Tag Archives: Occupied Territories

Wither Zionism? Israel’s ‘Rightward Shift’

Zionism is, and always has been, a rational product of liberal nationalist ideals. Though diaspora Jews for thousands of years mouthed prayers of divine redemption and ‘return’ to Jerusalem, it was the European enlightenment and the rise of egalitarian and socialist currents that inspired ideological young Jewish pioneers to ‘reclaim’ what is today the State of Israel.

The reality today is markedly different, as Israel’s General Elections loom on the 22nd of January. The incumbent right-wing administration is almost certain to return to power, with Benjamin Netanyahu set to become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

Frequently, this phenomenon is labelled Israel’s ‘rightward shift’; pundits often paint long-term reductionist portraits of the dwindling electoral fortunes of Israel’s left-of-centre parties.

The truth is more nuanced: Israel’s Jewish voters are not inherently right-wing nor overwhelmingly harbour annexationist desires vis-à-vis the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The left-wing hegemony over Israel’s electoral politics was total for the first three decades of the young state’s life. In both 1993 and 1999, Israeli voters realised that a political, not military solution, was exigent and necessary to end spiralling violence.

In 2008, the last time Israelis went to the polls, the centre-left Kadima Party emerged as the largest political force in the Knesset, yet were outmanoeuvred by the savvy Netanyahu and sent packing to the opposition.

Today, Israel’s liberal-left is in disarray, with a myriad of parties jockeying for the centre ground, constrained and divided by egoism and Prime Ministerial ambitions, handing an increasingly radical right the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This represents an incremental threat to the Zionist project. The only viable resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a two-state solution that will preserve Israel’s Jewish essence whilst simultaneously avoiding the creation of an apartheid system that annexation, with its demographic realities, would necessitate. This has consistently been the message of Israel’s Zionist left.

Despite Netanyahu’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood in 2009, senior lawmakers from the Prime Minister’s Likud Party have recently openly declared the party hostile to the two-state solution.

Based on the record of the outgoing administration, it is easy to believe their claims. The longer left-wing infighting continues, the further peaceful coexistence within a Zionist framework slips away. Israel’s left is down, but not out: divided, squabbling and disappointing, but retaining a monopoly over the only feasible, Zionist solution to a festering, existential conflict.


Photo credit: IsraelinUSA

Legally, Israel’s Possession Of East Jerusalem Holds Weight

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, basing their arguments on misinterpreted and irrelevant legal acts.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he question of legal right to sovereignty over East Jerusalem has been disputed among the parties involved and international actors since the establishment of the State of Israel. The UN General Assembly foresaw the internationalization of the Holy City in Resolution 181 in order to prevent any conflicts between Jews and Arabs and marginalize any claims of both sides. The reality however took a different course after the War of Independence in which Jerusalem became divided into two parts: Israeli in the west, and Jordanian in the east. The Six Day War in 1967 gave a chance for reunification of the city; Israel expanded the municipal area of the city by 28 surrounding Arab villages’ land and by doing so declared the annexation of East Jerusalem and treated it as an integral part of Israel proper. Consequently in 1980, the Israeli parliament passed its Basic Law, in which it reiterated the legal status of Jerusalem within Israeli jurisprudence as the undivided capital of Israel and the place of residence for Israeli governmental and other state institutions.

No country around the world has recognized any part of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and no country around the world recognized the annexation of East Jerusalem to Israel. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the future capital of their state and vehemently oppose Israeli claims to East Jerusalem. The UN Security Council response to the ‘Jerusalem Law’ was Resolution 478 which called the aforementioned law “null and void” and this resolution has been complied with and agreed upon by a majority of states. The last countries to move their embassies to Tel Aviv were Costa Rica and El Salvador in 2006.

East Jerusalem is home to 428,304 people, constituting 59,5% of Jerusalem’s population, from which 181,457 are Jewish, 229,004 are Muslim and 13,638 are Christian. Obviously, both Muslim and Christian population are predominantly Palestinian, thus constituting a majority. The Arab residents are not, however, given an automatic Israeli citizenship but a permanent residence card and right to vote in municipal elections.  Israeli citizenship can be obtained by an application and swearing loyalty to the State of Israel.

Israel holds a de facto sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The city, from Pisgat Ze’ev and the Mount of Olives to Ein Kerem, it has a unified infrastructure system – roads, sewage system, electricity and gas pipelines – and an open access for all the residents to welfare services, healthcare etc.

