America is not an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Throughout the varied and violent history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, American reporters have consistently characterized the US’s involvement by way of a kind of national superhero: he is…the Honest Broker!

Who is this Honest Broker, you ask? A real stand-up fella, that’s who! The Honest Broker is a measured, impartial mediator — simply helping the Israelis and the Palestinians get along, and very much dedicated to facilitating a swift, and efficient peace-process!

Back in March, The Honest Broker hit the headlines again, as a supposed confrontation between the U.S. and Israel reared its head. The source of the beef? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “walk back” from his pre-reelection support of a two-state solution, which President Obama claimed was “unacceptable.” Esteemed outlets like The Atlantic, POLITICO and the New York Times wasted no time in penning articles chastising Bibi, while lauding the Obama Administration for rhetorically sticking it to the hypocritical politician.

The Honest Broker saves the day!

The only problem with The Honest Broker is that he’s a work of total fiction. The national media’s peddling of this absurd nationalist caricature horribly misrepresents our actual relationship to the conflict. In truth, the U.S. is probably the biggest force blocking the peace-process, not facilitating it:

America: An “Honest Broker” for Peace?  

Actions speak louder than words — or so we’re told. There’s no doubt that, in terms of rhetoric, the Obama Administration has been incredibly supportive of a two-state solution. On March 14th, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Obama was “committed” to the creation of a sovereign Palestine. As quoted by the International Business Times:

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The position of the United States with respect to our long-expressed hope, [among] the Republicans and the Democrats alike [and] many presidents of the last 50 years or more, has always been for peace, and President Obama remains committed to a two-state solution.

While this sentiment was nothing new — past speeches made by Presidents Clinton and Bush, along with Obama, show concerted harmony on the issue — it was interesting given how little it reflected policy decisions.

For instance, approximately three months before Kerry said this, he was instrumental in the U.S.’s rejection of a proposal from the UN security council to recognize Palestine as its own state along the 1967 borders. The resolution would’ve ended Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and set a three-year timeline to establish a sovereign Palestinian state. At the time, in late December of 2014, the U.S. threatened it would veto any resolution with “unilateral moves.” These “moves” were described as any language that might indicate:

  • Setting a timeframe for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank
  • Recognizing Palestine as a member state of the UN

This is not new behavior for the Obama administration. The president personally made a bid to block a two-state solution in 2011, and has — as a matter of general principle — perpetually sought to undermine the legitimacy of Palestinian nationhood. A report from CommonDreams on the veto record of Susan Rice gives a pretty clear account of the U.S.’s role in the peace process since early in Barrie’s presidency:

In December 2009, the U.N. General Assembly passed 18 resolutions on “The Question of Palestine” which, among other things: reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people over their natural resources, including land and water; reaffirmed the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and their independent State of Palestine; reaffirmed that the Fourth Geneva Convention is applicable to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem; and reaffirmed that Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and economic and social development. The United States under President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Ambassador Rice, voted against each of these resolutions. Overall, Obama, Clinton, and Rice, by voting with Israel, voted against 16 of 18 General Assembly resolutions in 2009, which were otherwise approved by an overwhelming majority of U.N. member states.

Since then, things haven’t changed much. In 2014, the U.S. voted against and/or abstained from action in 14 UN resolutions to give general assistance to Palestinian refugees, and to assist in the remedying of the human rights nightmare occurring in the occupied territories. The majority of the International Assembly urged the U.S. to aid in the fallout from:

…the conflict in and around the Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, and the civilian casualties caused, including the killing and injury of thousands of Palestinian civilians, including children, women and the elderly, as well as the widespread destruction of or damage to thousands of homes and civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, water, sanitation and electricity networks, economic, industrial and agricultural properties, public institutions, religious sites…

Despite these pleas from over 160 countries, and despite the fact that 2014 was the most deadly year for Palestinians since 1967, the U.S. abstained from or voted against draft resolutions to send aid to Palestinian refugees, to decolonize the Syrian Golan and to allow displaced Palestinians to return to their homes.

Of course, in case you’re looking to blame this all on President Obama, it’s important to acknowledge that his position is not unique. Our efforts to undermine Palestine date back to the 1970s when our relations with Israel became especially friendly. If actions truly speak louder than words, then the U.S. has been pretty loud (albeit not at press conferences or in televised speeches) about what it actually wants. The full list of security council vetoes that the U.S. has cast over the decades is staggering for its consistency, the aim of which is simple: no two-state solution.

