ANALYSIS - Who will stop Israel?
While unclear how long ceasefire will last, only real solution -however long-term it may be- seems to be rise of a regional state capable of counterbalancing US and Israel
- The writer is a lecturer at Ibn Haldun University’s Department of Political Science and International Relations and a researcher at the SETA Foundation’s Society and Culture Directorate
Israel’s disproportionate attacks on Palestinians have finally ended with a ceasefire between the two sides.
Based on past experience, it is difficult to predict if the ceasefire would endure or whether Israel’s assaults will resume soon.
We have yet to witness a new and serious development (such as the emergence of a power capable of balancing Israel) that would put an end to Israel’s aggressive and expansionist policies.
For now, the Palestinian people and the international community seem to be relying on the involvement of the United States.
However, in the aftermath of the conflicts, the only thing that stuck in people’s minds was the US’s biased, insensitive, and inert policies at the administrative level as the international system’s leader and superpower.
The United States has once again failed to live up to justice standards, demonstrating that it is incapable of being a true leader.
Leading figures of the US administration have tried to dismiss Israel’s disproportionate use of force against civilians in the most absurd manner possible, claiming that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
They half-heartedly called on the “sides” to reduce the conflicts, as if there were two equal sides fighting and Israel was not displacing Palestinians unlawfully.
Given the Biden administration’s lofty foreign policy goals of “getting the US back in the game” and “establishing a multilateral and fair international order”, this callous indifference has come as a huge letdown.
Naturally, many people across the globe have begun to question both the global leadership status of the US (in fact, it has been widely speculated for some time that China will soon dethrone the US) and its “special” relations with Israel.
The lobby element
In international politics, it is common for states to enter into alliances, with stronger states providing military, diplomatic and economic support to weaker states in exchange for subordination.
What is uncommon is for countries to maintain their alliance relations indefinitely without defining particular conditions, such as compliance with human rights or the fulfillment of specific commitments.
In international politics, states have interests, not permanent friendships.
The military and economic relations between the US and Israel, to a large extent, lack this normality, which is essential to international politics.
Having supported Israel since its establishment in 1948 by the invasion of Palestinian lands, the US began sending $3 billion in annual economic aid to Israel in the 1970s and provided all sorts of military support.
With an agreement struck in 2016 towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, the amount of economic aid was boosted to $3.8 billion per year.
Obama, himself a liberal, was compelled to sign this agreement despite his political dislike for Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Experts often attribute the special relations between the US and Israel to the dominance of the Jewish lobby in domestic politics.
(In this regard, our readers might find The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, published in 2007 by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer --both leading international relations experts in the United States--, as a useful reference.)
The most prominent actor in this context is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which was founded in the early 1950s and now has over 50,000 members.
AIPAC plays a major role in the shaping of US foreign policy towards the Middle East.
It exerts significant pressure on members of the US Congress by using its vast financial and human resources.
In order to hold onto their seats and not become politically ostracized, members of the Congress do their best to not clash with the Israel lobby by avoiding any criticism of Israel, even when their own principles and interests are at stake.
It is well known in Washington that even the slightest criticism of Israel is met with accusations of anti-Semitism and will most likely cost the person in question their political career.
The Jewish lobby is not alone in establishing and projecting such clout.
The most powerful allies of the lobby are Evangelical Christian organizations.
Due to their religious convictions, Evangelical Christians, whose influence grows especially during Republican presidents’ terms, attach great importance to the establishment of the “Great” Jewish state, i.e., the Zionist ideology.
They believe that in order for Jesus Christ to return to Earth and bring the end of the world, the Jews must establish a state that encompasses all lands promised by God, as stated in the Bible.
For this reason, a significant portion of Evangelical Christians view all kinds of acts of violence that Israel commits as part of its expansionist policies and put pressure on politicians to support Israel.
During Donald Trump’s term, despite all warnings, Evangelical Christians had significant influence on the adoption of certain radical decisions, such as unilaterally recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
It should also not be forgotten that Former Vice President Mike Pence was (and continues to be) a member of this group.
Although the impact of these lobbies on the US political system is amplified by the absence or weakness of Muslim or liberal human rights activists to balance them, a number of recent positive developments should not be overlooked.
It has been observed in the past few years that a number of groups, especially in Democratic Party circles, have openly reacted to Israel’s acts of violence against Palestinian civilians.
These groups argue that ties with Israel must be conditional on Israel abandoning its expansionist policies, refraining from using violence against civilians and from human rights breaches.
Democratic Party member Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian US representative, and Ilhan Omar, another Muslim US representative, have been consistently making these points within the party.
Bernie Sanders, a Jewish and left-populist Vermont senator who ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in the 2016 and 2020 US presidential elections, has likewise harshly criticized Israel’s aggression and illegal actions against Palestinian civilians.
As a result, we may argue that the Palestinians’ views are being heard more and more, although they are still marginalized.
According to a recent poll taken by the Washington DC-based Gallup research company, 25% of the Democratic Party voters (about 18-19% in 2018) are more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis.
Similarly, the majority of Democratic Party voters (53%) believe that the US should put pressure on Israel to resolve the conflicts. This figure was around 40% in 2018.
There is another factor that makes it difficult to weaken the social support for Israel, despite all the violent incidents.
Following the end of the Cold War, the US conservative elite, known as “neo-cons”, declared Islam and Muslims to be their new enemies in foreign policy and adopted a policy of associating them with terrorism. Following the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, this policy reverberated across American society and took root.
