Being Realistic About Israel and Palestine

Countries in conflict invariably use exaggeration, lies, and deception to gain both domestic and international support for their interests. So it is unsurprising that Israel and Palestine are doing so in their ongoing conflict. But for us Americans, it is important that we understand the conflict accurately so that we can make informed decisions about any involvement we might have in the conflict. And we are involved. We have provided money to both governments and weapons and diplomatic support to Israel. We have also been involved in negotiations between the two sides for decades. So let us set aside some myths so that we can more rationally assess American interests in this conflict.

Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East. This may have been true during the Cold War. At that time, the Soviets hoped to encircle Turkey with pro-Soviet governments. Turkey, as a member of NATO, might also have claimed the title of greatest ally at that time. Through an alliance with Israel, we helped to ensure the security of Turkey by having a position from which to threaten pro-Soviet Syria. Since the Cold War ended, however, Israel has been of marginal relevance to American security. In fact, any Israeli support for our wars in the region would have destroyed the coalitions we carefully crafted to fight those wars. So not only has Israel not been an effective ally, they’ve even been a liability. Our greatest ally in the Middle East is, and has been for thirty years, Saudi Arabia.

Ending our support for Israel will make us safer. Maybe. Maybe not. The argument is that our support for Israel is one of the major factors that led terrorist organizations to target America. It is also possible that they use this as a rhetorical bludgeon to gain support among Muslims. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower found that no matter what he did to support Arab Muslims, they continued to favor the Soviets over us. So he forged an alliance with Israel. I suspect that the real reason Al-Qaeda and others target America is because we are strong and are influential in the Middle East. If Al-Qaeda can appear to offer a strong challenge to us, then they will gain legitimacy and support for their primary goal of establishing a new caliphate in the region. So ending our diplomatic, financial, and military support for Israel may make Al-Qaeda’s job a little harder, but it probably won’t get us much love.

We must support Israel because they have a liberal democracy and share our values. Throughout the decades of our alliance, we have both understood that it is based on mutual interests, not mutual values or shared forms of government. During the Cold War, Israel spied on America and shared our secrets with the Soviets in exchange for allowing Soviet Jews to immigrate to Israel. They pursued their own interests. Can we ask them or anyone to do otherwise? Recently, we started opening ourselves diplomatically to Iran despite Israeli and Saudi fears of the only country in the region militarily capable of challenging them now that Saddam is gone. We are making this change because the rise of a Shiite majority in Iraq means they will ally themselves with Shiite Iran, raising the possibility of an Iran-dominated Middle East. We spent thirty years trying to prevent that union, but lost when we invaded Iraq and created a majority-rule democracy. If Iran is going to dominate the region, then let’s have them on our side. We are acting in our security interests, reversing our strategic losses from the Iraq War. Can anyone expect us to do otherwise?

Everyone must recognize Israel’s right to exist. No country has a right to exist. Israel exists because the people who became Israelis fought against the indigenous people of the country and their neighbors and established their country by force and through diplomatic support from America and the Soviet Union. This is how all countries come to be. They exist as long as they or their allies are willing and able to defend their existence. We must recognize the fact that Israel exists. It is the reality of the Middle East and isn’t going to change any time soon. But it is also a reality that Palestinians will not accept unchecked Israeli domination. They will fight for their own people and interests. Creating a country by force will generate inherent conflict until one side or another is completely subdued, eliminated, assimilated, or united against a common enemy.

Any actions America takes in the Middle East must be made to promote our own interests, otherwise, we will get (already are?) bogged down in conflicts that only harm us. What are our long-standing and current interests in the Middle East? 1. Securing the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf. 2. Undermining the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda. 3. Preventing Russian domination of the Turkish Straits connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. 4. Maintaining the world’s access to Egypt’s Suez Canal. So we must ask ourselves what, if any, involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will promote these interests.

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