US Involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Solution or Complication?

A Study by Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed F. Abo-Sak

Each year, the U.S. Army War College in Carlysle Barracks, Pennsylvania, invites foreign military personnel to partake in war games scenarios and seek solutions to problems and potential problems around the globe. Saudi Arabia’s Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed F. Abo-Sak participated in the USAWC Class of 1997 where he developed a strategy research project he entitled "US Involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Solution or Complication?"

In his paper, Lt. Col. Abo-Sak analyzed the historical and current U.S. relations in the Middle East, with a special focus on America’s involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli crisis as the root of all Middle East problems. He analyzed the U.S. position in relation to both sides of the conflict and discussed the potential results of current U.S. policies. He concluded with recommendations for changes in U.S. foreign policy which would help make the Middle East more secure and friendly.

The two strategic elements that came together in the 1930’s, said Lt. Abo-Sak, were the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia and the creation of an activist Jewish community in Palestine. The U.S. became increasingly dependent upon Middle East oil, and it enjoyed strategic friendships with the Arab oil-producing countries, especially during the Cold War when the Arabs sided with the U.S. against the Soviet Union and communism. However, Israel also became stronger, and the Arabs increasingly attributed this to heavy U.S. involvement in supporting the Jewish state.

Historical Background

Palestinians have continuously resided in Palestine since four thousand years before Christ, Abo-Sak pointed out. Their ancestors built the cities of Jerusalem, Nablus, Jericho, Beisan, Acca and Jaffa. The Hebrews arrived in the land between 1400-1200 B.C., and only maintained control over it during the lifetimes of King David and his son King Solomon – a period of about 80 years. The land then came under Greek and Roman rule, and was then conquered by Islam in the year 637 A.D. under the second Caliph, Omar. By that time, the Jews had already left Jerusalem, and Christianity was the dominant religion. The Caliph granted full security to all Christians, including personal safety, and protection of property, religion and churches. The Muslims declared Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, and the city remained under Islamic rule until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, except for a brief time of Christian rule under the Crusaders.

In this century, the eastern Mediterranean became subject to British and French occupation as a result of the First World War, and Palestine came under British military occupation. The British encouraged the Arabs to gain their independence from the Ottoman Empire and promised them support if they stood on the side of the allies during the First World War. However the British reneged on the promise, and British Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour promised the International Zionists a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. At the time, the population of Palestine was comprised of 95% Arabs (both Christians and Muslims), 4% Palestinian Jews, and 1% expatriates. The Jews owned only 2% of the land.

Israel occupied the Palestinian lands in 1948 when it announced its independence. It captured the rest of Palestine in 1967. Since then, the Palestinians have lived under Israeli occupation. According to Lt. Col. Abo-Sak, their struggle to liberate themselves was ignored during the Cold War and the competition between the East and the West to gain more influence in the Middle East as a strategic region. Israel has gained strong support in the West as a result of this competition. In the meantime, the Palestinians have been unable to persuade the superpowers to enforce United Nations Resolution 242 and 338 calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab land.

In 1991, the United States led a peace initiative, co-sponsored by Russia. The first conference was held in Madrid, Spain, in October of that year and was attended by delegations from most of the Middle Eastern countries, including Palestinians and Israelis. In September 1993, Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles. Between 1992 and 1996, Israel was invited to many conferences held in Arab countries as a sign of its neighbors’ good will.

After a radical Israeli opposed to the peace process assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Labour partly lost the Israeli election of 1996, giving way to the Likud party led by Benjamin Netanyahu. This new government will not commit itself to the peace accords signed by the previous Israeli government, and the peace process has slowed to a standstill. The new Israeli government has violated the terms of the peace accord by, among other things, building new Israeli settlements in occupied lands, also in contravention of international law.

Divided in their views of how the peace process should proceed, the Palestinians and Israelis have initiated media campaigns for international support. Tensions have thus escalated in the region, re-igniting old hatreds and fears of war.

US Endorsement of Israel

The majority of countries in the Middle East have been U.S. allies throughout the Cold War to the present, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Oman, pre-Khomeini Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Not only is the US heavily dependent upon the region’s oil, but it has also used the territory of these countries as strategic American bases. Most Islamic nations have shared in the US goal of opposing communism, and the 1991 Gulf War demonstrated the willingness of the Middle Eastern nations to work with the United States, proving that the U.S. can operate in the Middle East without Israeli land, equipment, or personnel.

Israel, on the other hand, said Lt. Col. Abo-Sak, "has no strategic, social or political depth in the region and has no coalition partners in the Middle East." Indeed, it has been in a state of war with each of its surrounding neighbors since its creation. In addition, during the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1990, Israel effectively blackmailed the United States for being kept out of the conflict, coming away with almost $2 billion in military equipment and economic support.

