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US Support For Israel: Shifting Priorities In A Rapidly Changing Geopolitical Environment – OpEd

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The case that the US supports Israel for its own strategic reasons has been made before, see Zunes (2002), Eisenstadt and Pollock (2012), Farbman (2021) and Roberts (2021) for example. Previous analyses stop short of suggesting the US uses Israel to serve as a pawn to advance its imperial agenda in the region. Yet, even without going so far, positing that utilitarian considerations are the main driver of US support for Israel amounts to subscribing to the view that profound changes in US domestic economic and sociopolitical dynamics or the global environment could affect the nature and fundamental terms of its relationship with Israel. (Click here to read part one US Support For Israel: Popular Myths Versus Underlying Reasons – OpEd)

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Arguably, the convergence of several contemporary trends which portend deep changes in American society and its global priorities in future could render the current state of affairs untenable and the prospect of the US withdrawing blanket support for Israel probable if not imminent. Foremost of these is that, after a century of division, the Western project to divide the Arab states appears to have finally succeeded. Arab regimes seem to be well and truly divided, if not outright antagonistic towards one other. Owing to this success, future American administrations might assess that there is little need for the US to intervene in the region at a moment’s notice via its proxy Israel to thwart pan-Arab moves towards greater cooperation and possibly unity.

Secondly, concerns about global warming and the effects of man-made climate change have led to mounting domestic and international pressure to develop alternative sources of energy. Presumably, this will result in a decline in the importance of fossil fuels such as oil relative to alternate sources of energy. As the importance of access to and control over these alternate energy sources increases and the importance of oil in the global economy decreases, it is likely that the geostrategic importance of the oil-producing Middle East region will wane.

Thirdly, domestic political dynamics such as changing population demographics, shifting voter attitudes to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the increasing secularisation of American society (Western society in general) might combine to lessen the political cost American politicians are liable to incur with voters should they advocate reducing support for Israel or even opposing Israeli policies. Since these trends are more prevalent among younger voters, shrewd politicians might calculate that their political fortunes are not as dependent on swearing unequivocal support for Israel as they previously were. Indeed, as the internal divisions in American society laid bare by the Black Lives Matter movement for instance or the outcry caused by allegations of hypocrisy over the preferential treatment of Ukrainian refugees makes apparent, it is likely going to become harder for US politicians to maintain support for Israel without attracting severe political repercussions. As a consequence of these long-term trends, Israel’s usefulness to the US and the prioritisation it is afforded in its foreign policy calculus is likely to decline.

The possibility that Israel might not be able to rely on the umbrella provided by the US as much as it has in the past appears to be beginning to be taken more seriously by some Israeli politicians. This might explain such foolhardy decisions like caving in to hardliners and ramping up illegal settlement-building in the Occupied West Bank or the cavalier fashion in which senior Israeli officials extol the potential of a high-risk military operation to put paid to Iran’s stated plans to pursue nuclear power for civilian purposes. There is no more reasonable an explanation for these belligerent acts that belie the Israeli government’s supposed yearning to secure a peace deal with the Palestinians or to normalise relations with its neighbours than anxiety that America might curtail its support in future and thereby limit the ability to act with impunity which their country has long enjoyed. This fear might also be what is prompting hawkish Israeli politicians’ dangerous proclivity to act recklessly now to create ‘facts on the ground’ while there is still leeway to do so.

It may also explain the very public overtures (e.g. adamantly refusing for Israeli-made weaponry to be sold or given to the Ukraine despite this decision meeting the disapproval of Ukraine’s Western backers) Israel is making towards Russia, a country in a strong position to exercise influence over Israel’s regional enemies because of the staunch loyalty to these regimes it has shown in the face of negative world and popular opinion. The irony of counting on Russia to leverage the loyalty it has shown to Israel’s enemies at a time when US loyalties to Israel are being questioned will not be lost on Israeli policymakers.

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It is in this light that the announcement of President Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel must be seen, as not so much the courtesy call between equals to affirm their unshakeable bond and shared values the mainstream media is portraying it to be but as a business meeting between superior and subordinate to clarify each other’s roles and expectations in an uncertain and rapidly changing geopolitical environment. There is a way for Israel to protect itself from the potential consequences wrought by the confluence of these trends: it could renew its commitment to the peace process. More specifically, it could revive the turn of the century US-backed Roadmap for Peace by taking unilateral steps to implement this plan.

Reviving this moribund peace proposal (or ‘framework for peace’ as backers took pains to describe it) by declaring their intention to have their country fulfil its obligations under the last US-backed initiative that seemed to enjoy some level of popular legitimacy and obtain buy-in from key regional and global stakeholders is likely to grant supporters several advantages when dealing with domestic opponents who might oppose making concessions to the Palestinians or pressed American policymakers trying to preserve their status whilst navigating the trends highlighted above. It is reasonable, for instance, to speculate that hardline domestic critics might be more measured in their opposition to unilaterally acting in accordance with the US-backed Roadmap than they would otherwise be lest their criticism harm Israel’s relationship with the US. Crucially, abiding by an American-backed plan may lessen the risk of antagonising influential US interest groups and US politicians that may wish to see Israel maintain its martial posture for fear that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and eventually normalisation of relations with its neighbours would side-line US business and geopolitical interests. 

For these reasons, one contends that it is imperative for those who genuinely care about ordinary Israelis’ welfare and the future of their country to lobby their governments to put pressure on the Israeli government to take firm steps to secure a just and fair peace deal with the Palestinians, a people whose dignity has been trampled and whose legitimate aspirations for self-determination has been denied for too long, based on the 2002 Roadmap for Peace.

Gerard Boyce

Gerard Boyce is an economist and Senior Lecturer in the School of Built Environment and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

One thought on “US Support For Israel: Shifting Priorities In A Rapidly Changing Geopolitical Environment – OpEd

  • May 9, 2022 at 4:39 am
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    This writer seems to forget that Palestinians, as they are called now, were really Jordanians before the Six Day War. It was the result of Jordan joining Egypt and Syria in a failed war against Israel that led to the creation of these people becoming stateless. Why hasn’t Jordan given these people citizenship? Why did Jordan forget Arafat and his followers to leave? Was what is known to most of the world as “the West Bank” conquered by Israel from an entity known as Palestine? No! The people known as Palestinians could have been absorbed into the Arab States the same way Jews from the Arab States were absorbed into Israel when they were expelled from their homelands in 1948 and 1949. Not one of expelled Jews live in tents without running water or proper sewage. Why don’t you criticize the people who allow their coreligionists to live in such deplorable conditions? Please tell me when the world recognized a country known as Palestine. How many Nobel prizes have been awarded to the people called “Palestinians”? How many Nobel prizes have been awarded to Israelis? How many Jews are citizens of Arab States? None! How many Arabs are citizens of Israel? 25% of the population! In Israel Arabs have been Justices of the Israeli Supreme Court and Members of the Israeli cabinet. Which Arab country is a true democracy? Israel is the only true democracy in the entire Middle East. So, why are you criticizing Israel?

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