- Posted January 13, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Remembering Ariel Sharon
America and Israel: A Fraying Bond?
It was 1948. World War II had ended three years prior. Adolf Hitler’s extermination campaign had killed six million Jews, with millions of Jewish survivors without a home country. The 1917 Balfour Declaration from Great Britain had promised support of a permanent homeland for the Jews in the land of Palestine. Momentum for the creation of a Jewish state began to build.
Despite opposition, President Harry Truman was determined to support the Jewish people. The paper continued: “The Jewish Agency proposed partitioning Palestine into two parts—one Jewish, one Arab. But the State and Defense departments backed the British plan to turn Palestine over to the United Nations. In March, Truman privately promised Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, that he would support partition—only to learn the next day that the American ambassador to the United Nations had voted for U.N. trusteeship…”
“With only a few hours left until midnight in Tel Aviv, [Clark] Clifford [one of President Truman’s aides] told the Jewish Agency to request immediate recognition of the new state…Truman announced recognition at 6:11 p.m. on May 14—11 minutes after Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence in Tel Aviv. So rapidly was this done that in the official announcement, the typed words ‘Jewish State’ are crossed out, replaced in Clifford’s handwriting with ‘State of Israel’” .
Being in such close contact, the U.S. and new Jewish state were able to nearly simultaneously announce the news. The official press release from Washington stated: “This Government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine, and recognition has been requested by the provisional Government thereof. The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel” (The National Archives).
It is interesting to note that, “President Harry Truman, an avid student of the Bible and its prophecies regarding the return of Jews to the Holy Land, was the first world leader to recognize Israel in 1948, a moment some Christians believe began a new prophetic era for events in the Middle East” (USA Today).
Over the intervening 65 years, America and Israel have moved forward as veritable brother nations. As with any familial relationship, there have been tensions, but both governments claim today that diplomatic ties have never been better.
Historically Strong Connection
Yet cracks are beginning to appear in the unique relationship between Washington and Jerusalem. The once unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel is showing signs of strain.
America and Israel have stood by each other—for better or worse—in times of peace and in times of war. This alliance has been especially significant for Israel given its hostile neighbors. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee notes that Israel has only been recognized by two of its 22 Arab neighbors. Through the decades, the pressures of wars, terrorist acts, differing religious ideologies, politics and conflicting personalities have tugged at the ties that have bound America and Israel. The relationship has weathered all storms that have crashed against its shores. United States presidents—from multiple parties—have long championed the special relationship with the Jewish people.
John Adams (1797-1801): “The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation….[God] ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe….[which is] to be the great .essential principle of morality, and consequently all civilization” .
John Quincy Adams (1825-1829): “[I believe in the] rebuilding of Judea as an independent nation.”
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): Reacting to the Balfour Declaration, he stated, “The allied nations with the fullest concurrence of our government and people are agreed that in Palestine shall be laid the foundations of a Jewish Commonwealth.”
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963): “This nation, from the time of President Woodrow Wilson, has established and continued a tradition of friendship with Israel because we are committed to all free societies that seek a path to peace and honor individual right…”
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): “Since the foundation of the State of Israel, the United States has stood by her and helped her to pursue security, peace, and economic growth. Our friendship is based on historic moral and strategic ties, as well as our shared dedication to democracy.”
George H.W. Bush (1989-1993): “The friendship, the alliance between the United States and Israel is strong and solid—built upon a foundation of shared democratic values, of shared history and heritage that sustain the moral life of our two countries. The emotional bond of our peoples…transcends politics…”
Bill Clinton (1993-2001): “America and Israel share a special bond. Our relations are unique among all nations. Like America, Israel is a strong democracy, as a symbol of freedom, and an oasis of liberty, a home to the oppressed and persecuted…The relationship between our two countries is built on shared understandings and values…”
George W. Bush (2001-2009): “The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty. It is grounded in the shared spirit of our people, the bonds of the Book, the ties of the soul…”
Barack Obama (2009-present): “We stand with Israel as a Jewish democratic state because we know that Israel is born of firmly held values that we, as Americans, share: a culture committed to justice, a land that welcomes the weary…”
On the 61st anniversary of Israel’s Independence (April 28, 2009), President Obama described America’s ties to Israel: “The United States was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948, minutes after its declaration of independence, and the deep bonds of friendship between the U.S. and Israel remain as strong and unshakeable as ever.” In his 2013 State of the Union Address, the president said, “[America] will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace.”
