The central diplomatic challenge we face in the Middle East is to obtain a just and lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Until Israel and all of its neighbors are at peace, our vision of the Middle East at peace will only be a distant dream. President Bush and I are convinced that the Arab-Israeli conflict can be resolved, but that will only happen if all of us, especially Israelis and Palestinians, face up to some fundamental truths.      

       To begin with, Palestinians must accept that, if there is to be real peace, Israelis must be able to live their lives free from terror as well as war. The Palestinian leadership must make a 100 percent effort to end violence and to end terror. There must be real results, not just words and declarations. Terrorists must be stopped before they act. The Palestinian leadership must arrest, prosecute and punish the perpetrators of terrorist acts. The Palestinians must live up to the agreements they have made to do so. They must be held to account when they do not. Whatever the sources of Palestinian frustration and anger under occupation, The Intifada is now mired in the quicksand of self-defeating violence and terror directed against Israel.        Palestinians need to understand that however legitimate their claims, they cannot be heard, let alone be addressed, through violence. And as President Bush has made clear, no national aspiration, no remembered wrong can ever justify the deliberate murder of the innocent. Terror and violence must stop and stop now.     

         Israeli settlement activity has severely undermined Palestinian trust and hope. It preempts and prejudges the outcome of negotiations and, in doing so, cripples chances for real peace and security. The United States has long opposed settlement activity. Consistent with the report of the committee headed by Senator George Mitchell, settlement activity must stop. For the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, the occupation must end. And it can only end with negotiations. Israelis and Palestinians must create a relationship based on mutual tolerance and respect so negotiations can go forward.

                                                               —-Colin Powell, November 19, 2001

 

The excerpt from this speech was billed as a major foreign policy address. American interests in the Middle East have always been served best by peace and tranquility in the area. However, little of either has ever been accomplished. America’s aims for the region perhaps could be summed up by the following statement by Secretary Powell.  “Both sides need to treat the other with respect. Humiliation and lack of respect are just another path to confrontation” Powel speech Nov. 20, 2001

I would argue that Powell’s speech was the continuation of American foreign policy in the region that has changed very little since the 1950s. It tries to be evenhanded by asserting a moral equivalency on the part of Israel and its enemies.

Note: A perfect example of this can be evidenced by Secretary Powell’s equation of illegal settlement activity and Terrorist actions, which results in the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. While this is commended in the democratic world, it is often thought of as weakness by totalitarian states. Since the Middle East is made up of mostly authoritarian regimes, democratic polices of “restraint” often do not work.  This was true in the beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict as it is now. This paper will explore the first ten years of American-Israeli diplomatic relations as a microcosm of the history and why that relationship has failed to yield a comprehensive peace throughout the region.

In 1948, on the eve of the declaration of the Independence of Israel, while facing down the British equipped armies of five Arab nations poised to strike, she asked for and received from President Harry S. Truman the recognition of the provisional government of the nascent State of Israel.

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 Jewish State of Israel (The US and Israel p.31)
 Harry Truman
 Approved,
May 14, 1948
6:11 (p.m.)

 

This was a great relief to the new State of Israel as it felt that recognition by the United States was essential for its survival. Even as President Truman was signing the document, Israel was defending itself from an attack designed to strangle the new state before it had a chance to live. The Truman administration refused to lift an American embargo on arms shipments. These were badly needed in Israel’s struggle to defeat the threat against it. But Truman held firm, backed by the State Department and arms embargo was never lifted during Israel’s war of Independence (McCullough p.619).

This set a precedent for the subsequent policy regarding Israel and the United States. It has become the norm of maintaining a balance of power in the region. This is not to say that America and Israel do not have a close relationship otherwise. Both have common values and interests. There have been times when disagreements concerning America’s foreign policy in the area have led to “rifts” in the friendship but never pit one against the other because their basic ideals are the same.  I maintain that democracies by their shear nature of what defines them, support one another. This is definitely true in the fifty-three year diplomatic ties between these two countries.

