By Aly Zaman
December 20, 2017
If there has been one constant in the volatile international relations of the Middle East over the past seven decades, it has been America’s unflagging commitment to the prosperity, security and survival of the state of Israel. The very creation of the state in 1948 owed much to the critical support provided by then US president Harry Truman to the Zionist project of creating a separate homeland for the Jews in Palestine.
Since then, the Israel-US relationship has been a nexus without parallel in world politics. It is a patron-client state relationship of a unique sort. Normally, such relationships are formed on the basis of certain shared interests, usually involving a strong security component, in which the dominant power extends its patronage to the weaker power in exchange for services rendered to it by the latter. We Pakistanis are no strangers to such a relationship ourselves, having seen our country functioning as an American client state at various periods in our history. Owing to the power differential between the two sides, it is invariably the case that the patron largely calls the shots in its relationship with the client.
The Israel-US relationship is singular in the sense that the patron has consistently been willing to subordinate its own interests to those of its client. Barring a few minor blips such as US opposition to the joint French-British-Israeli invasion of Egypt during the Suez War of 1956 and the more recent differences of opinion regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran during the Obama administration, the US has been unwavering in its support of Israel, even on issues where virtually the whole of the rest of the world was in opposition to it.
According to the Washington report on Middle East Affairs, between 1972 and 2011, the US cast its veto in the UN Security Council a total of 39 times to protect Israel from draft resolutions that condemned, deplored, denounced, demanded, affirmed, endorsed, called on and urged Israel to obey the world body. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since the WWII. According to the Congressional Research Service — the research bureau of the US Congress — America has provided Israel $127.4 billion in bilateral assistance since 1948, the bulk of it being military aid.
American largesse has been instrumental in building up Israel’s unrivalled military power in the Middle East. All presidential administrations since Truman have, to varying degrees, played their part in transforming the Israeli military into one of the strongest and most technologically advanced in the world. Notwithstanding his poor personal chemistry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the pointed disagreement between the two men over the Iran nuclear deal, even president Obama was careful not to veer too far off the script when it came to the overall bilateral relationship. Just before he exited the White House, he signed a fresh, 10-year military assistance deal with Israel worth $38 billion, the largest agreement of its kind in American history.
The only fig leaf of independence demonstrated by the US towards Israel since 1967 — the year in which Israel occupied the West Bank, including Arab East Jerusalem — was in adhering to Security Council resolutions calling for an end to the unlawful occupation of Palestinian land and the termination of all equally illegal Israeli settlements on that land, currently numbering some 130 residential complexes housing 400,000 Israeli settlers. Upon annexing East Jerusalem, whose population at the time was 100% Palestinian, Israel had declared the entire city to be the “eternal and indivisible” capital of Israel. But no other country, including the US, has recognised the Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem. The overwhelming international consensus on the issue has been that the city’s final status could only be determined through negotiations.
The US was a part of that international consensus. Until now, that is.
The US was hardly ever an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine dispute but President Donald Trump’s decision last week to formally recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has removed even that wafer thin veneer of impartiality that previous American administrations tried to maintain. The move has put the US at odds not only with the international community in general but also with some of its closest allies. Even Britain, traditionally a reliable American lackey, has voiced its opposition. America’s isolation on the issue was apparent in the UN Security Council where it vetoed a resolution demanding that the Trump administration withdraw its decision regarding Jerusalem. The remaining 14 members all voted in favour of the resolution.
For Trump, recognition of Jerusalem is merely the fulfilment of a promise made during his election campaign. Yet, other promises made by Trump remain unfulfilled. What became of the promise to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office? Or to build a wall with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it? This particular promise has been fulfilled because it plays to Trump’s deeply conservative base of electoral support, which includes many evangelical Christians passionately committed to Israel. Moreover, it runs in no danger of being opposed by Congress, the vast majority of whose members — irrespective of party affiliation — render habitual obeisance to Israel.
Recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is, for Trump, nothing more than a “recognition of reality.” But this is a ‘reality’ that has dawned on Trump and his supporters alone. For much of the rest of the world, and particularly for the Arab and Muslim world, the reality is that Jerusalem — at the very least its eastern part — is the rightful capital of a future Palestinian state. America’s volte face on Jerusalem should be a clarion call for the Arab countries to put their incessant mutual squabbling to one side and come together for the greater good of the long-suffering people of Palestine.
If history is any guide, however, largely impotent verbal condemnations issued from the inconsequential pulpits of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation will be the extent of the Arab and Muslim countries’ response to what is a collective slap in the face. But history does show other, more heartening pointers, such as the indefatigable spirit of the Palestinians, who have valiantly endured and resisted a brutal occupying power for decades. That resistance will continue, no matter what Trump says or does to further strengthen America’s unholy alliance with Israel in the Holy Land. And that, Mr President, is a reality that will long outlive not only this infamous decision but also the remainder of your already farcical presidency.