Israeli tail wags US dog
People attend a protest in support of Palestine in Queens in New York on May 22, 2021. (AFP / Kena Betancur)
Given the asymmetry of power between the two, one would expect the US, which furnishes Israel with $3.8 billion a year in military aid, to set the ground rules for their relations. Yet in Israel’s case, the reverse is true — it is the tail that wags the dog.
Since the 1980s, the US foreign-policy consensus has been that Israel knows best how to preserve its security, and that unequivocal US support, not pressure, would induce it to take the risks necessary for peace. Yet far from giving the US leverage over Israel or advancing the prospects of peace, this approach has ultimately been detrimental to both countries.
Benjamin Netanyahu knows all too well how to influence US politics, particularly when violent conflict erupts. He has long exploited the fact that the US inevitably reiterates Israel’s “right to self-defense” without taking into account Israeli leaders’ responsibility for triggering a crisis. US officials, regardless of party affiliation, have tended to shy away from acknowledging Netanyahu’s direct role in sabotaging reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, disenfranchising Palestinian citizens of Israel, and empowering his country’s most extremist and xenophobic forces.
Clearly, Biden belongs to the generation of US officials who cling to the hoary vision of Israel as a shining democracy in a sea of Arab autocracy. They are willfully oblivious to evidence of Israeli authorities’ systemic abuses and crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel.
Fawaz A. Gerges
Biden’s stance in the most recent conflict amounted to a green light for Israel to continue its military campaign for as long as it wished. Three times the US blocked UN Security Council statements calling for an immediate cease-fire, leading UN diplomats to conclude that the Biden administration wanted to keep that body silent. Moreover, as the violence in Gaza was intensifying it emerged that Biden had approved the sale of $735 million in weapons to Israel, raising red flags for House Democrats who have been calling on the administration to take a more active role in addressing the root causes of the conflict.
Clearly, Biden belongs to the generation of US officials who cling to the hoary vision of Israel as a shining democracy in a sea of Arab autocracy. They are willfully oblivious to evidence of Israeli authorities’ systemic abuses and crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and within Israel. The Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch make a compelling case that Israel is now an apartheid state, not a democracy.
Nevertheless, the US political landscape is gradually changing. One of the vanguards of this growing movement is Senator Bernie Sanders, who commands a significant share of support within the Democratic base. Equally promising, American Jews are increasingly skeptical of Netanyahu. A recent Pew Research Center survey finds that only 34 percent strongly opposed sanctions and punitive measures against Israel. Contrary to what the Likud-dominated lobby would have America believe, American Jews are not a monolith. Young American Jews, in particular, are highly critical of Israel’s colonial and aggressive policies.
However, it will probably take a generational shift in US foreign policy circles to bring the pendulum back to the middle on Israel and Palestine. Until then, the tail will continue to wag the dog, ruling out a durable, sustainable, and just peace in the Middle East.
• Fawaz A. Gerges is Professor of International Relations and Middle Eastern Politics at the London School of Economics. ©Project Syndicate 2021
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