STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT-“Why is the US paying for Israel’s peace?” is a reasonable question to ask in light of recent rumours in Washington over the latest proposal to rescue the occupation state from the brink of disaster. The sentiment was widely shared in response to a recent article by Thomas Friedman in which the New York Times columnist revealed details of a possible deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel and the price American would have to pay to make such a deal possible. Americans are rightly asking “Why does the US even care if Saudi Arabia has peace with Israel and why would WE have to purchase that peace at the price of tying ourselves to Saudia Arabia if it were attacked by Iran? If Israel wants peace with its neighbours it can purchase it by itself.”
It is easy to understand why Americans are increasingly feeling that the price they are being asked to pay by their leaders in support of a country which, by any reasonable assessment, has become an apartheid state is not worth it. For decades, the prevailing wisdom in Washington has been that Israel is a strategic ally. Relations between two countries were based on the idea that they broadly share the same strategic outlook, they are both dedicated to counter-terrorism and they exchange intelligence and advanced technology.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Israel has received $3.8 billion dollars-worth of aid annually, under the misguided notion that the occupation state is an ally. However, one only needs to look to US military involvement in the region over the decades to notice that, instead of being an ally, Israel has been a strategic liability. The Gulf States, for example, have played a far greater role in supporting the US militarily in the region than Israel.
The Iran nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama is another case in point. Though the historic deal was applauded in Washington, including by major US allies, Israel has done everything it can to sabotage the agreement. It continues to throw obstacles in front of President Joe Biden, who has been trying to revive the deal negotiated by his predecessor. Then there is the issue of Israel and Palestine. It is probably not an exaggeration to suggest that, having used up nearly every ounce of US political currency and good-will in defending Israel for decades, America’s moral standing on the global stage is at its lowest point ever.
Such an outcome was not only predictable, it was inevitable, given the lengths to which Washington has gone to defend Israel’s violation of the very laws which the US claims to uphold. America played a pivotal role in establishing and nurturing the international rules-based system, which serves as the cornerstone of global governance. From the aftermath of World War II, the US championed the creation of institutions like the UN. Moreover, the US has assumed the responsibility of providing a security umbrella to its allies and partners across the world. Through a robust network of military alliances such as NATO in Europe and various bilateral defence agreements, the US has been a key guarantor of global stability and security.
What have Americans received in return for supporting Israel is a legitimate question. Especially now, given as the Biden administration is reportedly willing to do the unthinkable if Friedman is to be believed. With growing despair over the planned judicial overhaul, it is claimed that Biden is willing to throw a life-line to keep the hope of liberal Zionists alive. Freedman himself has been highly vocal over the growing power of the far-right in Israel, as have many others. This week it was the Washington Post Columnist Max Boot, who expressed dismay at the direction of a country he “loves”. “As a long time supporter of Israel, I am filled with despair watching these developments and knowing that the United States is seemingly helpless to change Israel’s trajectory despite the $3.8 billion a year that Washington provides to the Jewish state” said Boot, describing Israel’s shift towards an “Illiberal and intolerant” country. “The United States and Israel are increasingly at odds even in their foreign policies,” he added before giving his support for withdrawing US aid to Israel.
Like Friedman, Boot is counting on one last chance to rescue Israel. Returning from his interview with President Biden in the Oval Office over a week ago, a jubilant Friedman claimed that Biden was getting ready for one last throw of the dice. Friedman acknowledged that Biden had not made up his mind whether to proceed, but he gave a green light for his team to probe with Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, of Saudi Arabia to see if some kind of deal is possible and at what price.
Top Biden advisers have been in Saudi Arabia for high-level talks since Friedman published his article. A potential deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia was discussed in Riyadh, but details of what that would look like and what it would cost Washington to secure such a deal was not revealed. But if Biden is thinking what Friedman claims he is, the plan is as shocking as it is outrageous.
“The President is wrestling with whether to pursue the possibility of a US-Saudi mutual security pact that would involve Saudi Arabia normalising relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution,” Friedman said. He explained that peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, would open the way for peace between Israel and the whole Muslim world, including giant countries like Indonesia and maybe even Pakistan. “It would be a significant Biden foreign policy legacy”.
The Saudis will be induced, says Friedman, because the US will pledge to forge a security alliance with Riyadh, “a NATO-level mutual security treaty that would enjoin the United States to come to Saudi Arabia’s defence if it is attacked.” A civilian nuclear program, monitored by the US will also be thrown in, along with more advanced US weapons.
Such a proposal will not only be difficult for the Saudis to say no to, but it will also hand Netanyahu power to leverage against members of his far-right coalition. “I’d love to see Israel’s far-right Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, go on Israeli television and explain to the Israeli people why it is in Israel’s interest to annex the West Bank and its 2.9 million Palestinian inhabitants — forever — rather than normalise ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world,” Friedman explained.
Not once did Friedman provide an explanation for why the US should bear the high cost of Saudi-Israel normalisation. What benefits does America gain from this? Observing how political ideologues are willing to sacrifice the interest of others for their beliefs, serves as a clear indication that liberal Zionists are no exception. The growing disillusionment with Israel in Washington stems from years of rewarding the occupying state for its human rights abuses and violations of international law.
The notion of rewarding Israel with normalisation, not just with Saudi Arabia but with the entire Muslim world, based solely on a vague pledge to “preserve the possibility of a two-state solution”, and committing American soldiers to defend an autocratic Gulf monarchy indefinitely, is not only reprehensible but also reinforces the idea that liberal Zionists are ready to compromise any value or principle to maintain their faith in Israel.