"While the United States has been enjoying the benefits of its Arab and Islamic Middle Eastern friendships," said the Colonel, "Israel has been enjoying the benefits of strong U.S. support" – and at the Palestinians’ expense.

Abo-Sak stated that the US government has been "strongly taking sides with the Israelis against the Arabs with no apparent justification." He continued:

The Israeli political influence in the US administration, congress, and media clearly demonstrates this. Pro-Israeli lobby, Friends of Israel, and the AIPAC are accepted as legitimate US organizations that are able to act and react and to control the general feelings of the US officials. This causes the US government decisions against the Arab legitimate rights to be regarded as if they are something which should not be discussed, even though the US government has the facts concerning the Arab-Israeli issues. Applying these facts in accordance with the principles of the US Constitution would prevent the United States from making the biased decisions that are consistently being made.

He cited a number of instances of US bias, especially with respect to the Palestine-Israeli issue, noting that US human rights groups, non-governmental organizations, and research centers have objectively identified the reality of what has happened to the Palestinians as a result of US sponsorship of Israel. These findings have been supported by those of the United Nations.

"The daily Israeli military depredations inside the Palestinian occupied territories seems to have become an acceptable routine in the eyes of the US benefactors of the Israelis," he said. He also remarked that these events have been driven by the Zionist strategy which the United States has played an active role in shaping since the beginning of this century. He cited author Stephen Green to underscore the point:

"[b]y early 1948, U.S. government intelligence estimates reflected a deep concern that international Zionism was dragging the United States into a dangerous program of territorial conquest in the Middle East. In March, 1948, a Joint Chiefs of Staff paper on ‘Force Requirements for Palestine,’ anticipating the termination of the British Mandate, predicted that the ‘Zionist strategy will seek to involve [the United States] in a continuously widening and deepening series of operations intended to secure maximum Jewish objectives.’ The JCS listed the objectives as (a) initial Jewish sovereignty over a portion of Palestine, (b) acceptance by the great powers of the right to unlimited immigration, (c) the extension of Jewish sovereignty over all of Palestine, (d) the expansion of ‘Eretz Israel’ into Transjordan and into portions of Lebanon and Syria, and (e) the establishment of Jewish military and economic hegemony over the entire Middle East." [Stephen Green, Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1984, 20-21].

"If we compare the present Palestinian-Israeli land situation to what the above document states," said Abo-Sak, "we will find today’s facts consistent with the 1948 objectives."

According to Abo-Sak, the main problem is that Israel continues to occupy Arab territory and the United States continues to give Israel diplomatic, military, economic and informational support. The US has consistently opposed any UN resolutions that would bring justice to the Palestinians, even when Israel is found guilty of human rights violations. The United States has vetoed 32 UN resolutions against Israel since 1972, including the resolution condemning Israel for massacring over 100 Lebanese civilians at the UN compound in Qana. However, the United States was the only country to veto the installation of UN Secretary General Butrus Ghali to a second term, in retaliation for his decision to publish the UN’s report confirming that Israel’s strike on Qana has been intentional.

Abo-Sak quoted widely-read Saudi columnist Khalid Al Maeena who said "We have all seen that the United States can never find anything wrong in Israel’s actions. The massacre at Qana, the shooting of children by Zionist settlers, the burning of Muslim places of worship, the brutal beatings of innocent Palestinians – all condoned by Israeli courts – count for nothing in the eyes of Clinton or the American media." "The Likelihood of New Bloodshed in the Occupied Lands," Arab News, December 17, 1996, p. 4]. Israel does whatever it wants, however egregious, with impunity, and yet maintains unwavering support from the United States.

From this, of course, it is clear that the United States could never be an honest broker in the peace process. "Its double standards and partiality to Israel have already damaged, and will continue to damage the peace process," said Maeena ["The Challenge of the American Veto," Arab News, March 11, 1997, p. 4]

This also calls into question the United States own sense of morality, notes Abo-Sak. Princeton University Professor Richard Falk points out that US policymakers are missing the opportunity of the end of the Cold War to bring peace to the region because of "the absence of any political moral imagination" on their part. He notes that the peace agreements thus far reflect great inequality and are weighed heavily in favor of the Israelis. He criticizes the United States’ passivity in ignoring this potentially explosive situation, warning that even the most committed Palestinians are becoming increasingly adverse to the peace process which seems to have betrayed their struggle. ["Symposium, The Middle East: What is Our Long-Term Vision, Middle East Policy" Middle East Policy, No. 3, December 1994, p. 11]

Results of U.S. Support of Israel

America’s unquestioned support of Israel has led some Arabs to call it "Americael." The US involvement and endorsement of Israel is complicating the future for the US presence in the region and is not serving the interests of the American people, said Lt. Col. Abo-Sak.

