Should support of Israel become conditional?

Recently Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a provocative and sobering speech touching on the viability of future Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and again brought into question the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship under the Obama administration. The speech was preceded by a 14-0 vote by the U.N. Security Council (Resolution 2334) censuring ongoing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, which the U.S. abstained from voting on. Empowered by the likelihood of dealing with a more placable Trump administration in less than a month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wasted no time decrying the speech as “biased” and an unwarranted betrayal of U.S.-Israeli relations.

The U.S. has longstanding political and cultural ties with Israel, not to mention a powerful lobby in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), among other religious and secular Israeli-American groups. These levers of influence have commonly been used in the past to smooth over disputes and act as a public relations tool for unpopular Israeli policies. At the same time, U.S. relations with its other allies are also based on political and cultural ties; Anglophone countries and the West at large share many of the same democratic and capitalistic values and principals, yet when disagreements arise they rarely are addressed with such harsh rhetoric and contempt.

It is a well-known fact that the U.S. has a longstanding history of unequivocal support for Israel, even when said support is not necessarily in the U.S.’s self-interest. From the annexation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights to the more recent invasions of Gaza, the U.S. has obediently served as Israel’s sole diplomatic backer even as it tries to mend Israeli-Palestinian ties. Yet in recent years the Obama regime has consistently broken rank with the status quo and meted out criticism of Israel’s internationally condemned policies regarding the Palestinian peace process.

The main thrust of Kerry’s speech addressed Israel’s refusal to stop building settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as encroachment on one of their last remaining enclaves. This refusal is the major stumbling block to resuscitating peace talks, which Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas views as non-negotiable. So unlike other U.S. alliances, the Israeli-U.S. relationship is built on the understanding that U.S. political and diplomatic acquiescence to Israeli policies is unquestioned. Unfortunately for both Israel and the Palestinians, this principle has time and again been a dead end on the road map to peace.

While some lament that the U.S. is turning its back on the alliance, this is hardly the case. In September of this year the U.S. agreed to a landmark package containing $38 billion in military aid to Israel over 10 years, following a previous agreement where Israel received over $3 billion annually until 2018.

As Secretary Kerry stated in his speech, “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.” So as Obama’s second term comes to an end, we as Americans owe it to ourselves to question the relationship between Israel and the United States. Is it so audacious to conclude a partnership between Israel and United States be rooted in mutual respect and a willingness to compromise? Or should U.S. support of Israel be unconditional as it has been in the past? Because the answer will invariably affect the degree of tractability regarding one of humanity’s oldest conflicts.

Andrew Leonard has published works in the State Journal-Register and SIUC’s student newspaper, The Daily Egyptian. A longtime Springfield resident, Andrew has a passion for international politics.

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