Some Israeli leaders have made similar statements. Ehud Barak, Israel’s former deputy prime minister and minister of defense, told CNN, “I think that from my point of view as defense minister [our relations] are extremely good, extremely deep and profound…administrations of both sides of [the] political aisle [are] deeply supporting the state of Israel and I believe that reflects a profound feeling among the American people…But I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
Over the last few years, military ties between these two nations have increased. In March 2012, President Obama affirmed that the United States will “always have Israel’s back” (CBS). America and Israel reportedly worked together to create the “Stuxnet” computer virus that damaged a number of Iranian nuclear reactors in 2010. They also unified “to develop sophisticated military technology, such as the David’s Sling counter-rocket and Arrow missile defense systems…” (ibid.).
In 2011, Israel—which only holds 3 percent of the Middle Eastern population—was the recipient of 25 percent of all U.S. exports to this region. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy estimates that since 1949, the United States has provided Israel with $115 billion of economic, diplomatic and military support. Israel also exports vital military technologies to America.
Signs of Strain
Despite statements by both countries about the strength of their bond, new challenges are testing the endurance of the alliance. Distrust is growing. Leaked documents show that the two countries may be spying on one another: “US intelligence agencies have carried out counterintelligence operations against Israel, a secret report published by The Washington Post revealed…”
“According to the report, Israel is the only US ally that American counterintelligence officials suspect of spying on the United States. The other countries listed as targets of counterintelligence operations are adversaries or rivals of the US” (The Jerusalem Post).
Israelis are becoming increasingly skeptical of whether they can depend on American support. For instance, after Hillary Clinton visited Israel in late 2012 as secretary of state, a Jerusalem Post poll asked, “Do you think the US has Israel’s back?” Only 15.1 percent of Israelis polled answered, “Yes, the US is Israel’s strongest ally.” Amazingly, 55.8 percent answered, “No, Israel cannot depend on the US.”
Over the past few years, two main points of contention have arisen: (1) construction of settlements in “disputed” areas that have been proposed for a future Palestinian state and (2) how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program.
Amid a push by President George W. Bush’s administration to reignite stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the relationship between these two countries began to be tested. The U.S. and Israel started to publicly disagree with each other in 2008. During this time, Guardian reported, “The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice…accused Israel of undermining peace talks as Israel announced plans to build thousands more homes in settlements in east Jerusalem.
“Upon arrival in Jerusalem to help the faltering peace talks, Rice expressed her frustration at the Israeli housing ministry announcement of plans to build 1,300 more homes in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement on Palestinian land in east Jerusalem which was captured in the 1967 war…”
“Even as Rice was issuing her strongest criticism of settlement construction to date, Jerusalem’s city council unveiled plans to build 40,000 new apartments throughout the city, including units in east Jerusalem, over the next 10 years.”
In 2011, during a visit to Israel that included Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack, and other senior writers, I stood at a high point in east Jerusalem overlooking settlement areas while touring the town of Ma’ale Adumim. The beautiful, perfectly manicured city of approximately 37,000 residents—complete with parks, schools and shopping malls—also contained half-constructed buildings. The apartment buildings had been dormant for many months after the Israeli government stopped construction in that area.
To Israel, settlement-building means providing housing for growing communities. To America and much of the world, these construction projects are a sign that Israel will not budge in peace agreement negotiations with the Palestinians.
In 2009, Mrs. Clinton, who was acting as secretary of state, clearly articulated that Washington “wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions…That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly” (The New York Times).
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was visiting Washington in March 2010, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled overseas to Israel. During Mr. Biden’s stay, Jerusalem announced that it would build 1,600 homes in east Jerusalem.
An article in The Washington Post at the time stated, “…it thwarted what was supposed to be a celebration of fresh negotiations on talks toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The Obama administration now says that failure to resolve the Middle East conflict is harming U.S. national security interests in the region.
“…Netanyahu ‘pushed the envelope with Obama,’ said Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli peace negotiator, referring to haggling over a full settlement freeze that had precluded a resumption of peace talks. Now that Obama has pushed back, Netanyahu ‘is worried and afraid,’ Beilin said.”
Today, the settlement issue remains unresolved. In August 2013, an article in The Hill reported, “The [U.S.] State Department…criticized Israel for approving new settlements on disputed lands on the eve of resuming long-stalled peace talks.
“Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the administration had shared its ‘serious’ concerns with the Israeli government following [the] announcement of almost 1,200 new settlement homes. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are set to resume talks in Jerusalem…after a preliminary meeting hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington…”
“‘These announcements do come at a particularly sensitive time, and we have made our serious concerns about this…announcement known to the government of Israel,’ Harf said. ‘We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.’”
