Problems with Current U.S. Policy.
* By ignoring the security ramifications of its Foreign Military Financing program, Washington is undermining both regional security and the overall personal security of most Israelis.
* U.S. military assistance to Israel fails to address the causes of conflict and subverts the peace process by both enabling and rewarding Israeli defiance of international law.
* With the FMF program, the United States is spending an enormous amount of diplomatic, political, and strategic capital on a policy that is bearing the opposite of its intended effects.
The violence that erupted last September highlights some important points about Israel's security. First, the challenge for Israel has not been to protect its existence but rather to restrain its considerable military might in order to avoid international criticism. Second, despite the heightened sense of vulnerability stirred by the Palestinian uprising, by attacks on Israeli settlers, and by Arab condemnation of Israel's policies, Israel's neighbors have not threatened Israeli territory. Finally, despite their country's clear advantage in the size and quality of its military arsenal, Israelis still do not feel secure on a personal, individual level.
This paradox of personal insecurity in the face of overpowering military strength stems from an important distinction within Israeli security that is not being addressed in Washington's FMF assistance program to Israel. There are two levels of Israeli security--the macro, or national, level and the micro, or personal, level. The state of Israel is extremely secure in this first sense. Since its declaration of statehood and overwhelming military victory in 1948, Israel has not been attacked within its internationally recognized borders. Peace agreements with Arab neighbors, cooperation with regional powers such as Turkey, and decades of U.S. military assistance have combined to create a secure Israel. At the same time, Israeli citizens continue to be the target of terrorist attacks and violent uprisings, inducing a sense of personal insecurity.
Billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance to Israel are spent each year addressing the wrong type of security. What's worse, FMF assistance has undermined personal security in Israel by diluting the incentives for seeking peace and by emboldening Israel to avoid making the concessions necessary for peace. Until the underlying causes of the conflict and the current uprising are addressed, Israelis will continue searching for the sense of personal security that eludes them today.
The current violence grows out of Palestinian frustrations with the peace process. During years of waiting for promised benefits, Palestinians have seen their standard of living steadily decline. Because of Israeli policies--including border controls, retention of Palestinian funds, and restrictions on trade, investment, and access to water resources--Palestinians face growing trade and budget deficits. The anger and despair that have ignited the recent violence stem from these policies and their effect on daily Palestinian life. Unemployment hovers at 50%, poverty rates have increased, health standards have deteriorated, and any sense of opportunity among Palestinian youth has faded. The longer these dire conditions persist, the more popular support extremist groups like Hamas enjoy and the less secure Israelis feel.
For years, the majority of Palestinians have viewed negotiated peace as the most reasonable means to achieve their aspirations for an independent state. Still, Palestinians blame the failure of the Oslo peace process on provocative Israeli policies, including the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the expansion of settlements, and the building of exclusive roads and security checkpoints to establish permanent control over Palestinian territory. Washington has thus far been unwilling to pressure Israel to curtail these illegal activities. This unwillingness, coupled with increased U.S. military aid, supports and enables Israel's violations of international law and leads many Palestinians to question the wisdom of pursuing a peace framed and sponsored by the United States. Many Palestinians see negotiation as empty promises and have begun seeking other means--some violent--of obtaining a homeland. As a result, a sense of insecurity grows within the Israeli population and is fostered by the very policies that the U.S. and Israel pursue in the name of promoting Israeli security.
In addition to weakening U.S. credibility as a neutral mediator, massive increases in military assistance to Israel undermine U.S. attempts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction in the region. This can be seen in a commendable--yet ultimately damaging--initiative in the early 1990s, when Jordan downsized its military and proposed linking further military cutbacks in the region to debt reduction. The U.S. resisted the suggestion and continued arms transfers to Israel at record levels. Following the 1994 peace deal between Jordan and Israel, Jordan's relative military weakness was cited by other Arab states as the major reason for its inability to extract more concessions from Israel. The lesson was clear: The American-Israeli military relationship makes unilateral disarmament in the Middle East fruitless, even counterproductive.
Washington has yet to recognize the hypocrisy of promoting an ever-stronger Israel while citing Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and its failure to adhere to UN resolutions--charges of which Israel is also guilty--as reasons for subjecting the Iraqi population to more than a decade of sanctions. In fact, states like Iran, Iraq, and Syria view the development and acquisition of chemical and biological weapons as a counterbalance to Israeli weapons acquisitions. They see in Israel an aggressive, expansionist power that has occupied a piece of every country it borders. Furthermore, Israel's refusal to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, its maintenance of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, its disregard for international law, and its emphasis on preemptive military strikes, mobile weaponry, and quick-strike capabilities all reinforce this sentiment in a region with a historical tendency to solve disputes through violence.
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|Publication:||Foreign Policy in Focus|
|Date:||Jun 11, 2001|
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