Unofficial U.S. Policy: Protecting Israel, Unconditionally

By contrast, the degree to which the U.S has supported Israel is truly mind blowing. We are, in many ways, solely responsible for its continued existence in the Middle East, in that we subsidize massive sectors of their tech industry, their infrastructure and economy; we bolster their population with immigration programs, and we are pretty much the only country that defends their breach of international law. We also quietly ignore Israel’s unofficial nuclear program.

Yet the most striking expression of our unbridled enthusiasm is the U.S.’s massive subsidization of Israeli defense systems. Analyst Jeremy Sharp reported that “U.S. military aid” over the decades has effectively turned Israel into a military state, and that we have “helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the world.” This massive financial assistance program is part of the U.S.’s agenda of giving Israel a “qualitative military edge” (QME) over “neighboring militaries.” QME is a concept unique to Israel, into which untold funding and legislation has gone. Some of this legislation and funding includes:

  • A mandate obligating the U.S. President to conduct an “empirical and qualitative assessment” of Israel’s QME, and to report the findings to the Israeli government every four years.
  • Laws prohibiting U.S. arms contractors to sell to any countries in the Middle East that may “adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge.” If you consider how absurdly powerful the U.S. arms industry is, this is a huge deal.
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies for various Israeli defense programs: these include state of the art anti-rocket systems like the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and the Arrow programs; a number of F-35 Joint Striker Fighters; batteries for homing Hawk and Patriot missiles; X-Band radar to detect airborne attacks; and much, much more.

Out of all of these subsidies, however, nothing is more symbolic of the U.S.’s unconditional support for Israel than the fact that Arabs are literally being killed with American bullets. Not only does the U.S. subsidize Israel’s defense systems, but it stockpiles $1.2 billion worth of its own military equipment in Israel for emergency use, and for Israel’s use in times of war. As Israel is perpetually in a state of war, it uses this equipment. A lot. During Israel’s 2006 conflict with Lebanon, for instance, it was American tanks, missile launchers and machine guns that were used in a conflict that left thousands of Lebanese civilians wounded and dead. The use of American firepower had to be, and was, specifically authorized by the United States.

Benjamin Netanyahu and John Boehner, via Creative Commons

Benjamin Netanyahu and John Boehner, via Creative Commons

This bolstering of Israeli military might is foreseeably endless. In 2007, the Bush administration agreed to sponsor “a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package for the 10-year period from FY2009 to FY2018” to Israel. Since then, we’ve shown no signs of slowing down. Obama agreed to continue Bush’s aid package, and his proposed aid to Israel for 2015 reportedly dwarfs all other foreign military funding (FMF) worldwide, accounting for a little over half of the U.S.’s total FMF for the year. As Sharp reported, “Annual FMF grants to Israel represent 23% to 25% of the overall Israeli defense budget,” making the U.S. the indispensable sponsor of Israel’s militant initiatives. Furthermore, this is just the the most recent stage of a subsidization process going back decades — one that makes Israel:

…the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the United States has provided Israel $121 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance. Almost all U.S. bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance, although in the past Israel also received significant economic assistance.

What We Get Out of It

That’s a lot of dough, and the U.S. doesn’t give away billions of dollars out of the goodness of its heart. We always want something in return. Benefits of our military assistance may seem obscure at first, but some consideration of the mutual goals of Israel and the U.S. provide answers. What do we get?

  • Geo-strategic Positioning. This is the big one. In a region of timeless political/economic significance, the U.S.’s relationship with Israel gives us an ally in one of the most important places in the world. Because of our unconditional support for them, we expect Israel to act as a client-state for U.S. interests and, more importantly, as an implicit threat to other Middle Eastern countries. Our relationship is a means of asserting regional dominance.
  • Israel/Iran via Shutterstock.

    Israel/Iran via Shutterstock.

    Mutually Assured Production. Our interest in the arms trade makes us natural partners. The U.S. is almost solely responsible for the creation of the Israeli arms industry, and has since the 1980s worked hard to make it rank “as one of the top 10 suppliers of arms worldwide.” This has conveniently opened the door to collusive trade partnerships between U.S. and Israeli contractors. Many of these deals also bear political value. Back in 2013, a 10 billion dollar arms sale to Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) helped put pressure on Iran, which has been a longtime target of the U.S. for containment.

  • It’s always nice to have a friend. Aside from defense, many steps have been taken to strengthen ties between Israeli and U.S. corporate, scientific and academic communities. Add to this the rampant collusion between U.S. government officials and Israeli support groups like AIPAC, and you have yourself a true bromance — a perfect melding of financial and geopolitical interests.

