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Is America’s relationship with Israel unique? Why?

Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee) - 1/14/2013

Introduction

The American and Israeli relations could be seen as one of the most controversial topics in the international relations. Sometimes, it was seen as one state working in different dimensions, and other times it was seen as two states that have their different agenda. The relations have long history, as it is suggested they have shared religion and history, prior to the establishment of Israel in 1948. The geopolitics of Israel and their strong appearance in the US could clearly indicate why they are important to the US. However, some suggest that the relations are not so unique, and they are encountering each other and they will have different views on international issues.

This essay clarifies three main dimensions that detect the relations between Israel and the US, which are foreign policy, the Israeli lobby and the impact of religion.

Israel and American Foreign Policy

The American foreign policy would be an initial indicator of whether the two countries have unique relations or not. The US-Israeli relationship was set prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948. Therefore, it is obvious that Americans have always favored Israel over the Arab states and the Palestinians. Between 1967 and 2001, 114 polls asked “In the Middle East situation, do you have more sympathy with Israel or with Arab nation?” and found that while 46% had more sympathy for Israel, only 12% had more sympathy for the Arabs (Sarsar 2004, p.461).

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 out of the ashed of World War II, it has represented the hope that the burden of war could be permanently removed and conflicts between the two nations, Israel and Palestinians could be settled without violence (Sarsar 2004, p.458) . The unfortunate reality is that resolving of these issues most of the times detected by national advantages or ethnic rivalry. Noam Chomsky argues that “from 1971, the United States systematically blocked a peaceful resolution in terms of the international consensus. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State acknowledges this fact (Sarsar 2004, p.459).

The success of the first resolution in the United Nations General Assembly for creating Israel generated a generation of American leaders in an outside of government who became strong supporters of Israel. Henry Kissinger stated that “the survival and security of Israel are unequivocal and permanent moral commitments of the United States…. We will never abandon Israel- either by failing to provide crucial assistance or by misconceived or separate negotiations or by irresolution when challenged to meet our own responsibility to maintain the global balance of power” (Kissinger 1976).

Therefore, it is not surprising how US ambassafors to the UN have voted over years. The First United States veto of United Nationas Security Council resolution on Palestine was on July 24, 1974 (Moynihan 1993, p.37). Then, 23 other vetoes of UNSC resolutions on Palestine have been done by the US (until 2002), especially the conditions in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem (the website of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to United Nations).

These are indicators that they have the same policy towards the Palestine issue and they have the same agenda towards their goals at the United Nations. Despite of that, if we analyze the the US and Israeli voting behavior in 139 United Nations General Assembly resolutions on the Arab-Israel conflict between 1995-200, 83% of overall agreement could be seen in their decisions (Sarsar 2004, p.466). Therefore, they have the same perception towards the international issue, especially in the Middle East.

On the other hand, the United States and Israel have common enemies and allies in the Middle East, this is exclusively the case if we take Iran as an example. However, America’s relations with Iran date back to well before Israel’s establishment in 1948. Therefore, Israel was not an issue in US-Iranian relations, until the Islamic revolution in 1979 (Pranger 2009, p.5). For now, Washington concerns Israel security and discusses different options in order to suppress improvements of the Iranian nuclear energy program. The options available may include military intervention, bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities only, encouraging Israel to destroy those facilities, as they did during Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, in 1981 (Trock 2006, 14). Some scholars believe that with or without permission from Washington, Israel’s attacks on Iran will be seen in the Middle East, and the two countries are two sides of the same coin (Trock 2006, 17). In addition, some scholars claim that Iraq was was aimed to protect Israel from another enemy, which was Iraqi regime, that had Weapons of Mass Distruction (Corson 2005, p.6).

There are arguments about the changes in the Unites States and Israeli relations fowling Obama administration. Some believe that the relations will remain a special, but it is not an open-ended contract. It is expected that Obama demand more pliability from Israel towards the Palestinian issue (Joffe 2010, p.21).

The Arab Spring is also could be seen as a challenge for relations between Israel and the United States. A de facto partner in the alliance without Egyptian dictator, will waken the Egypt’s role in the relations and the American policy towards the Middle East. In addition, the United States also called for “credible progress towards democracy” following the fall of Mubarak’s regime. It could be seen that they are starting to broaden their relations and change their views towards the Middle East and have different methodology towards countering terrorism and conflicts in the region (Pranger 2011, pp. 20-21).

