The major question to be asked regarding US-Israel relations is: What does Israel want? If this question is not answered meaningfully, everyone will continue to remain at a loss.
Israel wants the West Bank in order to be what it thinks is a viable country. This is clear. It wants its land, arable agriculture and water resources. It needs the West Bank to continue its ingathering of Jews around the world, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated so eloquently in Paris on Jan. 11, in order to escape from anti-Semitic attacks and policies.
Israel is a country of 8.3 million people, of which 6.3 million are Jews and 1.7 million are Palestinians. Israel now controls 60 percent (Area C) of the West Bank; few Palestinians are left in this area. Israel is also the dominant security force in the remaining 40 percent. There are an estimated 2.3-2.5 million Palestinians in the 2,200-square-mile West Bank.
There are an estimated 700,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank, some 300,000 in the annexed areas of East Jerusalem and another 300,000 in the areas between the 1949 Armistice lines and the separation wall. There are about 100,000 Jewish settlers living east of the wall.
The March 3 election in Israel was won convincingly by right-wing zealous nationalists and religious parties. It is important to note that in addition to the 67 elected parliament members belonging to such parties, perhaps another 30-35 members identify with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies of expansion into the West Bank.
It is also clear that the US has little ability to curtail, let alone stop, further Jewish expansion into the West Bank. The US will complain and threaten certain actions to the UN or the International Criminal Court (ICC). All of these will be to no avail, certainly not during the remainder of President Barack Obama’s term.
It is a propitious moment in the history of the Middle East and for Israel to seize the opportunities offered to complete the annexation of the West Bank. The states of Iraq and Syria are destroyed, Lebanon is completely fragmented and Jordan is under the national security umbrellas of the US and Israel.
The big problem for Israel is: What to do with the 2.3- 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank? Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi) Party, who was economy minister in the pre-March 3 government, has advocated that that the Palestinians in areas A and B not be given citizenship but be allowed to have some kind of management of their local affairs such as schools, garage removal, etc.
Israel has three possibilities to deal with West Bank Palestinians: (1) contain them in “security zones” within areas without citizenship; (2) implore the world community and the UN to supply them with food, much like the UN does for the 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza; or (3) compel them to flee or migrate to other countries in order to live. If Palestinians were compelled to flee to nearby countries such as Jordan or Lebanon, international relief agencies there could be relied upon to provide life-giving sustenance.
It seems that Israel thinks if all, or some, of the above occur, it would be able to “manage” the remaining population much as it manages the Palestinians population in Israel through varied inclusive practices such as democracy, voting rights, forming political parties and employment in sectors not reserved for Jews. But all of these would occur with the limitation that they belong to and recognize that they live in a Jewish State.
As one respected scholar and diplomat recently observed, none of the above actions would directly affect the major objectives of US polices in the region which are: to secure the region’s oil and gas at reasonable prices; to traverse the region at will; to retain air and naval bases; ensure that no country or groups of countries challenge US power; and allow US companies and their affiliates to do business without discrimination.
It would, however, confront Middle East states with many challenges. Israel’s expansion and annexation of the West Bank causes turmoil, disaffection and hatred among peoples of the Middle East but this too seems manageable given the cultural, religious, political, economic and defense relations between the US and Israel.
What the latest developments between the US and Israel show is what prominent diplomat Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., the former US ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia, called “enablement and moral hazard”: “Enablement occurs when one party to a relationship indulges or supports and thereby enables another party’s dysfunctional behavior. Moral hazard is the condition that obtains when one party is emboldened to take risks it would not otherwise take because it knows another party will shoulder the consequences and bear the cost of failure.”
The American people should be informed of the costs of shouldering the consequences of Israel’s aggressive behavior toward Palestinians, the complicity of members of Congress and the US government in such aggressive policies.
The moral hazard is high.
Robert Olson is a Middle East analyst based in Lexington, Kentucky.
This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading Turkish daily. Click here to go to the original.