Gagflex: Finding a Distance from Israel

Jerusalem mayor, Nir Barkat, recently announced plans to destroy more Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem to make way for a tourist center. This comes on the heels of the recent Israeli attack on a Turkish convoy that left 10 activists dead. And just last March, Israel announced that it is building more settlements in a Jewish settlement of the West Bank at the same time Vice President Biden is scheduled to arrive in Israel for further peace talks.

The common belief regarding U.S. relations with Israel is that Israel is an important strategic ally for U.S. influence in the Middle East. If this is the case, what’s the strategy?

The United States gives an estimated $3 billion in aid to Israel every year. In 2007, we signed a pledge to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next decade. Of course these numbers change and will likely increase depending on other agreements that get struck between now and the end of the proposed period. And for our tax dollars, what do we get, aside from a thorn in the side of our Arab and Muslim relations?

“Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution,” said New York Senator Chuck Schumer while speaking to a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders recently. “They don’t believe in the Torah, in David,” he said. This was in defense of the blockade that is preventing humanitarian aid from getting to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip. What Schumer says is ironic considering that many Israelis do not believe in Palestine and view Palestinians just as Jordanians who want Israel’s land. And they’re doing everything in their power to eliminate this very small adversary in Gaza. There’s no doubt that Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate attacks from Hamas, but there’s no way to justify many of their actions as defense.

The Israeli offensive that took place in 2008 and early 2009 took the lives of more than 1,300 Palestinian civilians with over 300 being children. This operation known as “Cast Lead” was in response to mortar and rocket attacks by groups armed of Palestinians throughout 2008. Enacting a strike that kills over 1,000 civilians and setting up a blockade preventing humanitarian aid is disproportionate to the pain that they’ve suffered at the hands of Hamas. Hamas is a paramilitary force that controls the Palestinian Parliament, and there’s no doubt regarding it’s animosity towards Israel. But Israel’s handling of the situation has been broad and reckless at best.

Our position has been to continue to negotiate a two-state solution. The difficulty of this could never be encapsulated in a single column because the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is long, violent and filled to the brim with religious strife. We have always been an ally to Israel and that’s not likely to change. But the close ties have only hampered our ability to be a moderator of peace.

President Obama recently met with Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and made a $400 million pledge to the West Bank and Gaza to help build their infrastructure. Although $400 million is only a drop in the bucket compared to what’s actually needed for the region, the hope is that it will buy the United States a morsel of international goodwill and a short bit of distance from a long perceived bias towards Israel.


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