Strong Israeli Lobby

The major institutions of the Israel lobby appeared during the Regan years to protect the US-Israeli strategic alliance forged in the wake of the Six-Day War of 1967. The most prominent one if the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (Plitnick &Toensing 2007, p.44). According to its official website, AIPAC earns a $47 million annual budget and has 100.000 members in all 50 states. It is one of the top five most powerful lobbying groups in the US, and is usually the most influential foreign policy lobby. In addition to this institution there is also Christian Coalition, that they are the main campaigners of the Israeli policy in the United States, especially in Congress (Massing 2006).

The rise of Israeli lobbying was during the Cold War. Therefore, some scholars believe that AIPAC and the Christian were necessary to continue and strength these relations for further cooperations in the future (Plitnick &Toensing 2007, p.44). The relations could be seen as bilateral and balanced. While the Americans have problems to deal with the Middle East, because of geopolitical, intelligence weakness and language, Israel will be a helpful ally to help them as a watchdog in the region, with its population of native speakers of Arabic and their geographic condition (Jensehaugen 2008, p.440). As a result, most of the times Americans have detected their decisions and policy towards Israel, by its disposition in the region (Plitnick &Toensing 2007, p.44).

Some scholars indicate that Israel lobby has a disastrous impact on the US foreign policy. They argue that the US policy in the Middle East nowadays has not been so rational in terms of its interests. The Iraq war, the total support for Israel, and refusing negotiation with Iran, are all actions that contradict with the US government’s potential interest, which are access to oil and protection from terror. They believe that Israel is not clearly threatened. The reason behind all of these actions are affected by the fact that there is a strong impact of Israeli lobby that shapes the American foreign policy (Jensehaugen 2008, p.440). Therefore, it could be said that it is the Israeli lobby that plays substantial role in the American foreign policy, not the American policy makers. However, there are scholars see the situation more complex than to be clarified, because researches in this area in the United States are limited. There are scholars who believe that there is evident impact of the Israeli lobby on American policy makers, but they have not written in the area (Weiss 2006, p.18).

Mearsheimer and Walt declare that the Iraqi war “was due in larg part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neo-conservatives within it” (Plitnick &Toensing 2007, p.45). The war was planed before its time, as it can be seen in a speech in 1997, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has clearly mentioned the regime change was containment’s real agenda, saying that the US would back sanctions “as long as it takes” to usher in “a successor regime” that would comply with UN resolutions. The invasion of Iraq and presence of American in Gulf countries are mostly goes with the desire to make Israel more secure (Pollack 2002, p.15).

The strategic alliance between both countries could be seen even in the budget of the United States of America, while President George W. Bush’s 2003 fiscal year budget requests $2.1 billion in military aid and $600 million in economic assistance to Israel (Sarsar, 2004, p.458).

This support comes from the real and the strong presence of the Israeli lobby. They can tap key actors in every congressional district in the United States, whether there is a large Jewish population or not (Findley 1985, p. 109).

Therefore, they are strong within the structure of the American government.They are so strong in the congress, that no congressman in a group of six or eight can feel sure that what he says will be kept in confidence from the lobby (Findley 1985, p. 111). Therefore, even in private meetings and discussions, they do not speak their mind about the Middle East and Israel issue.

Despite of that the American decision makers have had positions that contradicted or opposed with the agendas of the pro-Israel lobbyists. For example, in the spring of 2002, Bush called Israel to withdraw troops from Palestinian towns in the West Bank (Weiss 2006, p.17). Despite of that, some scholars believe that the decision of Bush administration during that time was to reduce anti-American sentiment in Arab world and undermine support for al-Qaeda (Plitnick &Toensing 2007, p.45).

The Impact of Religion

There are researches that show the impact of religion in shaping politics. Each of the religions are playing an important role in politics. For example, the Islamic religion has multinational dimension. The Roman Catholicism has a centralized international hierarchy with legitimacy to issue authoritative interpretations of Church doctrine, in addition to national leadership for reinforcing the teaching authorities of the Church (Martinez & Wald 2001, pp. 378-379).

Before the establishment of Israel, during the early 1940s American Jews and Zionists worked on behalf of the Jews of Palestine by strengthening Jewish community in Palestine and by assisting European Jews to immigrate to Palestine during and after World War II, the 1942 Biltmore Conference could be given as an example (Sarsar, 2004, p.461). They have also influenced the decision for the November 29, 1947 passage of United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 on the Future Government of Palestine, which created Israel. Although US was not infavor of partitioning Palestine, Presiden Truman under intense Zionist stress and in hopes of being reelected in 1948, pressured other countries to vote in the affirmative (Sarsar, 2004, p.462).