Waiting for a Green Light
The second point of contention between America and Israel is how to address the controversial Iranian nuclear program. Since Iranian leadership vowed to “wipe Israel off the map,” Israel has contemplated striking Iran’s nuclear sites. Thwarting Iran’s nuclear program is seen as a matter of survival for the tiny nation. Yet America is reluctant to bless an airstrike until it feels all other options have been exhausted. Israel believes that nothing else has worked and that the time for action is approaching. Mr. Netanyahu is seeking a U.S.-backed ultimatum to Iran to stop its development of nuclear weapons within a few months or military action will follow.
At the heart of the matter is weapons technology. Israel does not have bombs sophisticated enough to completely destroy Iran’s highly protected nuclear establishments. One nuclear fuel enrichment center (Fordow) is inside a mountain—200 feet underground. The only weapon capable of reaching it is a Massive Ordnance Penetrator. America developed it but is not yet ready to sell it to the Israelis.
A longer quote from an opinion piece in the Telegraph summarized the differences between the two countries in dealing with Iran: “Barack Obama may say that the United States supports Israel and will not countenance a ‘nuclear Iran.’ But most Israelis see Obama as lacking in that basic commitment to and sympathy for Israel that characterised American presidents from Truman through Kennedy to Clinton and George W Bush…”
“Obama’s deliberate coldness toward America’s traditional ally has not been lost on the Israeli public. He spoke in Cairo [in 2009] to the Muslim world, while avoiding a ‘balancing’ visit to Jerusalem…[and] humiliated Netanyahu during [a] visit to America (on the evening of their meeting, Obama left Netanyahu for more than an hour stranded in the White House while he dined without his guest). Nor will Washington’s overbearing tone be quickly forgotten…”
“Either way, most Israelis resent Obama’s arm-twisting, and it is by no means clear that Israel will soften the widespread desire to retain East Jerusalem while opposing the settlement enterprise in the wider West Bank…”
“The only action that could halt Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry is a strike by Israel. Whether Israel can do so effectively without a green light and some assistance from Washington is unclear…”
“So far, Obama—like George W. Bush before him—has vetoed an Israeli pre-emptive strike. The Americans are fearful of the chaos that might engulf the Middle East and are aware of their vulnerability in the region. They assume that the Iranians would charge them with complicity, whether or not they were complicit.
“It is possible that Netanyahu hoped to reach an agreement with Obama based on a trade-off—Israeli concessions on the Palestinians in exchange for America agreeing to an attack on the Iranian installations. But Obama apparently offered Netanyahu nothing, while demanding everything on the Palestinian front.”
Since that time, Washington has been seeking a diplomatic solution to the Iranian issue. President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani even shared a phone conversation—something that has not occurred between the leaders of these two nations since 1979.
Prime Minister Netanyahu cautioned U.S. leaders not to buy into this apparent improvement in diplomacy. During a United Nations General Assembly speech in October 2013, Mr. Netanyahu stated, “Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, even if we have to stand alone. Yet in standing alone, Israel will know that we will be defending many, many others” (The Jerusalem Post).
The question becomes: How much longer will Israel depend on America’s approval for its decisions? How long will Israel wait before it feels it must act independently for its survival?
An article in Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in late 2012, “At a hearing of the [U.S.] House of Representatives subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, titled ‘Safeguarding Israel’s Security in a Volatile Region,’ concerns were raised over the potentially detrimental effects of the public rift between the Obama administration and Netanyahu’s government.
“Chairman of the committee, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), expressed his growing concern about the future of the U.S.-Israel security relationship, citing the administration’s ‘clumsy response to the Palestinian attempt for statehood recognition last September at the UN’ and ‘the most recent dust-ups concerning the status of Jerusalem in President Obama’s campaign platform’ as well as Obama’s unwillingness to meet with Netanyahu…on the margins of United Nations General Assembly, though the White House rejected these claims saying such a meeting was impossible due to scheduling conflicts.
“‘I fear we are sending conflicting messages, both to our friend and those of Israel’s enemies who may question our resolve,’ Rep. Chabot said. ‘And I think that would be unfortunate and potentially dangerous.’” The article continued, “Elliott Abrams, an official in George W. Bush’s administration and currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented testimony highly critical of the Obama administration’s policies. While admitting that the U.S.-Israel military and intelligence cooperation is ‘in very good shape,’ he went on to say that ‘our political relationship and cooperation are worse than they have been for many years, perhaps for two decades."
The relationship is of utmost importance and insensate and personal ego or prejudice of president occupier of White House must not hold this relationship to ransom. This relationship is a major bulwark against terrorism and fundamentalism. Let the relationship be put on even keel.