Funding Palestine, Very Conditionally

It should be noted that the U.S. funds Palestine too. Since the 90s, we have given about 5 billion dollars of aid to the Palestinians. But don’t let that fool you: Our contributions to the Palestinian Authority (PA) bear a drastically different purpose than those given to Israel, and are subject “to a host of vetting and oversight requirements and legislative restrictions.” Some of the qualifiers to Palestine receiving aid are:

  • The aid to the PA must not go toward Palestine’s defense capabilities
  • The PA must not allow co-governance with Hamas
  • The PA must not make a bid for UN member status

If the U.S. is serious in its commitment to establishing a viable Palestinian state, then these conditions for aid make zero sense. They undercut basic tenets of statehood: secure territory, defense and membership in the international community. On the whole, the U.S. has shown a total disinterest in allowing Palestinians the freedom to self-defense and democratic self-determiniation.

In particular, the threat of an “armed” Palestinian state is immensely disconcerting to U.S. officials. So desperate has our government been to thwart any Palestinian administration with the capacity for self-defense that in 2007 the Bush administration went as far as to attempt a coup against the democratically elected Hamas-backed government in hopes of driving the country into an implosive civil war. The attempt failed, speaking both to the resilience of the Palestinian people and to the enduring goal of the U.S. to undermine and destroy their sovereignty.

Another profoundly consistent agenda of the U.S. has been to deny Palestine a voice in the international community. The right of UN member status, though pursued by Palestine for many years, and overwhelmingly supported by the International Assembly, has been kept from realization by the power of the U.S. security council veto. After many years of obstruction by the U.S., the PA recently switched tactics, and sought the status of “Non-Member Observer” — a position that would allow them to appeal to other international coalitions like the International Criminal Court (ICC) for support in their conflict with Israel. Though overwhelmingly supported by the international community, the U.S., again, deeply opposed the bid, and Congress threatened to cut PA funding if the status was pursued.

The continual refrain heard from the U.S. as rationalization for this perpetual process of subversion is that to do otherwise would “threaten the peace process.” A footnote in Jim Zanotti’s Palestinian financing report, however, gives a more apt description of what the U.S. might feel “threatened” by:

One possible reason that some Members of Congress have shown reluctance to continue funding the PA in light of Palestinian initiatives within the U.N. system is a possible perception of these Palestinian initiatives as an attempt to undermine the U.S. role as “honest broker” and guarantor of the peace process.

The next few lines of the footnote seems to clarify the broader implications of this “perception” [emphasis added]:

U.S. lawmakers and officials also may view Palestinian action in international fora as a sign that U.S. attempts to use aid for political leverage with the Palestinians are unproductive. However, in testimony offered to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, on May 8, 2014, Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies said, in addressing the possible consequences of a U.S. aid cutoff to the Palestinians, “You know, if we zero out Palestinian funding, then here is the big problem. You are going to have someone else come in and they are going to be worse. More than likely, you are going to see the Saudis, the Iranians, the Qataris, the Turks. They are all going to come in and they are not even going to hold the Palestinians to account at all. The important thing from my perspective, if we are going to keep the funding going, we need to make sure that we have tighter controls. We need to demand performance. And, in my opinion, we have just simply failed to do so.

Reading through the political euphemism here, it is clear that what U.S. politicians fear most is not the breakdown of peace negotiations, but that their work as The Honest Broker will be usurped. The U.S. aids Palestine, yes, but this aid isn’t meant to facilitate the peace process; it’s meant to control it. By vetoing resolutions of international aid, American politicians keep their power to broker and direct policy to the Palestinian Authority. By denying that this assistance go towards armed resistance, the U.S. bolsters Israel’s QME, and takes steps towards establishing a defense-vetted neighbor, whose territory is largely regulated and controlled by Israeli militia.

Where does this all leave legend of The Honest Broker? Firmly in BS-land, unfortunately. It would appear that, far from being the impartial mediator of a swift peace process, the U.S.’s real role is imperialist grand planner. Not only are we the single biggest impediment to the UN’s attempts to remedy the Palestinian situation, but we are using our self-created relationship with Israel to direct events in the Middle East to our advantage. Geostrategically, Israel is the U.S.’s greatest proxy: it’s our window to the Orient and our muscle in the Middle East. It provides a strong platform from which to direct operations in regions of great economic consequence; and, in this sense, our desire to craft a castrated and ineffectual Palestinian neighbor to our subsidy-laden warhorse Israel is — while morally bankrupt — a pretty slick move.


Lucas Ropek is a journalist based in Massachusetts. He worked for the Working Families Party in NYC on issues of income inequality and worker rights. His interests include U.S. foreign policy, pop-culture, and freedom fries.

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