A huge number of American Protestants, mainly the evangelicals, believe that Israel would be the fulfilled Biblical promise and its nutrition as a religious duty. For instance, the National Unity Coalition for Israel, founded in 1991 and located in Kansas, is now the largest global coalition of Jewish and Christian organizations, composed of more than 200 groups representing 40 million people devoted to Israel (Sarsar, 2004, p.461). The website of the National Unity Coalition for Israel states that, “Though we have many different backgrounds, we have one common goal: A Safe and Secure Israel. Israel is not just a Jewish issue. Millions of Christians resolutely endorse the principle of peace with security for the state of Israel. Because we work closely together and speak with a united voice, our message is being heard!” On the other hand, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Christians tend to be more pro-Palestinian.

Several Jewish Organizations, like B’nai’rith, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Orgnization, and United Jewish Appeal, have played a potential role in endorsing Israel and rooted US-Israel relationship. The most pivotal organization has been the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As American’s pro-Israel lobby, the AIPAC has mainly focused on Congress. The website of AIPAC obviously acknowledges Congress for its tremendous support over the years. There are several American Jews have influential positions in government. American Jews compose 11% of the Senate and around 6% of the House of Representatives, and others play an important role in the executive and judicial branches.

In addition, some American leaders clearly stated they have “the shared religious heritage” with Israel, like president Clinton. Despite of the fact that jews have a special religious interest in Israel, but so do Christians. Majority of Christian Americans consistently sympathizes with the state, which they see it as a key source of the shared Judeo-Christian heritage. This special interest has reflected directly in the US policy towards Israel and their “most strong support” economic and military aid to Israel (Gilboa 1987, p.1987).

Conclusion

To sum up, the relations between Isreal and the US is complex. Three aspects have been discussed in this essay. The first one was foreign policy, which clarifies that the foreign policy of the US was hugely affected by the Israel. In addition, they have a strong impact on shaping the policy of the US, especially in the Middle East. But, sometimes, the US criticizes the Israeli government because of their violations. Therefore, it could not be seen as a unique and special relation. The second part of this article was about the Iraqi lobby. It has a substantial role in the US government, especially within the congress. They could secure huge amount of financial support for Israel. They are dominant in different states, districts, and they could affect the decisions of the congressmen. The religious dimension of the relations is another aspect that has been discussed. It could gather strong support for the Israeli government, not only among Jewish society, but also among Christians, too.
It could be concluded that the relations are special to some extent, but they are not unique. Because, they are both two sovereign country and they have their policy towards the world. In addition, it could be said that they have balanced and strong relation, especially within the international arena. Their commitment with each other in the United Nations and their policy towards the Middle East are strong facts that support this claim.

References

Findley, P. (1985) Congress and the Pro-Israel Lobby. Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1 URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2536579.
Gilboa, E. (1987) American Public Opinion Toward Israel and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books
Joffe, L. (2010). US-Israel ties face a rocky road. The Middle East.
Kissinger, H., "Israel and the United States," address before the American Jewish Congress, April 4,1976, printed in Moore, (1997) J. N., The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Readings and Documents (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).
Massing, M. (2006) The Storm Over the Israel Lobby. New York Review of Books.
Mearsheimer J. J. & Walt S. M. (2008) The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 45, No. 3. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27640689.
Moynihan D. P. (1993), Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Palka, E. J., Galgano, F. A. & Corson, M. W. (2005) Operation Iraqi Freedom: A Military Geographical Perspective. Geographical Review, Vol. 95, No. 3, URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30034244
Plitnick M. P., C. Toensing (2007) "The Israel Lobby" in Perspective. Middle East Report, No. 243. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25164790.
Pollack, K. (2002) The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq. New York: Random House.
Pranger, R. J. (2009). Resetting Iran in US Policy. Mediterranean Quarterly 20:4.
Pranger, R. J. (2011). The Arab Spring: America's Search for Relevancy. Mediterranean Quarterly 22:4.
Sarsar, S. (2004). The Question of Palestine and United States Behavior at the United Nations. International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, Vol. 17, No. 3. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20007691.
Tarock, A. (2006) Washington: To Engage or to Change the Regime in Iran? New Political Science, Volume 28, Number 1, March 2006
Wald K. D. & Martinez M. D. (2001) Jewish Religiosity and Political Attitudes in the United States and Israel. Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 4. URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1558373.
Weiss, P. (2006). Ferment Over ‘The Israel Lobby’. The Nation.

Koshan Ali Khidhir (Zamanee) is a journalist, blogger, and Politics and International Studies MA student at the University of Kurdistan-Hawler. He has written articles for Global Politician, American Chronicle, Middle East Online, Mideast Youth and others. He is Online Liaison Officer, STATT and holds a BA in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH).
His blog can be read at: koshanali.blogspot.com

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