Let’s abandon the pretense of neutrality in U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to the complicated Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is far too much history between Israel and the United States for that to be plausible.
As a new administration begins implementing its priorities around this time next year, the new president will be under enormous pressure for the country to take a leadership role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Moreover, another intifada is widely seen as escalating as we speak, with long-held Palestinian grievances leading to violent clashes with Israeli security personnel and citizens, increasing the likelihood another attempt at peace will be front and center on the foreign policy agenda.
A constant struggle going back to the founding of Israel itself, addressing Palestinian territorial questions is not surprisingly generating headlines during the primaries and caucuses. The most notable example is Donald Trump, who in an exchange on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last month said, “Let me be sort of a neutral guy” regarding a potential role he may play in brokering a peace deal. For that, he was roundly criticized in subsequent campaign appearances by his leading opponents.
In a campaign season fueled more by emotion than facts, let’s start with the facts. Those sitting at the negotiating table will have an intuitive grasp that the United States has far more invested in Israel than the Palestinian territories. The amount America has invested in Israel is 25 times that compared to the Palestinians, the tangible effects of which helped the Jewish state develop the most sophisticated defense capabilities in the Middle East.
According to the Congressional Research Service, since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed approximately $5 billion in assistance to the Palestinians. On the other hand, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. Since then the United States has provided Israel nearly $125 billion.
Financial assistance to Israel is a bipartisan guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy since President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize the new nation in 1948. Reflecting back on the moment, Truman said, “I thought we were the conscience of the free world, and that’s the reason why I so promptly recognized the new state of Israel.” Today, Israel and the United States not only share a commitment to democracy, freedom and shared values, but rank near the top among the world’s strongest allies.
But the bond between Israel and the United States has its roots in the personal bond between the 33rd president and his former business partner — ties that began in the years before Truman entered the political scene. Eddie Jacobson, who was Jewish, developed a close friendship with Truman that lasted through his presidency. It was Jacobson who persuaded Truman to meet with Chaim Weizmann, a leader of the Zionist movement who would later become the first president of Israel.
That meeting was instrumental in establishing the State of Israel, as well as a unique cultural and political identity for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. What took place between Jacobson, Truman and Weizmann could also be characterized as the real “art of the deal,” not the book authored by Donald Trump about his real estate transactions.
Is this article an attempt to school the iconic businessman on the history of our two countries? Yes it is, although not in a disrespectful manner. Should Trump go on to win the GOP nomination and become president he will appreciate knowing what key players with years of experience on every side of the issue already know. In fairness, Trump also explained he is pro-Israel and his comments on neutrality are taken out of context. He went on to say a peace deal would be “probably the toughest agreement of any kind to make,” a smart move to set expectations should he become president.
A recent article in Politico shows how confusing it is whether indeed the United States is neutral or not — both inside the Beltway and on the campaign trail. The contradictory nature of U.S. involvement in Israeli and Palestinian talks is aptly captured in one sentence from the Washington-based media outlet:
“Neutrality has long been the official U.S. negotiating position in talks it has mediated between Israel and the Palestinians, though politicians in both parties — and particularly Republicans — typically emphasize Israeli security over Palestinian grievances.”
The next president can’t be pro-Israel and neutral at the same time. Diplomats and the politicians they answer to do not act as judge and jury in a court of law. Everyone has an agenda. A better way to proceed is for the United States to embrace its shared history with Israel, bring the parties together and negotiate accordingly. After all, it was Harry Truman who said, “The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.”
Frank Howard is a Republican candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 6th district.