Note: For example, America supported England in the Falklands war of 1982. England being a full parliamentary democracy and America’s unequivocal ally since World War II, as opposed to Argentina’s quasi-democratic regime, there was no alternative but to support England in this endeavor. America took a lot of criticism for this support as other American states condemned her for not supporting the rights of another country in the western hemisphere.

In one area where these interests have coincided was in keeping Soviet expansion in the region from proliferating. Democracy, fundamentally opposed to communist rule, served both country’s interests in resisting Soviet intervention into the area.

The Soviet Union initially paid little attention to the Arab states…it concentrated more on watching the activities of its western allies than on gaining influence in the Arab world… While the United States aimed at the preservation of traditional western influence and interests in the region, the Soviet Union tried, commensurate with its growing strength, to challenge U.S. predominance. In the process it discovered the usefulness of Arab discontent as a trailblazer for the expansion of Soviet influence.  (Rafael, p. 562).

 

It made some headway during the 1950s and 1960s. To stop Soviet adventurism, the U.S. government initiated the Bagdad Pact. Signed on February 24, 1955, between Iraq and Turkey, it tied itself into an earlier treaty between Turkey and Pakistan. It also included Iran and Britain. However, the U.S., the architects of the treaty, did not join

Note. Gamal Abdul Nasser, president of Egypt, seeking to become the ruler of the Arab world, thought this could undermine his power in the region. In response, he signed an arms deal with the Soviet Union against the protests of the United States. (Druks, p. 55)

In keeping with the formula of support for both sides, American reaction was  “similar to what it had been towards free Europe in the 1930s” (Druks p. 58). It urged Israel into appeasement of its enemies. Seeking peace, President Eisenhower advised the Israelis to cede “territory to Egypt.” Alan Dulles, the Secretary of State, “called for fixed permanent boundaries between Israel and her neighbors, and he suggested that Israel give up the Negev” (Druks p.57). The acquiescence of the Negev desert was an unthinkable demand on the part of Israeli supporters both in the U.S. and in Israel. It held for the government of Israel the future of building a nation. It planned from the early 1950s to utilize the land to build towns to house immigrants, to irrigate farms, and to build industry, which would make Israel independent from foreign help someday.

Assessing the American proposal as a sign of weakness on the part of the west to support Israel, Nasser took another step toward war. Because of national interests, not the least of which was bending to the will of southern cotton growers, Eisenhower withdrew support for building a dam on the Nile in the Aswan area. This angered Nasser and after the Soviets wouldn’t or couldn’t give him the funds and expertise to build it, he nationalized the Suez Canal, seizing the economic interests of both France and England who essentially owned the Canal. This would afford him the money necessary to finance the Aswan project.

Eisenhower called for continued appeasement even though France and Britain both insisted that this was illegal and would not be tolerated. Israeli shipping now at risk and with constant incursions into its territory from terrorists operating in the Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip, forced an alliance between Israel, France and Britain. America refused to go to war over the Suez crisis.

At a news conference in early September, Eisenhower declared that the U.S. was “…committed to a peaceful solution of this problem, and one that will insure to all nations the free use of the canal for the shipping of the world, whether in peace or in war, as contemplated by the 1888 convention. “ A week later, Eisenhower implied that America would not back Britain and France in the case of war. America will “not go to war ever, while I am occupying my present post, unless the Congress is called into session, and Congress declares such a war.” Dulles added that the U.S. would not “ try to shoot its way through the Canal“ (Druks p. 61)

 

Bolstered by Soviet backing, combined with Eisenhower’s refusal to stand firm against Egypt’s clear violation of international law, Nasser refused to back down. War broke out between Egypt and the Alliance on October 29, 1956. Israel took the Egyptian Sinai in 100 hours.

