Hillary Clinton�s blunt public statement that President
Obama �wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts,
not natural growth exceptions� made for good headlines. The Israelis were
shocked and upset that their slavish ally had acted slightly less obsequious
and engaged in a public spat with them.
This ballyhooed baby step came after Obama had raised halting
Israeli settlements in the West Bank privately with hawkish Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House -- only to get the push back
that, at minimum, Israel would have to allow the �natural growth� of
settlements to match population expansion.
Yet Obama is only one of a string of U.S. presidents,
beginning with Ronald Reagan, to press the Israelis to stop such settlement
activity. Despite billions in U.S. military and economic aid to Israel, the
Israelis won�t even accommodate this seemingly modest U.S. request.
That�s because the request is not modest and cuts to the
heart of Israeli strategy. With current demographic trends, even many on the
Israeli right realize that Israel will eventually have to acquiesce to a
two-state solution. If the West Bank and Gaza aren�t jettisoned, Arab
population expansion, which is higher than Jewish growth, will eventually make
the Jews minority rulers in an ostensibly democratic state -- similar to
apartheid South Africa. Thus, if democracy with a Jewish majority is to be
preserved, the Palestinians will have to be given some sort of a state.
That said, the longer that outcome can be delayed, the
better for Israel because proliferating and expanding Jewish settlements can
continue -- thereby grabbing greater amounts of the best Palestinian land and
leaving the Palestinians the meager scraps. Any affirmative Israeli response to
U.S. pressure to halt settlements would ruin this underlying Israeli strategy
of getting more Palestinian land while the gettin�s good.
Of course, these continued Israeli salami tactics have
weakened the moderate Palestinian leadership, which has nothing to show for its
years of negotiation with Israel, and vastly strengthened the more strident
Hamas, which does not acknowledge Israel�s right to exist. Thus, Israel may
wait too long to accept and implement the two-state solution so that it is no
longer possible. Thus, the Israelis will be forced to give up their ideal of a
Jewish democracy for an apartheid-style minority rule.
But the real question may be why the United States should
care. For the U.S., what Israel does is more a domestic issue than a national
security concern. After the Cold War, a U.S. alliance with Israel gets the
United States very little and merely antagonizes Middle Eastern oil producing
nations. Although the United States gives Israel billions in aid every year,
Israel is in the driver�s seat in the bilateral relationship because U.S.
politicians -- both Democratic and Republican -- feel they need the support of
the powerful Israeli lobby to get elected.
The moral claim that Israel is a small, embattled democracy
surrounded by Arab dictatorships is nullified by the fact that much of Israel
sits on land stolen by force of arms. Prior to the ethnic cleansing of Arabs
before and during Israel�s 1948 �war for independence,� Jews owned only 7
percent of the land in Palestine. After the ethnic cleansing, Jews possessed
more than 70 percent of that land. Thus, like much of the land that is now the
United States, even Israel proper was stolen from indigenous peoples and will
not be given back. Israel, contrary to the myth of the David among Goliaths,
has always been much stronger militarily than the Arabs and will not return
Israel proper. So the United States has focused on getting the Palestinians
some scrap of land that Israel might someday be willing to give up.
But why? On the one hand, the many U.S. presidential
administrations -- including that of Barack Obama -- have pressured Israel to
give the Palestinians land, and on the other hand -- with huge amounts of
military and economic aid and unflinching political support -- they have made
it less likely that Israel will do so. Albert Einstein said that doing the same
thing over and over again and expecting a different result is insanity. U.S.
policy is therefore insane. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not going to be
solved anytime soon and worrying about it deflects the Obama administration�s
attention from more important problems.
Likewise, Palestinians continue to hope and expect the
United States to pressure Israel to give them a state. But given U.S. domestic
politics, the U.S. government is incapable of being an honest broker and
therefore is unlikely to be of real help to the Palestinians.
Finally, massive U.S. aid and knee-jerk political support
for Israel merely helps the Israelis continue their dysfunctional policy. If
they would give up occupied land and settle the Palestinian issue, they could
have much better relations with all of their Arab neighbors. Everyone in the
region could get richer together.
Thus, U.S. policy toward Palestine is costly, a waste of
time, and of no help to the real interests of the Palestinian or Israeli
people. The United States should follow the physician�s motto of �do no harm�
and withdraw from the field.
Eland is Director of the Center
on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant
Editor of The
Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa
State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in
national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director
of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at
the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and
intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the
House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the
Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books, The Empire
Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting
�Defense� Back into U.S. Defense Policy.