The US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. While thousands of civilian Muslims were killed in these invasions, the US also suffered heavy military losses.
These losses, as well as anti-Islamic rhetoric and publications, which percolated even the mainstream media, caused Islamophobia to rise in American society.
In the US, this was followed by verbal and physical attacks on Muslims in public spaces.
The Muslims living in the country were subjected to unlawful surveillance and arrests by security forces.
The perception that the US society and policy makers have of the Palestinian issue has been negatively affected over the last 20 years, which has been overshadowed by rising Islamophobia.
As a result, it became very easy for the Israeli and Jewish lobby to sway the American public in their favor.
In addition to American domestic politics, we should also mention the structural grounds for the existence of a special and long-term alliance between the US and Israel.
For example, Because of Israel’s massive influence in the worldwide media, intellectual circles, and financial circles on a global scale, even the tiniest hint of criticism of Israel is suppressed and labeled as anti-Semitism.
Therefore, this pro-Israeli crooked order, which keeps the international community under overwhelming pressure, makes it impossible for any pressure to be put on the US for reconsidering its relations with Israel.
If the Jewish lobby’s influence was limited to American domestic politics alone, and the international community had a more democratic and fairer climate, the international community could be able to exert pressure on the US.
Role of strategy
Another structural factor in the Middle East is the United States’ strategic need for Israel-and, of course, Israel’s need for the United States.
Although this interdependence does not contribute as much to their relations’ being defined as special and although it is the only element that renders their relationship rational in terms of international politics, it is one that we must certainly not ignore.
The US is a superpower that has established its hegemony in its own region (the American continent) and it has been trying to maintain it.
In other parts of the world, the US plays the role of a counter-hegemonic, status-quoist power.
As a counter-hegemonic status-quoist power, the US makes efforts to prevent the formation of new regional hegemonies by pursuing an offshore balancing policy.
China and Russia, for example, are hegemonic states in their own regions.
The US failed to prevent these two states from becoming regional hegemons despite all the measures it took.
In the Middle East, however, the US has achieved its goal to a large extent.
It has succeeded in preventing the attempts of Egypt and Iran to become regional hegemons with their pan-Arabist and pan-Islamist ideologies in the 1950-60s and the 1980s, respectively.
During these years, the primary ally of the United States was, again, Israel (and the status-quoist powers with authoritarian regimes that tagged behind Israel).
In terms of its expansionist policies and goal of “Greater Israel” in the region, Israel sees regional hegemony attempts as extremely threatening as well.
Israel requires a power vacuum in the region in order to carry out its revisionist policies and maintain its expansionism.
The goal of keeping the region as composed of fragmented and hostile states brings the US and Israel closer together and creates a strategic ground for a strong alliance relationship.
To the structural factors, we must also add the absence of a power in the international system that would balance the US and so prevent it from making arbitrary decisions in the Middle East.
Had there been another global power acting as the protector of the Palestinians, it would be more difficult for Israel to pursue policies that trample the norms of international politics and law to this degree.
The power that would balance the US and Israel in the Middle East could emerge from inside the region, as well as outside.
At this point, we should also touch upon the disorderly state of the Islamic world and the dependency relationship that many authoritarian regimes in the region have with Israel.
The fact that Islamic world is fragmented and does not have an institutional structure enables many to perpetrate acts of violence against Muslims without minding the consequences.
Muslims are seen as easy prey. And this is not limited to Palestinians; Muslim blood being spilled and the atrocities faced in East Turkestan and Myanmar also stem from the same reasons.
The absence of a state that is militarily and economically powerful enough to protect the rights of Muslims in the world and to act as a deterrent in that regard is a major problem.
The dependence of authoritarian regimes in the region on Israel takes the issue to a whole new level.
Some of these regimes see their own societies as elemental threats and ally with Israel against their own societies or against other Muslim states in order to maintain their political existence.
Balancing internal rivals with external forces is a balancing policy unique to authoritarian third-world states.
The solution: realpolitik
The conclusion that emerges from these discussions is that realpolitik solutions are necessary for the US to change course in its Middle Eastern policies and for Israel to halt its state terrorism.
Realpolitik solutions are based on the belief that international law, norms and institutions do not provide states and societies with perfect security guarantees.
Looking at what has been happening in the Palestinian lands for more than seventy years, we can safely argue that international law and norms do not apply to the privileged states of the international system, such as Israel.
Therefore, the right solution here is to not expect Israel to be restricted or punished by law, but rather to make sure that the power of Israel and its supporters is counterbalanced.
And, there are two ways to accomplish this; one is temporary, and the other is permanent.
The temporary solution would be to wait for other lobbies to emerge within the US to counterbalance the power of the Jewish lobby and its supporters.
As a result, Israel would lose a major supporter. However, in that case, there is no guarantee that Israel would not find another patron.
Another solution is to hope that a superpower from outside the region would take the lead in the international arena to defend the rights of Palestinians against Israel.
However, we unfortunately do not see Russia or China, which both have the power to do so, taking any action on this issue at this time, other than considering and exploiting the deaths of Palestinian civilians as an opportunity to hurt the US. Security in international politics is too vital an element to be left to the mercy of any one country.
Therefore, long-term solutions must be brought into the agenda without fail, however far-fetched they may appear presently.
The only permanent solution is for a large state to arise in the region with sufficient deterrence capacity to protect the rights of Muslims.
With any other arrangement, the security of neither Palestinians nor other Muslim peoples in the region would be truly guaranteed.
Translated from Turkish by Can Atalay
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