As stated by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jerusalem has never been as significant for other nations as for the Jews. Israelis argue that their right to sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem is rooted in 3000 years history of Jewish affiliation to the city as their capital. Israel has also guaranteed a peaceful administration of the city. Since its takeover of East Jerusalem in 1967, freedom of access was granted to the holy sites to the pilgrims of all the religions, and the government maintained good relations with the administrative bodies of the holy sites, something that was lacking during the Jordanian rule of the Old City (under which the Jewish quarter was destroyed, Christians had a very limited access to the Holy Sepulcher and only Muslims could visit the Temple Mount without any restrictions).

International law experts such as Steven Schwebel, Eli Lanterpacht or Yehuda Blum provide more concrete legal arguments for Israel for her claims. According to those experts, Israel has much better claims to sovereignty over East Jerusalem, since the Six Day War that Israel won was a defensive war on her part and therefore the territories, which were acquired in this war, do not fall under the category of an unlawful occupation. Jordan has rescinded its claims to the West Bank in the Peace Treaty of 1994 and therefore there is no other claimant who could outweigh Israeli claims to the city. As for Palestinians, they have never in history formed a separate state and presented a sense of Palestinian nationhood and only recently did they claim Jerusalem for their capital, whereas Jews, since the establishment of the city by King David, did. Following those arguments, Israeli side claims that the status of Jerusalem is non-negotiable and Israel holds exclusive sovereignty over the city.

The Palestinian position concerning East Jerusalem is quite simple. East Jerusalem is a subject to Resolution 242 and therefore Israel must withdraw from this area as well as from all the areas conquered in 1967. The whole of Jerusalem, including the Western part, is a subject to negotiations on the Final Status as stated in the Declaration of Principles signed both by PA and Israel in 1993. Palestinians also claim that Jerusalem should be an open city without any restrictions on movement whatsoever, and claims that upon the return of East Jerusalem to Palestinian state as its capital, such a state will guarantee free access to the holy sites to the believers of all faiths. Furthermore, Palestinians claim the vital importance of Jerusalem for Palestine as the most important city of the West Bank, a connecting point between the northern and southern part of Palestinian Occupied Territories. Palestinians point to Jerusalem as the only and natural place for the capital of future Palestinian state and clearly indicate the illegality of not only Israeli occupation of the West Bank, but the annexation of East Jerusalem and even its presence in West Jerusalem.

As far as the world public opinion is considered, the stance of the main actors – US, EU and the UN – do not differ greatly. American statements clearly indicate the need for regulating the status of the city in direct negotiations between Israel and PA. As for the EU, on March 1st 1999  the German ambassador in Israel, Theodor Wallau, wrote to Ariel Sharon, confirming “the long standing view” of European Union, which considers the status of Jerusalem in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, i.e. as an international zone. In 2009 the Council of the European Union called in its statement for Jerusalem to become the capital of both states – Israeli and future Palestinian one.

The UN Secretary General, irrespective of who was holding the post, followed the policies adopted by the Security Council and General Assembly. The statement by Ban Ki-Moon confirmed the UN demands for the negotiations of the status of Jerusalem and indicated the need for division of the city and the end of Israeli occupation.

Relevance of the Resolution 181/1947 and Israel – Jordan Armistice agreement

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, in which the states agreed upon partitioning the territory of former British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, included the internationalization of the Greater Jerusalem area as well. Jewish representatives accepted the plan, since it was the first legal international act legitimizing the existence of Israel, however the Arab countries expressed their vehement opposition to the resolution and rejected it outright. The plan did not work out since the Arab states invaded Israel after the British evacuation and the armistice agreements with Egypt, Jordan and Syria formed new borders, which did not reflect in any sense the borders of the partition plan.  The borders of 1949 Armistice line were, in accordance with the armistice agreement with Jordan, solely a military arrangement as stated in Article II, clause 2 of the agreement, void of any political implications:

“It is also recognised that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

 It is therefore legitimate to argue, that neither Jordan nor Israel recognized each other’s sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem, leaving its status subject to final negotiations. Nevertheless, the territory of Israel drawn by the armistice lines, which existed between 1949 and 1967 became internationally recognized as Israel proper. In those years, merely a few countries recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. As it was mentioned before, EU considers Jerusalem an international zone in accordance with the Resolution 181, and claims to change its stance only upon a mutually agreed status between Palestinian Authority and Israel. It seems that the international community is willing to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem, as agreed between Jordan and Israel in 1949.

