No Payoff for Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Washington to collect his payoff for being disgruntled over the agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program, which was signed by that country and the world’s great powers. Although President Obama and Netanyahu seem to personally dislike each other, because of Israel’s clout in the American domestic political system with a presidential election year approaching, Obama feels he needs to kiss and make up with Netanyahu and slather Israel with even more military aid and hardware to compensate it for its supposedly eroded security. Really?

Netanyahu doesn’t seem at all red-faced about the fact that the United States already provides Israel, a wealthy country, with an annual largesse of more than $3 billion in military aid. And Obama will likely need to increase this martial welfare to compensate Israel for actually enhancing Israeli security by at least delaying its major rival from getting a nuclear weapon! (This whacky situation is as bad as the U.S. borrowing money from China and giving trade concession to U.S. East Asian allies, so that the allies will allow the U.S. military to incur the costs of protecting them from…well… China.) Most of Republican criticisms of Obama’s weakness in foreign policy are rubbish, but he could be rightly pilloried for letting the Israeli client state extort even more cash from the debt-ridden American Empire, which is already irrationally overextended overseas and $18 trillion in debt.

Alliances are supposed to be mutually beneficial for the security of their members and should not become an end in themselves. The American founders were against permanent and entangling alliances, because they could drag an intrinsically secure United States, which was and still is far away from the centers of world conflict, into needless wars. Always unclear has been how U.S. security is enhanced by slavishly supporting Israel against oil-bearing Iran and Arab states.

And such unflinching U.S. genuflecting toward Israel to satisfy the domestic electoral needs of both American political parties gives a foreign power undue influence over the American political system. If China, Russia, or Iran baldly attempted such blatant influence on U.S. elections, American politicians, pundits, and the public would be outraged. However, when Israel is the foreign power, all is swept under the rug.

But isn’t the United States helping the small, embattled democracy of Israel against its evil, autocratic rival neighbors? Israel is a democracy of sorts, but it treats the Arab population within its borders as second-class citizens and pens up Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with blockades and movement restrictions. Furthermore, for many decades now, the Israeli government has confiscated Palestinian land and turned it over to Jewish settlers, while stalling peace negotiations so that more of the lands that were stolen with military force in the 1967 war can be effectively annexed into Israel (both formally and informally with such settlement). Of course, this violates international law by annexing and settling occupied land and ethnically cleansing the legal inhabitants from it. Obama was justifiably furious at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexing from Ukraine the Crimean peninsula, which at least had been within Russia in prior times, and imposed harsh economic sanctions against Russia. But where is the outrage at Israel by Obama and past American presidents for Israel’s formal annexation of East Jerusalem and informal annexation of prime Palestinian land in the West Bank for the ever growing Israeli settlements?

Since 1920, the Palestinians and other Arabs have been angered about the taking of the land and have used violence against the always more well-armed Jewish community in Palestine. It’s been the reverse of the David and Goliath story usually portrayed in the American media – with Israel as the military Goliath and the Palestinians and Arabs the perennial underdogs. In most of the large Arab-Israeli wars, the Israelis have provoked an Arab strike or attacked first. And the casualties have always disproportionately fallen on the weaker Palestinians and Arabs. Sometimes that weaker side has been forced to use "terrorist" attacks, but the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli government, killing many more civilians, never earns that label. Yes, not just individuals and small groups can kill civilians using "terrorism," and governments, including Israel, have traditionally done it on a far grander scale. In the new book Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories, Ahron Bergman, a scholar and former Israeli soldier, details the harsh techniques used by the Israeli occupation, including assassination, ethnic cleansing, and methods of internationally illegal collective punishment, including curfews, the bulldozing of homes, and constriction of food and water supplies to troublesome Palestinian areas.

And of course, U.S. military aid to Israel has helped kill and maim a lot of Palestinians. Such unflinching support also emboldens Israel to continue to stall the peace process so it can essentially steal and settle more Palestinian land.

Unlike Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, who slavishly supported Israel for political reasons, Obama should instead imitate Dwight Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush, who courageously pushed back against Israel and got at least some results. It is unlikely that Obama has the backbone that the elder Bush had to cut Israeli aid in an attempt to break Israeli intransigence in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but at minimum, Obama should not let Netanyahu extort more cash from him to pay Israel for having its security actually enhanced with the Iran nuclear agreement.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.