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ICG Risk Blog - [ November 22, 2004 ]

How the British problem of Palestine became the American problem of Israel

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I think that too many of today's US readers are captured in the still frames of the motion picture that defines 'news' without an ability to grasp the screenplay and make credible suggestions for endings. Having grown up with a younger generation that seemed to equate the Battle of Trafalgar with the Battle of Leyte Gulf, if either registered at all, I now find that many of my age peers can do no better. At times, I feel that I need a refresher myself.

Educated in architecture and urban design, Henry C K Liu seems an unlikely candidate to have thoughtful observations on international relations and economics, but I have found that to be the case. With Palestine still on my mind, I reflected on the fine history lessons Liu drew on Mess-O-Potamia and the Levant. As one of the few US nationals I know that had read the original UN transcripts debating the merits of the two choices for Palestine then before the UN, partition or a federal state, I was drawn to Liu's observations on Israel in A poisonous geopolitical jungle drawn from a January 1952 issue of Time Magazine:

The word 'American' no longer has a good sound in that part of the world. To catch the Jewish vote in the US, president Harry S Truman in 1946 demanded that the British admit 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine, in violation of British promises to the Arabs. Since then, the Arab nations surrounding Israel have regarded that state as a US creation, and the US, therefore, as an enemy. The Israeli-Arab war created nearly a million Arab refugees, who have been huddled for three years in wretched camps. These refugees, for whom neither the US nor Israel would assume the slightest responsibility, keep alive the hatred of US perfidy. No enmity for the Arabs, no selfish national design motivated the clumsy US support of Israel. The American crime was not to help the Jews, but to help them at the expense of the Arabs. Today, the Arab world fears and expects a further Israeli expansion. The Arabs are well aware that Alben Barkley, vice president of the US, tours his country making speeches for the half-billion-dollar Israeli bond issue, the largest ever offered to the US public. Nobody, they note bitterly, is raising that kind of money for them.

Time was prescient in its warning that "winning the hearts and minds of the Arabs away from communism was made hopelessly difficult by US policy on Israel." Still, Arabs forget that the US forced the Tripartite forces of the UK, France, and Israel to withdraw from Egypt after it had nationalized the Suez Canal (but offered to pay reparations, which it did). This 1956 war over Suez laid the groundwork for the 1967 Six-Day War "due to a lack of a peace settlement" following the 56 war in which Egypt won political victory even as it suffered a military defeat.

We forget that Hawks deposed Doves in 1950s Israel:

[Moshe] Sharett, albeit an ardent Zionist, attempted to develop policies based on constructive engagement, rather than belligerence and dehumanization, with neighboring Arab states. Sharett believed that Israel could have a special role to play in the developing nations of the world, including the Arab countries. Sharett was among the few in the Middle East who recognized that terror and counter-terror between Palestinians and Israelis would lead to an endless cycle of violence, which if not controlled by enlightened political leadership, would become a way of life that would eventually destroy both peoples. His political and diplomatic wisdom was always portrayed by the Israeli mainstream as "weak and cowardly". By contrast, Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky's "Iron Wall" doctrine of Zionism that sought to expel the Arabs of Palestine by force has dominated the Israeli political scene to this day.

"As Time saw it, communism was producing a dual effect. It fanned anti-imperialism in the colonies while it created pressure in the West to placate Third World nationalism to keep it from going communist." The 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine that opposed international communism by providing military assistance to MidEast countries, including the employment of US forces was a gift to Israel:

Israel saw anti-communism in the Middle East as God's gift to the new Jewish nation on Arab land and became a fervent supporter of the Eisenhower Doctrine, with wholesale marginalization of the Israeli left and moderates in Israeli politics. Instead of moving in the direction of the Switzerland model, as a neutral oasis in a sea of rising Arabic nationalism against "divide and rule" imperialism, contributing to the development of the region for the benefit of all, Israel presented itself as an outpost of European imperialism and US neo-imperialism, setting itself up as a hostile garrison state in a region where Jews are outnumbered by 50 to one.

With regards to the Osirak attack, Liu noted the IAEA's concern that Israel "had damaged attempts by the international community, with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to control the nuclear genie which had been let out of the bottle in 1945 by the US":

The Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor infuriated the Iraqis. They had followed international rules openly and accepted international inspections, and yet were bombed by a country which allowed no inspections of its own nuclear plants. [Richard] Wilson reported that Iraqi fast-track for bomb development began in July 1981, after the Israeli bombing. The preemptive strike seemed to have had the opposite effect to that intended. Worse still, Israeli and US intelligence deluded themselves into thinking that once bombed, the threat of Iraqi bomb-making was over. The Iraqi bomb program became generally known in 1991, and a number of experts wrote about it in the Israeli journal New Outlook. The general consensus was that the Israel had no justification in bombing Osirak.  Iraq, the rogue regime, swallowed the attack stoically. Yet the incident radicalized Iraqi politics.

Liu's series is worth the read on Iraq as well.

A poisonous geopolitical jungle
By Henry C K Liu
Asia Times
Sept 15, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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