The Middle East has long been a hotbed for political unrest and instability. The complexities of the many conflicts have had observers and analysts scrambling for solutions to the many problems that affect the region. Despite the high stakes, many have looked for easy resolutions to the issues. Unfortunately, it’s hard to assess the state of affairs with just a cursory analysis of the most recent headlines. In order to get a full understanding of the region’s issues and dynamics, one must engage in serious study of history, precedent and context.
Last week, TKS published a column that placed blame for the lack of progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement squarely on Israel. Specifically, the article, which was titled “Israel: Our strongest Middle East ally?” suggested that the United States should cut aid and support for Israel because of its recent announcement of plans to build homes in East Jerusalem. While Israel’s settlement policies engender strong opposition among Palestinians, many Americans and many Israelis, it seems naive to pin the failure to achieve a two-state solution on this policy alone. Is Israel’s settlement building really the only impediment to peace? Or does it also have to do with the fact that of over 50 percent of the Palestinian Authority’s legislature is made up of Hamas members, whose charter explicitly calls for Israel’s annihilation and the murder of Jews?
Keeping the bigger picture in mind is vital to understanding and discussing issues pertaining to international relations. While a popular belief may be that the Obama administration offers its support to Israel out of sympathy for the Jewish nation or because of a fear of losing American votes during elections, a fact that many fail to realize and/or note is that Israel is the United States’ best option in the historically unstable region. Those who suggest that Israel is not a reliable ally for the U.S. in the region would be well-advised to consider which country might serve as a better ally. Look around the region, read the headlines: Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, to name just a few, all could hardly be considered better partners in the pursuit of stability, democracy and American values. Cutting U.S. foreign aid to the one democracy in the Middle East might make a few idealists feel good for a moment, but world politics cannot be ruled by such naivet.
Israel should be held accountable for its actions, but critics of current settlement construction announcements or other specific actions of the Netanyahu government might be more credible if they seemed interested in holding other parties equally accountable for theirs. Simply stating that Israel’s pronouncements make it unsuitable for the status of ally does little to advance U.S. interests. Serious observers understand how complex these issues are (look for a moment at the competing forces in the Syrian civil war, or the outcome of Egypt’s recent forays into democracy).
As serious students and informed, politically-invested citizens, we must strive to understand that nations forge alliances based on fundamental underlying shared values, as well as a realistic view of the big picture. It’s inevitable that allied nations won’t agree with each other on every issue; it’s also inevitable that well-intentioned people will base their assumptions off of a single event. In order to foster a concerned community that’s politically aware, we must prioritize the flash points that we choose to focus on. For example, the Islamic State continues to rage war upon the western world and really anyone else who stands in their way. Additionally, the Syrian Civil War claims more and more lives every day. So why is Israel’s decision to continue building settlements in East Jerusalem the issue we choose to focus on? Is it really the most egregious current event going on in the world, let alone in the Middle East?
Quite appropriately, in his article, “Israel: Our Strongest Middle East Ally?” Payton Rose writes that “Unfortunately, international relations are not so easy to direct and predict.” He’s spot-on in making this claim, and it’s because of this fact that we must learn to view politics as more complex and layered than we give them credit for. It’s therefore vitally important that we continue to discuss all global issues in a thoughtful and balanced manner.