized. You can reach him at phykirk@earthlink.