Relevance of the resolution no. 242/1967 and the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty

The Six Day War expanded Israeli territory into West Bank, with East Jerusalem falling under its control. The UN Security Council Resolution 242 issued the same year reads:

Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

– Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

-Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force

The Arab side argues, in contradiction to the real meaning of the resolution, that Israel has to withdraw from all the territories, acquired in the 1967 war. However, even the author of the resolution, Lord Caradon, representative of the UK to UNSC stressed that firstly borders have to be mutually agreed and only then Israel is to withdraw to “secured and recognized borders”, hence it implies the status of East Jerusalem as pending the final agreement between Israel and Jordan. The final agreement was already signed in 1994 in the form of a peace treaty between those two states. Although the treaty stipulates Jordanian recognition of the borders of Israel “without any prejudice to the territories of West Bank”, the treaty fulfills all the conditions presented in Resolution 242.

The resolution does not mention Palestinians in any of its paragraphs or does not demand the establishment of independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The PA’s argument that Israel acts in breach of the Resolution 242 by annexing East Jerusalem is therefore void; Israel and Jordan already fulfilled the requirements of the 242 – they agreed upon the borders and therefore Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, in the context of 242, is definitely and legally substantiated.

Jerusalem law and Resolution 478

It is not, however, Resolution 242 that puts Israel’s sovereignty in East Jerusalem at odds. In 1980, The Israeli Knesset passed a Basic Law, commonly referred to as Jerusalem law, which states that Jerusalem, undivided and complete, is the capital of Israel. The international public opinion did not accept this motion and the same year UNSC passed a Resolution 478, which called the Jerusalem law “void and null”, followed by a recommendation of moving the embassies outside Jerusalem. Today all countries comply with it. One could argue that Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty has made the Resolution 478 expired, but clearly none of the countries perceives it that way.

Other Considerations

Although the international community clearly sees Israel’s claim over East Jerusalem as void and illegal, some universal legal and technical aspects of  it have to be taken into consideration, if the subject is supposed to be examined in a purely non-politicized fashion. It has been stated numerous times, that the international law is focused on stability and it’s main purpose is to reduce the implications of change in the balance of power. The demanded division of Jerusalem, which advocates stability, is obviously not an option. Jerusalem has been administered peacefully for the last 40 years. The Arab rioters fighting with Israeli police do not really count, since numerous examples can be given drawing upon Europe or USA, where severe riots broke out, but there was no one to question the sovereignty of those states over the riot areas.

The most important consideration is the fact that the division of the city is abnormal and unnatural. The international community sought the reunification of Berlin as soon as possible. The division of Lefkosa/Nikosia in Cyprus is still unacceptable. Dividing the city is also hard to implement because of the topography and unified infrastructure of Jerusalem – the Jewish neighbourhoods are mixed with the Arab ones and splitting all of the city’s infrastructural systems would paralyze both parts of the city.

In sum, it is a general international consensus that creates a legal basis for state’s actions; if then, from day 1, a majority of countries did not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over West Jerusalem, it is hard to argue that Israel holds sovereignty also over East Jerusalem, despite its concrete and strong legal arguments. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, basing their arguments on misinterpreted and irrelevant legal acts. Israelis claim sovereignty over all of Jerusalem in accordance with the international law. Despite this, none of the countries around the world will accept Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem, until it is negotiated in the Final Status agreement. In the light of all of the aspects, facts and legal documents presented, it is right, in this author’s opinion, to say that the status of Jerusalem is unregulated and none of the parties holds a de jure sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

Settlers Are The True Threat To Israel

It is in the interests of the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East to stop the settlers.



[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he settler movement is viewed as the ultimate expression of the Israeli injustice against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and thus is seen primarily as a threat to the native Arab population. Although this is certainly true, there is another aspect of the settler movement which is rarely appreciated and which needs to be spelled out explicitly. This is the fact that the settler movement is not only a direct threat to the Palestinian population but it is a direct threat to Israeli society, the one living within the lawful borders.

