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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchIt’s Time to End the ‘Special Relationship’ With Israel

It’s Time to End the ‘Special Relationship’ With Israel

Author: Stephen Walt

Affiliation:  Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: May 27, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 2850

Link:https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/05/27/its-time-to-end-the-special-relationship-with-israel/ 

Keywords: US Foreign Policy, Israel, Highly costs, Low benefits, and the “Special Relationship”

Brief:

In this article, Stephen Walt advocates that the United States end its “special relationship” with Israel. Instead, he calls Washington to establish normal relations with it as with other countries, arguing that the recent round of violent confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians provides more evidence that it is time for the US to stop giving Israel unconditional economic, military and diplomatic support. Washington does not gain anything from this policy, its costs are high and rising. The author first illustrates a number of arguments that support his call, explaining how the US has been hurt because of its unconditional support for Israel, then clarifies in another part the gains that the United States would derive from establishing normal relations with Israel. Finally, he presents his expectations for the course of relations between the two countries. According to the author, Israel is not a liberal democracy like the US, where all religions and races stand equal. In keeping with Zionism’s core objectives, Israel has privileged Jews over Arabs and others by conscious design. Decades of brutal Israeli control have decimated the moral case for unconditional US support today due to decades of apartheid policies that it has exercised with near impunity. Back to the Cold War days, it might have been possible to argue that Israel was a valuable strategic asset to the United States, though its value was often exaggerated. The Cold War ended thirty years ago, yet the unconditional support for Israel continues and creates more problems for Washington than it solves. Israel, for example, could not have done anything to help the US in its two wars against Iraq, but rather was a burden on it. Its strategic value today is much less than it was during the Cold War. Meanwhile, the costs of the special relationship—based on unconditional support—keep rising, especially political costs, most notably: First, the special relationship makes it very difficult for the US to claim a high moral standing on the world stage, especially with the Biden administration keen to restore the US’ reputation and image after the years of Trump rule. It wants to distinguish clearly between the US’ behavior and values on the one hand, and the behavior and values of its opponents like China and Russia on the other hand. But when the United States stands alone and vetoes three separate proposed Security Council cease-fire resolutions (in support of Israel’s desire and affirmation of its right to “defend itself”), sends Israel an additional $735 million in weapons, and provides empty rhetoric to the Palestinians about their right to live in freedom and security supporting a two-state solution, its claim to adopt a superior moral position seems hollow and hypocritical. Second, it makes it embroiled in a crisis that requires focus and precious time, while it needs to deal with more important challenges such as climate change, China’s rise, pandemic, disengagement from Afghanistan, economic recovery, and a host of much more weighty problems. Third, this complicates aspects of US diplomacy in the Middle East, such as obstructing the reach to a new agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear file due to the pressure of the Netanyahu government and the Israeli lobby on the United States which obstructs Washington’s efforts to limit nuclear proliferation too. A commitment to protecting Israel also forces the US into relations with an odious Middle East of dictatorial governments that have little strategic weight or moral meaning for Washington, as happened with Egypt-Sisi when Washington ignored his military coup against a fledgling democracy in 2011 or Washington’s tolerance with Saudi abuses for Human Rights (its war on Yemen and the assassination of journalist Khashoggi). Fourth, this unconditional support was a major motive in creating the terrorism that the United States faced, as expressed by Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda’s prominent figures. Therefore, the author argues that a more fair and morally defensible American stance would help reduce hostile attitudes toward the United States. These special relationships have led the United States to become involved in many failed adventures in the Middle East, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the adoption of a broader program of “regional transformation” with pro-Israel supporters in Washington, such as the neoconservatives. In addition to all, this special relationship has denied the US from assuming talented and competent individuals to high positions in state institutions and public life, where the ardent supporters of Israel in the country do not face any obstacles preventing them from obtaining high positions, while the “insufficiently pro-Israel” ones face many obstacles. Of course, the figures who criticize its policies do not dream of any of these positions at all. This relationship also misleads the American public, as no expert aspiring to a position expresses what he really thinks when it comes to Israel’s policies, and some of them mouth meaningless words at odds with the truth when a conflict similar to the recent violence erupts in Gaza. In another part of the article, the author argues that cracks in the special relationship are beginning to show, as it has become easier to talk about this subject than it was before. The author’s call for a normal relationship does not mean boycotting Israel, withdrawing investment and imposing sanctions, or ending all American support for it, but it is a call for Washington to have normal relations with Israel like any other country in the world; the US would back Israel when it did things that are consistent with the United States’ interests and values, and distance itself when Israel acted otherwise. A normal relationship would prompt Israel to rethink achieving real-lasting peace and solutions that would guarantee the political rights of Jews and Arabs alike, and would also force it to start thinking about dismantling the apartheid system established over the past several decades. In conclusion, the author does not expect such changes to take place any time soon, as there are still powerful interest groups that advocate the special relationship, and plenty of politicians stuck with an outdated view of the problem. “Yet change may be more likely and imminent than one might think, which is why defenders of the status quo are so quick to smear and marginalize anyone who suggests alternatives.” Once the public discussion of a topic becomes more open and honest, “outmoded attitudes can change with surprising speed and what was once unthinkable can become possible—even normal.”

By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA Senior Research Associate

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