I am currently in the middle of reading Avi Shalaim’s book, The Iron Wall – a (revisionist) history of Israel’s relations with the Arab world. Through independence in 1948 to the Suez War in 1956 there has been two major themes, the first is the seemingly constant battle within the Israeli government between proponents of ‘activism’ (military aggression) and ‘moderation’ (faith in international law and opinion) as well as the need felt by many Israeli politicians to find a strong ally in a world super power. Early in Israel’s existence, the US refused to bend to Israel as it does today. Quite to the contrary, American administrations were conscious of the Arab world and played a much more unbiased role in the moderation of the Arab-Israeli conflicts of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
[tweetmeme] Of course, this was explicit in the US reaction to the belligerence of Israel during the Suez War (the book goes into various secret agreements with the French and British displaying an expansionist goal of the Israeli government). It wasn’t terribly long ago that the United States was able to recognize, pressure and punish a belligerent Israel. Before and after the Suez War, there were numerous remarks, particularly from PM Ben-Gurion about the need to expand Israel’s borders through war as well as the need to topple the Nasser regime in Egypt. Indeed, one of the main objectives was to capture “Sharm el-Sheikh and a land link with it…but there was also a desire to retain the entire Sinai peninsula (page 184.)”:
The Eisenhower administration insisted on unconditional Israeli withdrawal [from the Sinai]. Privately [Israeli representative to the UN Abba] Eden was told that if Israel did not withdraw , all official aid from the U.S. government and private aid from American Jewry would be cut off and that the United States would not oppose the expulsion of Israel from the UN. These economic sanctions were threatened after the United States has already removed Israel’s – as well as Britain’s and France’s – protective shield against possible Soviet retaliations (page 181.)
Today the relations between the United States and Israel have completely changed. President Obama has, on numerous occasions, showed mere disappointment with PM Netanyahu and in return has been humiliated by Israeli decisions, rhetoric and actions. Long gone are the days when the US can issue credible threats to deter Israel. If Israel refused to stop colonizing the West Bank in 1956, John Foster Dulles and the other heavy-weights of the Eisenhower administration would display some muscle and force Netanyahu to extend the settlement freeze (if not more) and put an end to Israeli expansionism. Unfortunately, today the best that President Obama can muster is apparently an American guarantee of long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley (among other generous gifts) in exchange for two months of a partial freeze.
Can anyone see Eisenhower offering Israel 60% of the West Bank for 60 days of a partial, ineffective settlement freeze?
Photo from Absolute Astronomy