The settler movement’s culture is characterised by a messianic understanding of the historical contingencies which brought about the State of Israel. More importantly, this religious fervour is often translated into violence against the native population justified precisely on religious grounds by extremist Rabbis. The forms of violence range from burning Palestinian property, to looting villages, to the most heinous of crimes, such as premeditated murders and full blown terrorist organisations. An instance of the latter is the Kach movement following the steps of Rabbi Meir Kahane whose members included Baruch Goldstein, a settler responsible for the mass murder of 29 Palestinians in the Hebron mosque. To all effects, this culture can be called a form of religious fundamentalism. The extent of their conviction is that anyone who opposes the idea of the return of Judea and Samaria –the biblical names for Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories- to the Jews, is a traitor. This has been proven by the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by Yigal Amir, a member of the settler movement.

The settler movement opposes vehemently the peace process. For example, in October 1998 during the summit held at the Wye River Plantation between Netanyahu and a Palestinian delegation mediated by Clinton, representatives of the settlers exerted pressure on the Israeli side by personally showing up to discourage any kind of compromise. After hearing the news that at the summit Netanyahu had agreed to cede 13% of the Occupied Territories to the Palestinian Authority, the Yesha Council, a former umbrella organisation representing most settlements, defined the Wye consensus as a “treason agreement”.

More importantly, the settler movement is supported by all the main Israeli authoritative institutions: political, military, and legislative. Most governments since 1967 fiercely supported the expropriation of Palestinian land for the construction of settlements. The only exception was Rabin’s government, whose fate we have already mentioned. Governments also invest substantial amounts of tax-payers’ money in order to fund the needs of the settlers. This money could be used in more productive manners, such as investing in curbing poverty within Israel, a growing social problem attested by the protests held in July 2011. The army supports the settler movement by both guarding illegal settlements and outposts and going as far as arming the settlers themselves with sophisticated weaponry.

In the Occupied Territories two sets of laws are implemented: one for the settlers and one for the native population, the former being much more lenient than the latter. The Israeli High Court has repeatedly given absurdly short sentences for obvious crimes. In October 1982, Ishegoyev, a settler near Hebron, shot a thirteen year old Palestinian in the back killing him after the latter had thrown stones against his garbage truck. He was sentenced to three months of public service work. But perhaps the most memorable case is that of Yoram Shkolnick. A settler in March 1993 Shklonick overheard on his radio that a Palestinian, who had tried to stab other settlers had been captured by the military and was tied up and lying on the floor in a place nearby. Schklonick arrived at the site armed with an Uzi submachine gun and filled the Palestinian’s body with bullets. He was initially convicted to a life sentence but Weissman, at the time Israel’s President, reduced his sentence on two occasions so that Schkolnik was released from prison seven years after having been sentenced. This legal leniency only helps to solidify the settler’s belief in the righteousness of their cause.

The settlers represent a threat to Israeli society in three ways. Firstly, their violent tactics might in the future be aimed not solely against Palestinians but against anyone who opposes the settlement movement and this includes Israeli citizens. A case in point is the violent tactics used by the settlers against, paradoxically, the army in the rare occasions when the latter has been deployed in order to evacuate certain illegal outposts. Secondly, Palestinian attacks against Israeli citizens are a direct consequence of the failure of the peace process. Since the settlement movement is not only the major obstacle to peace with the Palestinians but also the locus in which the brutality and injustice perpetrated against the native population is justified, it is the major source of motivation for such attacks.

Thirdly, the settlement movement is responsible for the alienation of Israel from the international community. This is caused by Israel’s continued violation of international law due to the settlers’ pressure. This is illustrated, for instance, by the recent withdrawal of Israel from the UN Human Rights Council to protest against the organisation’s decision to probe the settlements. It is not inconceivable that in the future Israel will no longer enjoy the support of key players in the global arena and that because of their alienation will suffer material and not only verbal condemnation. This would impinge directly on Israeli citizens.

Moreover, since peace between Israel and Palestine is also one of the crucial steps in the stabilisation of the entire Middle Eastern region, the settlement movement threatens communities beyond the borders of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. It is then in the interest of the Palestinians, Israelis and the region at large to stop the settlement movement.

Israel: Security & Foreign Policy

Israel on the International Stage: A Security or Foreign policy?
{Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds}



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n Israel, security is a “dormant war” (Rabin, 1967, 195).  Although internal political evolution and external international developments has seen changing stimuli, the direction of Israel’s international policy has remained the same: entirely subservient to the perceived need to maintain security. An examination of Israeli-US and Israeli-Middle East relations, coupled with understanding of internal influences on the foreign policy elite, will demonstrate that foreign policy is a continual response to security threats, presenting “remarkable agreement within the Israeli body politic on essential foreign policy themes,” (Reich, 1988, 17). Security is the dominant policy concern, and when there are other goals, which have had to be pursued for reasons domestic electoral supremacy, they have always been implemented or assessed through the prism of security.

For this essay, considerations of the external appearance of Israel are central. Whilst the considerations of leaders internal power dynamics and Israel’s domestic political fabric provides some account of why security has consistently dominated foreign policy, it does little more than assume the premise. And before the discussion can begin justifiably, the security focus must be proven. Thus, the internal rubric, which aggregates the influences on internal foreign policy creation, holds little significance for this treatment.

Moreover, there is a tendency to explain the security focus as one institutionalized in “a restricted process” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 94), created by people “socialized in the defense establishment” (Inbar, 1998, 63). Amongst others, examples of the Knesset’s regular conflations of foreign and security policy give credence to such analysis. Evidenced by meetings of the cross party forum of foreign policy and defense issues, the overlapping of foreign and military spheres are rife and well-documented. However, a fierce internal debate rages, where the former is rebutted by examples of limited security significance, such as Netanyahu’s hamstrung National Security Council (Makovsky, 1999) which has given ammunition to reformist writers. Ultimately though, the internal foreign policy decision matrix “comprises: (a) societal factors […] which derive from cumulative historical legacy; and (b) personality factors […] those aspects of elite attitudes which are not generated by their role occupancy,” (Brecher, 1972, 11), or in logically equivalent terms: “the military and social aspects of national security are closely interrelated,” (Horrowirz-Lissak, 1989, 197). The result has been the formation of a unique Israeli narrative that pervades the following investigation, and will show how each aspect of foreign policy has been slanted by Orientalist conceptions of ‘us vs. them’ security policy. 

Untangling the strands of Foreign Policy

In claiming one policy can be subservient to another, one generally assumes foreign and security policies can be segregated and balanced against each other. However, appealing critiques argues that in Israel the two areas converge far too regularly, or are too inextricably linked, to be considered separately. In most 21st century states, especially since the advent of the War on Terror, this approach seems tenable. Indeed, as threats to most liberal democracies have become more domestic so too has foreign policy become more centered on national security: traditional lines of delineation don’t work. In reality, it is still possible to see different foreign policy directions. In Israel, where domestic and foreign security threats exist inseparably, it is more accurate to say national security has been the dominant focus of foreign policy rather than usurped its significance entirely: security is dominant amongst equals, a supreme sub-section of traditional foreign policy. To such ends, “issue area focuses” (Rosenau, 1967, 11-50) are vital.

Foreign policy can be split into four overlapping areas: security, political/diplomatic, economic/developmental, and cultural. Importantly, the groups are divided by substantive content rather than motive, largely because “choice of content derives from the fact that is self-evident, whereas motivation emerges after analysis has been completed,” (Brecher, 1972, 13). The first, security, is defined here as, “Issues which […] pertain to violence, including alliances and weaponry,” (Brecher, 1972, 13).

This definition is vague, “the study of foreign policy is underdeveloped: […] and analysis for the most part lacks rigor,” (Brecher, 1972, 1). However, for our purposes, the sentiment rings true. In Israel, security policy, as distinct from its rivals, amounts to those areas where ‘violence, including alliances and weaponry’ are designed to alleviate or divert threats, and has been seen most commonly in country-to-country relationships. In line with Brecher, who defined his seminal research around “the selection, among perceived alternatives, of one option leading to a course of action in the internal system,” (Brecher, 1974, 1), there will be a macro focus to our evaluation. ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ policies to other countries will be considered as complimentary rather than separate, whilst the former is often more obvious in its security focus, the latter underpins the broader aims.

However, the aims themselves are unclear. Whereas, in most cases one could locate the dominant considerations of foreign policy by consulting a stated doctrine – such as the Bush administration 2001 NSS document – this for Israel is impossible. The lack of a clear national security doctrine to which one can refer is a problem that has plagued most of the literature, justifying stunted comparisons.

In Israel carefully evolved strategy remains ad hoc, developing sporadically upon a combination of peacetime principles and wartime necessities (Rodman, 2011), election patterns and international circumstance. Therefore to argue that foreign policy in Israel is subservient to security policy the signifiers must be reductively identified. Whilst “determining […] national interest […] remains a vexed question,” (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 93), history has suggested some insoluble aims. Such as: the stabilization of troublesome borders and defensive geography with the use of limited manpower; the creation of military superiority and deterrence (Bowker, 1996, 114), either by self-reliance, great power patronage or, historically, the maintenance of divisions within the Arab world (Telhami, 1990, 400), and dispersal of Middle Eastern threats.

The pursuance of these aims, born from weak borders, limited manpower and historical ostracisation, is our focus here, starting with a dependency on a global Hegemon. Our first consideration, the US-Israeli relationship, came from the broader Israeli foreign policy principle that “Israel should always have at least one great power patron,” (Rodman, 2011). Historically, the fit has been uncomfortable. In fact, Ben-Gurion’s awareness of a large Jewish Diaspora behind the iron-curtain, and the influence of socialist Zionism on political institutions, meant the USSR offered more ideological symmetry (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 97). However, in light of their malaise towards non-liberal-democracies, Israel originally turned to France for a relationship culminating in the Lavon Affair. This scramble for a great power patron, and the thaw of a frosty relationship between the US and Israel in the 50s and 60s, provides a key example of Israel’s security focus that is often under analyzed. The building of such relationships (Eytan, 2006, 169-182), regardless of socio-cultural symmetry, indicates an Israeli foreign policy concerned less with ideology than with arms. Where America failed to supply weaponry, commit troops or develop research-links, France succeeded, creating close ties between Jerusalem and Paris. Where such assurances of security faltered (e.g. the Suez/Egyptian quagmire), Israel deliberately cooled relations, turning to a new patron. Whereas most liberal democracies are expected to temper realist intent with ideological motive, Israel’s great power patrons have been decided, with perceived legitimacy, by security maintenance. Even before specific alliances are formed then, we see options considered through a security prism.

Parasitic Interests and The Lobby 

The subsequent progression of academic evaluations of Israel and its great power – from co-beneficial to parasitic – has been retarded by strange systematic oversights. Special relationships like these, by definition, recognize the supremacy of one country over another, thus academic analysis has often discounted the policies of the lesser party as reactive: informed by the desire to maintain the patron at any price. Mearsheimer and Walt (2009), for example, concerned themselves with those of America exclusively, dismissing the complexity of Israel as a ‘strategic liability’ since the close of the Cold War. However, if we ignore the host temporarily and consider the parasite, a more equitable distribution of aims emerges. In fact, “since the end of the Cold War, Israelis have become concerned regarding the role and capabilities of the United States,” (Steinberg, 1998, emphasis added); a concern nurtured by a Republican Congress and the policies of the Senator Jesse Helms (Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Once we recognize the aims of the client it is easier to see the commonality of Israel’s security focus. Indeed, only the reality that even a reduced American role is still vital to Israel (Steinberg, 1998) has kept the patrons’ clientele. Israel’s relationship towards the US is one dependent on real strategic value, and its prioritization over any other foreign policy concerns has marked a belief within the electorate that disengagement is possible, if not currently desirable.

US-Israeli relations, and specifically the lobby, have been largely separated from consideration of the Israeli national security doctrine: fifty years after the formation of AIPAC, the academic debate is stagnant. Most considerations survive by their interaction with the seminal work of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, and thereby fail to constitute alternate interpretations. Their central argument largely holds true, despite contemporary difficulties and weak academic criticism (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 61),  but the debate regarding US benefits has been had, an evaluation of the Israeli motivation is needed.

Such evaluation posits that every available example of the lobby exerting influence has been for security ends (below). Moreover, it was the realization of threats from surrounding Arab nations, rather than the desire for cultural or political global assimilation, that proved the main instigator of an Israeli policy to court “the US more assiduously, a process that included supporting more vigorously lobby groups of Capitol Hill,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 100).

For example, Martin Indyk, the former Deputy Director of research at AIPAC, was given a senior position in Middle Eastern policy formation in the Clinton administration (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65).  The background of the appointee is less significant than his destination. This was not a victory for the Israeli lobby in cultural or economic spheres, but in security. Likewise, in Spring 2002, when the IDF resumed control of Palestinian settlements of the West Bank, Bush’s demand that Sharon “halt the incursion and begin withdrawal,” (Bush, 4th April 2002) went unheeded and without enforcement. The Israeli lobby, through Tom Delay (D-TX) and Richard Armey (R-TX), forced the administration to back down with the passing of two resolutions (Mearsheimer-Walt, 2009, 65). The significant weight of the Israeli lobby was again bought to bear on security aims before any other.  It is worth noting, though, that security aims may have been facilitated by unregulated socio-cultural hegemony between the two countries. A large Jewish Diaspora, and similar patterns of political evolution, has allowed other issues area to fade in significance, maintained as they are by informal cultural influences.

However, the quantifiable evidence available shows a relationship between soft power influences in, hard policy output of, the US administration that has allowed the importance of security in Israel to bleed out of the American lobby. The US response is a tacit assurance of the supremacy of security policy in Israel, evidenced by American conduct during the 1995 NPT conference (Steinberg, 1996). Such timidity from the US is the result of security rhetoric of a more obvious kind: “we made it clear to the United States that Israel had its own considerations which are unique to its situation in the region,” (Netanyahu, 1998). Investigations into the role of soft Israeli policy in the United States, shows clearly that, whilst other considerations exist, they do so in the shadow of security concerns. 

Quantifiable Support for Security

Harder relations are easier to quantify. Almost all official trade and intelligence agreements have been focused, at least on Israel’s part, on the enhancement of national security. Acting upon Kissinger’s historic commitment to maintaining Israel’s “qualitative edge” (Gold, 1992), and beginning, during the expansion of the Cold War arms race in the Middle East, with the first sale of Hawk missiles to Israel, the official US-Israeli relationship was founded amid a plethora of security threats that have refused to abate. The result has been a series of financial trade agreements and intelligence alliances that have dwarfed other Israeli foreign policy concerns in output alone. Even after economic aid ceased, military aid continued uninterrupted, facilitating the creation of the preemptive doctrine (Ovendale, 1999, 195-205) and demonstrating renewed prioritization of security policy at the turn of Israeli fortunes. For example, from 1971-76 Israel was able to secure $6.9 billion in aid (Jones and Murphy, 2002, 104-105), the majority of which supported their mammoth defense expenditure (Mintz, 1985, 9-28). The Joint Political and Military Group (JPMG), in addition, met twice yearly to “provide a forum for ongoing co-ordination” in response to “regional threats,” (Steinberg, 1998).

However, clearly not every aspect of the relationship is concerned with security. Israel’s “willingness to forgo” retaliatory strikes against Saddam Hussein (Steinberg, 1998), for example, is levied as evidence that Israel sacrifices security for patron maintenance. However, given that restraint led directly to the American pledge for security against WMDs (Steinberg, 1998), a more compelling interpretation is that Israel sacrificed short-term security vulnerability for long-term security assurances. That said, the Middle Eastern peace process remains one level upon which Israel’s foreign policy towards the US doesn’t fixate on security exclusively. Tellingly though, in this area unlike others, although differences and tensions have been rife (see Steinberg, 1998), “strong disagreements have not resulted in any visible decline in the level of strategic co-operation,” (Steinberg, 1998). Why? Often disagreements within the peace process are ignored or relegated due to inconvenience.

For foreign policy elites, maintenance of security with a great power patron has trumped rivalries in Middle Eastern diplomacy.  The ensuing relationship has been vital to Israeli security, too vital to see squandered on bargaining positions, not least of all in its ability to force a tacit concession amongst most Arab states that Israel has a right to exist, (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 115). 

The Focus of Security

Whereas Euro-American relations see security founded on amicable terms, in reality, “… all aspects of foreign policy are skewed towards the Arab-Israeli conflict and are overshadowed by the focus on the security and the survival state,” (Reich, 1988, 1).

The priority of national security due to perceived necessity rather than societal preferences is born internally from the longevity of the threat, beginning with regular raids on the Yishuv (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 198). The reason for, and understanding of, security dominance arises from the lack of perceived development away from such threats; few open lines of dialogue and fewer cultural or intelligence exchanges, has created “a region where the use of force is widely considered a policy option and one which receives popular support […] Israel’s predicament has hardly changed,” (Inbar-Sheffer, 1997, 156). If Inbar’s claim holds true, Israeli foreign policy has inevitably withdrawn to security focus.

As a policy option in the wider Middle East the threat can be considered real, whilst to be seen to be the security candidate is vital, as was the case this year with Netanyahu’s negotiation of Gilad Shalit’s return (Levy, 2009). Such an equation is confounded by the perceived reality of the elite (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 113; Brecher, 1972, 12; Sprout, 1961, 109), and would therefore fit realist and neo-liberal interpretations alike.

Israel’s response to historical vulnerabilities demonstrates security policy supremacy in itself. Emerging with porous and conflicted borders from the War of Independence in 1949, policies evolved as attempts to secure these. “Strategic depth”, to fight the ease with which Israel could be divided, for example, led to a key emphasis on preventive (1956) and preemptive (1967) war (Rodman, 2011; Handel, 1973, 1-36), and to IDF retaliation against bandit incursions on Israeli land. However, debate arises, post-1967, with the acquisition of the Occupied Territories (OT) (Horowitz, 1975, 13-41) and the passing of ‘strategic depth’ into relative obscurity.

However, to argue that security was a focus that existed only while necessary is naïve for two reasons. Firstly, most threats are now low-intensity, requiring different tactics that would present less aggressively. Pre-emptive and preventative wars were, to illustrate, substituted for settlement re-housing and the creation of ‘the wall’. Secondly, most other threats now come from long-range missiles and WMDs (Cohen, Eisenstadt & Bacevich, 1995, 78), and as a result border security specifically has a less noticeable impact of foreign policy (Rodman, 2011). Indeed, the threat of WMDs has consistently caused security concerns which usurp Middle Eastern policy. Now, the “primary concern among Israeli decision makers centers on the threat […] of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 117), but the sincerity of this threat is questionable. Sprinzak proves the dominance of security in response to WMDs by political force of habit, rather than genuine threat response. On this question, modern Israeli identity is manipulated by “the constant presence of an enemy at the gate”, the absence of which would instigate an “identity crisis” (Sprinzak, 1998).  The rationality of the response is insignificant here (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 118), but the way it has fostered an unalterable approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy undeniably indicates security’s dominance. The results of which are clear (see Beres, 1986 and Cohen, 1998). 

Diplomatic Evolution

The more potent threats of state and non-state terrorism have been alleviated, in part, by exchanging acquired territories for peace. However, the pervasiveness of security concerns in this new OT policy direction has not diminished. Direct public meetings between Israelis and Arabs have been, and are still, almost always handled by “military men” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 209), suggesting a more security-focused approach. In explanation, a ‘security’ rather than ‘foreign/diplomatic’ policy towards the OT’s is necessary because the reverse would be a tacit concession that they constitute a foreign land rather than a national security dilemma. And despite developments, considerations have remained unchanged, “Palestinian territories were to be dealt with by Israel’s security forces as a security problem,” (Reich, 1988, 9), and still are.

For progression, the political future of Palestinians, which is a “more complex matter” (Reich, 1988, 8), must divorce itself from exclusively security concerns.

The general lack of that progress is in itself indicative of the supremacy of security policy. Whereas continued effort by the international community has failed to broker political settlement, Israel’s national security is maintained ruthlessly through IDF prevention and retaliation. Even conflation of politics and security sees the latter dominate, evidenced by governmental attempts “to limit the settlements to those that could serve a security function,” (Reich, 1988, 10). The OTs remain the single most important consideration of Israeli foreign policy, and they have been approached will almost unanimous security focus.

The election of the Rabin-Peres administration is the only anomaly, presenting brief moment of public disenfranchisement from the security rhetoric (Kimche, 1996, 139-40). The freezing of settlement building, (Reich, 1988, 6), as well as circumstantial developments in diplomatic relations with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Tunisia (Jones-Murphy, 2002, 116), are often offered as evidence of diminished security focus. However, the change was limited and reactive. It provided at best an interlude, and worse “continuity” (Reich, 1988, 15), to a security focus in the OT and wider foreign policy directions.

The current stance towards the OTs, like that of the wider Israeli foreign policy elite towards America and the broader Middle East is one dominated by security, colored incidentally by “the incursion of political and ideological considerations,” (Horowitz-Lissak, 1989, 202). The result, however, has been friendly to the security agenda, bolstered by a powerful force “based on an Orientalist view of the Arab world,” (Cypel, 2006, 80). Israeli foreign policy, which has been examined here in its external context in order to compliment extensive work on internal considerations elsewhere in the academy, proves subservient to security policy: its primary and secondary goals remain evaluated through the prism of security.


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