Eisenhower, in keeping true to this policy charged Israel with violating the armistice of 1949. At the United Nations he totally disregarded Egyptian violations and demanded that U.N. members “refrain from giving any military, economic or financial assistance to Israel as long as it had not complied with the resolution.” The General Assembly responded by passing the resolution on November 2, which called for all parties to “withdraw all forces behind armistice lines…desist from raids across the armistice lines to neighboring territory, and…observe scrupulously the provisions of the Armistice Agreements” ( Druks p. 63)

The British and the French were not part of the Armistice agreements in 1949, so this had nothing to do with them. The Egyptians stood to gain back the Sinai with no consequence whatsoever. Against the position of the United States Israel found the resolution as unacceptable.  They felt the UN with American urging passed it only to force Israel back to where it was on October 29. Israel refused to comply until at least its security concerns were met.

Israel saw an opportunity to do more than just reopen the canal. It planned to use the captured Sinai as a means of introducing a comprehensive peace in the area. David Ben Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel, stated his goals concerning peace in the future. This was the beginning of Israel’s policy, which has followed through to the present day of exchanging land for peace.

We were ready to negotiate for a stable peace and co-operation, provided that the negotiations were direct, without prior conditions on either side, and under no duress from any quarter. We hoped that all the peace-loving nations would support us in this desire. (Ben-Gurion p. 133)

 

Meanwhile, the Soviets had welcomed the American stand against the Israeli position concerning withdrawal from the Sinai. Both Primer Bulganin and Eisenhower sent threatening letters to Ben Gurion, demanding that Israel pull back to the Oct 29th boundary lines. The Israelis expected the Soviet supporters of Egypt to be rather harsh and were ready with the appropriate responses. But condemnation from the United States was a different matter. Israel continued to stand firm to obtain security guarantees. The U.S viewed Israel’s position with “deep concern.” It went on to say that “any such decision by the Government of Israel would seriously undermine the urgent efforts…to restore peace” (Ben Gurion p. 139)

In a supplemental letter, Eisenhower, was even more stearn in his warnings against Israel. He told Ben-Gurion that to continue in the present position was “toying with the fate of peace, with the fate of its own people, in a criminal and irresponsible manner” (Druks p. 64)

The pressure was just too great. After Britain and France withdrew its troops in December, Golda Meir, then ambassador to the United States, met with Dulles and assured him that Israel “wanted to live on good terms with the U.S. and the U.N.” (Druks p. 65)

Israel agreed to evacuate Sinai by January 22, but refused to evacuate Sharm el-Sheik until two specific security provisions were met. The were “freedom of passage through the Gulf of Eilat and unless U.N. troops were placed in the Gaza Strip to help prevent Fedayeen (terrorist) attacks on Israel.” (Druks p. 65)

The U.S promised that they would be carried out. Israel, suspicious of the Egyptians not complying to all resolutions, still hesitated to withdraw. And, when Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge spelled out the terms of the withdrawal, he left out the conditions concerning Gaza. Whether this was by design or an understandable error is not known, However, this was an all important issue to Israel. Through Egyptian controlled Gaza, terrorist infiltrators had been running raids across the border and killing civilians in the process since the armistice signings in 1949. Israel sought to remove that threat. Therefore, it held firm to its position and refused to back away from Sharm el-Sheik until the guarantees for Israel’s safety were met. Withdrawal was completed only after receiving personal assurances from Eisenhower in a letter dated March 2nd, that the Egyptians would not be allowed to return to Gaza. Israel agreed and completed its withdraw.

The crisis was over but it did not bring peace to the area. It only returned the situation to the status quo. One year later, the worst of Israel’s suspicions were realized.  The Egyptians moved back into Gaza. The U.S., through the U.N.  was powerless to stop them. American policy on this issue did not achieve its aims. Egyptian hegemony over Gaza was maintained and Soviet influence in the area strengthened. With Egyptian defiance, Soviet strength and the American policy of “evenhandedness,” there continued a state of war between Israel and its neighbors. Furthermore, it provided the formula for more armed conflict, which eleven years later came to fruition.

Eisenhower’s toughness on the state of Israel, in the face of wanton aggression, has served as the basis for much tension over the years between the two allies. The open friction displayed by them during the Suez Crisis of 1956, has been exhibited many times over the following decades by any number of American Presidents.

