US Policy Toward Israel -
Stop Pretending

Terrell E. Arnold

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher last week expressed deep US concern about recent civilian casualties, including the death of UN director of reconstruction, Mr. Ian Hook, resulting from Israeli military actions. That expression of concern, as far as it went, was appropriate and timely, but Boucher went on to say that the United States remains solidly behind Israel's efforts to combat terrorism, and he concluded by saying that Washington's concerns are not a condemnation of the Israeli offensive.

That formula appears designed more to avoid offending Israeli leadership than to secure corrective action, and the Israelis seem to treat the formula as a continuing carte blanche endorsement of their actions in the West Bank and Gaza. They normally reject rather than respond to any criticism.

In the meantime, under an asserted 'war on terrorism' the Israeli Defense Force operates without restraint throughout the West Bank and Gaza, keeps three million Palestinians under rigorous curfew and surveillance, has brought the Palestinian economy to a standstill, destroys homes and properties only alleged to be related to militants, protects old and new settlers as the settlements continue to expand, and regularly shoots people who are only suspected of being terrorists. On the other hand, the Palestinians, who have no army, are not supposed to fight back; if they do, they are treated as terrorists.

It is time for the United States to stop pretending that any part of the IDF operation in the West Bank and Gaza is acceptable. Israeli shootings of people who have neither been tried nor found guilty of crime, the IDF occupation, continuing settlement building, and Israeli treatment of the Palestinians as inferior are constant provocations to which the Palestinians respond with suicide bombings.

Both Israeli and US models of the War on Terrorism involve disturbing erosion of the justice system and of national sovereignty. Israel has the only armed force in Palestine, and we have not objected to Israeli use by the IDF of accusation and suspicion as justifications for killing Palestinians. We, the United States, therefore, have bought into a corruption of the international justice system by placing the fight against terrorism outside the law. The United States moved into this same shadow land with the assassination of six suspected Al Qaida members in Yemen. Israel ignores any sovereign rights the Palestinians may have or aspire to enjoy. The US has indicated that in the War on Terrorism national boundaries may not deter attacks on suspected terrorists.

US tolerance for Israeli excesses in the West Bank and Gaza is a reflection of our own creeping loss of moral focus. The Israeli treatment of Palestinians is not right, and we know it. We may use the Palestinian suicide bombings, as the Israelis do, as an excuse for the occupation, but those bombings are constantly provoked by IDF actions. As a rule, the United States would be working overtime to terminate the occupation of any other country by a hostile army, but not in the case of Israel. We would be screaming for explanations of such attacks as the killing of Ian Hook, but not from Israel. We would hold any other aid receiving country to legal standards of accountability and performance, but not Israel. And now we encourage the Israelis in their attitude toward international criticism or responsibility by ignoring Israelâs acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and Israelâs failures to comply with more than 30 UN resolutions, while pounding Iraq for far lesser infractions in both fields.

The ãspecial relationshipä with Israel has been a cornerstone of US policy for more than half a century. However, from the beginning it provided political cover to Israeli excesses, starting with the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and property in the late 1940s, to which we did not object. In recent years, it has provided for greater economic and military assistance to Israel than to any other country. In fact, US aid to Israel in some years has equaled aid to all other countries combined, and if the currently requested package goes through, it will be more than twice US aid to all other countries in 2003.

What have we gotten for those enormous investments of our national prestige and treasure? Rewards are hard to find. The US Congress decided to fund the peace process initiated by the Camp David Accords by giving half of worldwide US assistance to Israel and Egypt, mainly to Israel. But at present and for the indefinite future Israeli excesses in the West Bank and Gaza are likely to remain the chief stumbling blocks to peace in the Middle East. Our largely uncritical support of Israel, despite continuing excesses, has alienated much of the Arab world and many others as well. And now, unless effective ways are found to moderate Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians, our future is at risk due to increasing terrorism by people sympathetic to the Palestinians and/or opposed to Israel.

The solution is not rejection, but a more balanced relationship. We cannot continue to acquiesce in Israeli military destruction of the Palestinian state. Polite criticism accompanied by unwavering support is a giant hypocrisy. We have to work on getting and keeping the Palestinians on a path to peace, but Israelis have to recognize that the special relationship is a two way street, and they must start delivering on their part of the peace process. Israel must accept that much of its current predicament is its own doing, and therefore the only way out is for Israel to behave responsibly toward the region and its neighbors. Israel should begin to repay its enormous debt to us, variously estimated at $85 billion, instead of using its clout with the US Congress to get that debt forgiven.

Finally, we must not allow the War on Terrorism or the special relationship to undermine the values that have made our country great. No relationship with any country is worth that order of sacrifice. It is time to stop pretending that the relationship in its present form is a good thing. It clearly is not, and it is costing us dearly with everyone else.
The writer is a retired senior foreign service officer of the United States Department of State.


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