We Won’t Make Israel Make Peace

After John Kerry’s efforts to broker a ceasefire in the Gaza war crashed and burned, Zack Beauchamp asks why the $3 billion in aid we give Israel every year doesn’t seem to buy us any leverage:

Talk to Middle East analysts, and you get a clear sense that the US really could box Israel in a corner if it wanted to. “In theory, of course the US has enormous leverage over Israel,” says Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group. But in “the very unlikely event” that “the US were to threaten the very alliance with Israel,” he says, it’d put immense pressure on an Israeli Prime Minister to bend.

Clearly, the United States doesn’t want to do that. But it has successfully pressured Israel before. For instance, the Bush administration forced Israel to back off an arms deal with China in 2005 by threatening to cut off military cooperation on certain projects. The US refused to give Israeli aircraft friend-or-foe codes during the Gulf War, effectively keeping Israel out. It refused to give American support for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear program, which amounted to vetoing it.

So it’s not that the US can’t ever push Israel. It’s that American policymakers aren’t willing to threaten the foundations of the US-Israeli relationship — aid, diplomatic support, and the like — over a ceasefire in Gaza or even a final status peace agreement.

Drum, on the other hand, is skeptical that the US could do anything to make peace between parties whose objectives are fundamentally incompatible. As long as that’s the case, he argues, we should just stop trying:

Quite famously, we all “know” what a deal between Israel and the Palestinians needs to look like. It’s obvious. Everyone says so. The only wee obstacle is that neither side is willing to accept this obvious deal. They just aren’t. The problem isn’t agreeing on a line on a map, or a particular circumlocution in a particular document. The problem is much simpler than that, so simple that sophisticated people are embarrassed to say it outright: Two groups of people want the same piece of land. Both of them feel they have a right to it. Both of them are, for the time being, willing to fight for it. Neither is inclined to give up anything for a peace that neither side believes in.

That’s it. That’s all there is. All the myriad details don’t matter. Someday that may change, and when it does the United States may have a constructive role to play in brokering a peace deal. But that day is nowhere in the near future.

I can see Kevin’s grim point. But as long as we are financing and subsidizing Israel’s wars, we are not neutral. Only if we cut off our aid can we afford the luxury of viewing the entire conflict as irresolvable. Everything else is complicity.