Even in this case, Eisenhower was wrong in his assessment of how to handle Soviet intentions. “While he was no supporter of Nasser, he felt that any allied military action would increase the possibility of active Soviet involvement in the region. “ (Saunders P.105).

He was wrong in that the State Department’s policy of giving equal moral designation in the Middle East, was a recipe for the ascendancy of peace between Israel and its neighbors during the cold war. It could be argued that it promoted exactly the opposite. The Soviets, like their Arab allies, viewed America’s perceived “evenhandedness” as a weakening of  resolve to stand by Israel. Conversely, when strength and resolve were evident Soviet influence diminished. The friction between Israel and the U.S. during the Suez Crisis was a springboard for further Soviet intervention into the area. Historians have pointed out that it was this intervention that led to two more wars between the Arab States and Israel in 1967 and 1973..

The Soviets became increasingly less influential in the Middle East from the early  1970s onward, and the United States was able to unilaterally mediate partial Arab-Israeli disengagement agreements agreements in the mid-1970s and the Israeli Egyptian peace treaty. (Slater p. 557)

 

The Camp David accords of 1979 between Egypt and Israel were a great achievement. Although, the “coldness” of the peace has become somewhat of a disappointment both for Israel and America, it never the less has created a peaceful border between the two countries. This fact has to be applauded. But I would argue that there would have been no peace treaty without Israel’s total domination of both the 1967 and 1973 wars.

The Madrid Conference and the subsequent Oslo accords held great hope for a comprehensive peace in the area. Indeed, many of the main sticking points have been resolved between Palestinians and Israelis. However, it has proven to be a failure in the last year. Regardless of the outcome of the current talks it must be emphasized that they did not originate because of our government’s policy to be fair to both sides. It came about because of a combination of the Israeli policy of “deterrence” and the American’s impressive display of power to remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991.

Secretary Powell’s speech of November 19 has no appeal to totalitarian regimes. Comments like “Israelis and Palestinians must create a relationship based on mutual tolerance and respect so negotiations can go forward” will not bring desired results. Only a firm hand, pressed hard against the Palestinian Authority, with an unyielding commitment to back Israel, will bring about the conditions for peaceful negotiations based upon “mutual tolerance and respect.”

Although the situation today is similar to the Suez Crisis of 1956, there are some disturbing differences. It is no longer a sovereign state that Israel now has its defense posture against, but a people who have no state, no army, no diplomatic national ties, and consequently are not bound by any international law. Therefore, the moral ladder in which American policy determined its actions with Egypt and Israel in 1956, must now be readjusted a few rungs lower to meet the Palestinian standard of using terror to gain influence and win its war against the Jews.

America must reassess its foreign policy in the region if it is ever going to realize the goal of peace and stability for all peoples in the area. In the wake of September 11, it now finds itself in relatively the same position as its democratic ally in the Middle East. Even if it wanted to, I do not believe that the State Department will be able to maintain the same philosophy concerning Israel and its neighbors in the coming months and years. When America destroys its own terrorist threat it will not be able to keep Israel from doing the same.

President Eisenhower’s policy of insisting that Israel is in violation of international law for defending itself against a clear and present danger will become a thing of the past. However, Secretary Powell seemed to echo those same policy considerations in his November 19, speech. This policy has proven to be ineffective at best and evil at worst. Even with the best of intentions, a policy like what was laid out by Secretary Powell, will be doomed to failure. It is a recipe for more bloodshed in the continuing conflict. Peace between Arabs and Jews will only bare fruit when the Arabs come to realize that America firmly supports Israel’s demand to destroy the terror in its midst.

If America follows through with a clear mission to destroy its enemies, there will be peace in the Middle East. Through American strength, the family of nations will fall in line and things will become the way Americans would expect them to be. Criminals will no longer be lauded as heroes. Murderers will not seek asylum in some warped religious deception. And, the rule of law will become sacrosanct.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish community examiner

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