The effect on the Palestinians has been devastating. Abo-Sak described the many ways in which they suffer in the region, including this description of life in Gaza by Sara Roy, who reported the results of a survey of 3000 Palestinian children ages 8-15 conducted by the Gaza Community Mental Health Program:

93% of these children had been tear gassed
85% had had their homes raided
55% had witnessed their fathers beaten
42% had been beaten themselves
31% had been shot
28% had had a brother imprisoned
19% had been detained
3% had suffered a death in the family
69% had been exposed to more than 4 types of trauma

["Gaza: New Dynamics of Civic Disintegration"
Journal of Palestinian Studies, Summer 1993]

Roy also noted that the children of Gaza have had neither home nor classroom for many years, and that as of early 1995, 40,000 children were in need of some form of immediate psychiatric care." ["Symposium, Development Assistance to the Middle East: Critical Perspectives," Middle East Policy, 4, No. 4, April 1996, p. 26]

America’s Arab allies are mystified by American behavior, which is inconsistent with their historical relations and with American interests in the region. America does not even see eye to eye with Europe any more with respect to the Middle East.

Experts warn that this will bring a deeper hopelessness to the region that will lead to a return to violence, extremism and even terrorism. Former Kuwaiti Minister of Education and member of parliament, Dr. Ahmed Al-Rabie calls it "a slap in the face for all peace-loving people who wish to keep war away from the region." [ "America and the Middle East," Asharq Al Awsat, March 10, 1997, p. 8].

The US position has also produced mistrust, even among some of America’s closest Arab friends, and has justified the behavior of others who have historically been opposed the United States, said Lt. Col. Abo-Sak. Ironically, a strong American position throughout the region would be in Israel’s best interests as well, yet the United States continues to be one of the biggest obstacles to solving the problem.

In addition, while social programs are whittled away in the United States, American taxpayers are carrying the burden of Israel’s war machine, giving it outright aid, loans, and paying interest on funds borrowed to lend to Israel. All while Israel has systematically engaged in espionage operations against the U.S.

The results of all of these factors might be devastating to the region and to the United States, possibly even to the point of nuclear war, warns Abo-Sak.

Recommendations

To reverse this very negative pattern, Abo-Sak made several recommendations designed to improve the United States’ position in the Middle East vis--vis all regional players.

His first suggestion is that, to avoid further complications, the United States should consult its Arab partners with respect to the Palestinian cause. His second recommendation is that securing a just peace should become the U.S. priority instead of regional economic cooperation. Such cooperation will be a natural result if peace and security are achieved first, he argued. As it is now, there is simply a bargain between unequal adversaries, whereas a real solution would be Palestinian self-determination. This would not only silence the extremists, but would produce economic growth and development that has been stifled in the entire region for decades.

Abo-Sak stated that his definition of lasting peace is "the mutual and full recognition (that is without reservations that may threaten sovereignty) of the separate identities of Israel and Palestine [that] will invite the surrounding countries, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc., to also recognize both sides, to cooperate with them, and to begin to resolve tension throughout the Middle East." This in turn will create a secure environment, economic stability, cooperation, and an end to the dangerous arms build-up.

He also recommends that the United States share the burden and responsibility of the peace process with other countries interested in the Middle East, such as Europe and Japan. This will encourage them to share the financial burden involved in achieving peace as well as dilute the blame should the peace process fail.

His fourth suggestion is that it would be in the United States’ best interests to institute the principle of promoting peace and preventing war. He cites the dual containment of Iran and Iraq as a prime example of a policy that led to increased tensions and animosity in the region and jeopardized U.S. interests, rather than creating stability. The United States must recognize the sovereignty and national interests of the countries involved. He also stressed that it will be necessary for U.S. foreign relations officers to sort through 50 years of false and misleading information which has led to the current crisis. This can be done by simply answering one question: "Who has the greater right to live in the Holy Land – a Jewish resident of Brooklyn who has possibly never even had ancestors who have seen Palestine, or the millions of Palestinian families who wait with keys and deeds in hand to re-enter the homes they were forced to leave?"

The fact that the U.S. has been abused and exploited by Israel, does not diminish its responsibility to be an honest broker in the Middle East, concluded Abo-Sak. He warned that there will be adverse effects on U.S. relations with the Arab world unless it assumes to an unbiased position and gives up its double standards in favor of Israel. "That is the greatest guarantor for long-range US interests and justice for each of the entities involved," he concluded.


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