The US' special relationship with Israel has caused more problems for Washington than it has solved, says Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University.

An Israeli flag and an American flag fly at Abu Dhabi International Airport before the arrival of Israeli and US officials, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on August 31, 2020.
An Israeli flag and an American flag fly at Abu Dhabi International Airport before the arrival of Israeli and US officials, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on August 31, 2020. (Reuters)

An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, which took effect between Palestinian resistance groups and Israel, has put an end to 11 days of Israel's worst violence on Palestinians in years but left the main issues unaddressed. 

The United States' unconditional diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel has been without any benefits and only high costs, says Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University.

He says the US should have a normal relationship with Israel, similar to Washington’s relationships with most other countries.

In his write-up in Foreign Policy published on Thursday, Walt says that Israel's moral support by the US may have been justified in the past, considering the persecution of Jews by the Christian West. But the moral case for this support was compelling only if one ignores the consequences for the people who have been living in Palestine for centuries, he adds.

Israel may represent “the only democracy in the Middle East,” but it cannot be compared to the liberal democracy in the US, where people of all religions and races are supposed to have equal rights. 

Israel has always privileged Jews over others under a conscious design, in line with Zionism’s core objectives, he observes.

It can be argued that during the Cold War days Israel was a strategic US partner, Walt says, as backing Israel was an effective way to check Soviet influence in the Middle East.

But today, unconditional support for Israel causes more problems for the US than it solves, he says, adding decades of brutal Israeli persecution of Palestinians have destroyed the moral case for such support. 

Walt says US military and economic aid to Israel amounting to over $3 billion dollars per year is often criticised, as Israel is currently a prosperous country whose per capita income ranks 19th in the world. 

However, he said, for the US the actual costs of this special relationship with Israel is more political than economic.

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‘Israel gets more US attention than it deserves’

First of all, the US' unconditional support for Israel makes it much tougher for Washington to claim the moral high ground on the world stage, says Walt. 

When Washington vetoes three different UN Security Council ceasefire resolutions, reconfirms Israel’s “right to defend itself,” while expressing its support for a two-state solution with fruitless rhetoric, its superiority claims stand exposed as hollow and hypocritical, says the professor. 

The second political cost of this special relationship is that Israel exceedingly gets more of the US foreign policy attention than it deserves, Walt says.

The current US administration has bigger problems to worry about than the actions of one small Middle Eastern country, he states – issues like climate change, China, the pandemic, Afghan disengagement, economic recovery, are just a few of the more weighty problems it faces today. 

This is why a normal US-Israel relationship would have been in favour of Washington more, he adds. 

Middle East policy

The third cost of this special relationship, Walt states, is it complicates other aspects of US Middle East diplomacy.

For example, negotiating a new deal with Iran over its nuclear programme would be far easier if the US did not face constant opposition from the Netanyahu government.

Walt says the US has also been more eager to stand for the abuses by Saudi Arabia [such as its air attack in Yemen and the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi] as Riyadh’s implicit alignment with Israel has intensified.

Finally, this special relationship has furthered the danger the US has faced from Al Qaeda terrorism, Walt says. The constant US support for Israel has been one of the main reasons Al Qaeda decided to attack the "far enemy." 

Besides, close connections between the US and Israel helped pave the way for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he adds.

He underlines that he doesn't expect a "normal relationship" to take place any time soon, because there are still powerful interest groups defending the current relationship. But he keeps his hope alive, as public discussion of a topic can turn unthinkable into possible.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies