Great post by Mitchell Plitnick on the birth and growth of the special relationship, which is rooted in U.S. “domestic” politics, i.e., the lobby. The post echoes what David J. Green says in Taking Sides (1984): that everything changed with Johnson. Nuclear policy changed overnight. (And so I wonder: Does Robert Caro say anything about this in his new bio of Johnson? I bet not.) Boldface is mine.
Today, Israelis’ greatest fear is not Iran, international isolation, the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions Movement, or the Palestinians. Their greatest fear is loss of US support. Nothing else comes close.
That is a level of dependence that is unhealthy for any country. But it is also why Israelis have confidence that it will meet other threats, including growing global anger over an occupation that is “celebrating” its 45th birthday today.
The US has shielded Israel from the consequences of its actions, even when those actions — such as settlement expansion, and intransigence on negotiations — contravene US policies or interests. It does this because Israel is a close ally, yes, but also because Israel is a domestic, rather than a foreign policy, issue in American politics.
The result is that Israel is in a unique position. It can act as it sees fit, and the world’s only superpower will make sure that the UN Security Council takes no action in response. The US will also work to ensure that Europe, which is the main trading partner for most Israeli industries, does nothing more than cluck its tongue.
There are many reasons why Israel has continued to be in conflict every day of its existence. And, because of the nature of the conversation about Israel, one is constrained to point out that many of those reasons are not rooted in Israel’s policies and actions, but in those of its enemies.
But the special relationship with the United States is perhaps the biggest reason.
I have argued often that resolution of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world faces a major obstacle in that Israel does not have sufficient motivation to make concessions. Well, the reason that Israel has so little motivation is that the US, due to the special relationship, shields it from the consequences of its actions.
Has that been helpful for Israel? In 1967, Lyndon Johnson believed he was helping Israel by unilaterally shifting US policy from one that would have required Israel to withdraw from the land it conquered to one that conditioned that withdrawal on a comprehensive peace.
That seemed like a good idea at the time, but the result was a 45-year long occupation, and another war, in 1973. It resulted in Israel, which had finally lifted martial law over its own Arab citizens, now holding millions of Arabs without basic rights for decades. It put Israel on the road to becoming a global pariah.