Apr 072010
Authors: The Harvard Crimson Staff

When the Israeli government announced new East Jerusalem settlements during Vice-President Biden’s visit, it seemed at first to be just another political misstep. But as weeks have passed, and with a chilly Israeli state visit to the White House, tensions have grown rather than decreased.

We oppose the original construction of the settlements and believe this incident provides an important opportunity for the United States to consider its relationship with Israel. It is time for the U.S. to reexamine its alliance with the country based on its national security and geopolitical realities.

To do so, the U.S. should create diplomatic distance between the two nations. The country should also make the degree of aid it provides to Israel contingent on Israel’s pursuit of the peace process. President Obama’s recent actions demonstrate that he is dedicated to the same careful reevaluation, and we applaud him in that regard.

It is important to remember that the geopolitical universe has changed dramatically since our alliance began. When the U.S. began its support of Israel, it was a newborn, tiny state. Today, it has grown into an economic powerhouse with numerous technological advancements to its credit.

Likewise, in the wars of ’67 and ’73, Israel demonstrated conclusively its ability to defend itself and strike outward, even against much larger coalitions. When Israel declared independence, the primary U.S. concern was a comprehensive oil embargo by the Arab states, supported by the Soviet Union.

Given the modern relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and the collapse of the U.S.S.R., such concerns seem outdated. Furthermore, while Israel shares certain key U.S. values, the imperialism and racial overtones of its settlement programs do not fit within our nation’s ideals (although America has been prone to similar failings in the past).

Finally, and most worrisome, Israel’s continued policy toward the West Bank and Gaza Strip is undemocratic and unconscionable. Israel has committed atrocities in its military actions, admittedly, in response to other atrocities.

On the other hand, there are compelling reasons to maintain the alliance into the future. Israel’s growth into a military and economic power makes it less dependent on American aid, but a more valuable ally. Likewise, Israel remains the most democratic nation in the Middle East, and is far more committed to women’s rights, gay rights and other civil liberties than its neighbors.

Finally, the common history of aid shared by the U.S. and Israel cannot be disregarded. A similarly valuable alliance could not appear overnight.

America should keep these considerations in mind as it moves forward in its relationship with Israel and the other nations of the Middle East. But it also needs to remember a more abstract set of important principles. In general, it is prudent not to consider alliances permanent, but to reassess them regularly.

While the U.S. is a far greater presence on the world stage than our founders envisioned, there is still wisdom in George Washington’s admonition to “steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” In a similar vein, it is important to remember that alliances need not be mutually exclusive. A period of partial disengagement from Israel might provide an opportunity to foster our relationships with its neighbors.

Vice-President Biden’s comment that “the United States will hold both sides accountable for any statements or actions that inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks” is a good start. But for such statements to be credible, they must be coupled with real action. If Israel undermines the peace process, it should face cuts in aid. If and when it gets back on the right track, the aid should be restored.

The U.S. has spent a great deal of time pursuing the peace process while providing constant aid to Israel. We feel it is time for a new approach, one that holds Israel accountable for its missteps with more than harsh words and rewards it for its progress with more than verbal praise.

We wish to emphasize that America should distance itself from Israel not as a statement of hostility, or a repudiation of the latter’s legitimate security concerns. Instead, America should distance itself if its closeness to Israel is impeding national security interests and working counter to the two-state solution.

We have confidence that the U.S. and Israel can resolve their differences and their difficulties, pursue peace, and remain friendly for decades to come. But, right now, it is time for a little room.

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