Image: Cole Keister (Unsplash)
If historical trends are a guide to understanding past, present and likely future actions, then the United States (US) foreign-policy posture and decision patterns mirror common, mutual interests with Israel. Where the Middle East is concerned in general and the Palestinian cause in particular, Israel’s interests are all too often similar to the US default position. For years, the US has actively goaded a number of countries to normalise relations with Israel or at least assuage their opposition to Israel in various international forums. For its part, Israel continues to demand Arab normalisation whilst conceding little or negligibly in return. It is the intention of this article to assess the role of the US in co-opting other states to normalise relations with Israel and identify the US motivations for doing so. Furthermore, this article will identify Israel’s interests as well as the implications of normalising relations with Israel.
The end of the Cold War prompted several countries, if not all, to re-examine their relations, as well as refocus their priorities. After the second World War and the subsequent decline of Europe’s sway, the 1948 Marshall Plan also known as the European Recovery Program solidified US dominance in the West. Since then, maintaining closer ties with the US has remained Israel’s most critical objective. Similarly, the US sought to, and continues to, strengthen its influence in the Middle East through Israel. In the 1950s, the US mounted a major campaign known as the US Atoms for Peace, to increase interest in nuclear energy in several countries, amongst them Israel. In 1960, Israel officially publicised its nuclear program. Following this, the US provided Israel with weapons to maintain Israel’s security. This move by the US also served to safeguard its own security as the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East had become a reality. Since then, the US has pushed for the normalisation of relations with Israel and with other Middle Eastern states. The normalisation of Egypt-Israeli relations culminated, in 1979, with the signing of the US-sponsored Camp David Accords, upon the conclusion of the war between Egypt and Israel (and Syria). Egypt and Israel subsequently established diplomatic relations. To date, the only two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel are, Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The 1991 Madrid Conference and the 1993 Oslo Accords are but two instruments of US diplomacy employed to achieve its own objectives as well as those of Israel.
More recently, two other Arab nations have established formal relations with Israel. The US-brokered Abraham Accords Peace Agreement signed in September 2020, formalised the full normalisation of bilateral and diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel. In the same month, Bahrain and Israel formally declared their mutual peace and established formal diplomatic relations. The document signed by the leaders of the two countries stipulates their recognition and respect for each other’s sovereignty as well as bilateral cooperation, however it does not reference the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In light of this, the Palestinians have condemned the deals as betrayals by these two Arab states. The US bargaining model is problematic, as it involves coercive means to achieve US objectives. For years the Khartoum government of Sudan has attempted to have itself removed from the US government’s State Sponsors of Terrorism (SST) list. This list restricts Sudan and any other listed state, access to credits and debt relief from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank or any financial institution based in the US. The deal negotiated by US President Donald Trump is a costly bargain, which may jeopardise both, Arab unity and African unity. The deal insisted that Sudan pay 335 million US Dollars to compensate the families of US citizens killed in the Al-Qaeda bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Trump also demanded that Sudan normalise relations with Israel, something that up until this point, Sudan has been reluctant to do, due to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
It is necessary to probe the US interests in the Middle East as well as why and how they are being achieved with the enlistment of Israel. The US Middle East policy established with the Truman doctrine in 1951 serves as the basis of its strategic interest in the Middle East in terms of the energy resources of the region. The solidification of US policy in the Middle East occurred through the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957, which includes military and financial assistance. It was through this, that the US was able to forge long-lasting relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Since the 1950s, the US has sought to secure its interests in the Middle East by establishing relations with certain states in the region, like Israel and thereafter bolstering the military and economic strength of these states to protect its own interests in the region. It is also important to consider what Israel stands to gain from its relationship with the US and what other Arab states stand to gain from normalising relations with Israel. Perhaps, Israel seeks to maximise its legitimacy to act and expand its power beyond its borders, to the rest of the Middle East.
One must ask, why some Arab states are willing to normalise relations with Israel all the while, it continues to occupy Palestine? By establishing formal relations with Israel, these Arab states indirectly attain good standing with the US. Stated differently, a friend of Israel, is a friend of the US and thus, they stand to gain the same military and economic benefits Israel receives from the US. The most recent normalisation deals with Israel are a component of the Trump administration’s so-called “Middle East peace plan”. Indeed, some countries have refused to recognise or maintain formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Other countries have been less reluctant to publicise their relations with Israel, amongst them Oman whose Sultan met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018. The question remains, what does the growing Arab normalisation of Israeli relations mean for Palestine and Arab unity, in general?
The US Middle East Peace plan blatantly favours Israel and it dismisses as well as undermines the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. It is too soon to tell whether or not the Biden administration will further pursue the trend of normalising relations between Israel and other states. It is clear that the normalisation of relations between Israel and other states transcends the Trump administration. Thus, it may very well continue (spill-over) through the Biden administration. Indisputably, Israel is a part of the US grand strategy to protect US interests and security in the Middle East. The imposed normalisation of relations with Israel in the Arab world is a threat to Arab unity and a betrayal of the Palestinian cause. The coercively negotiated relations do not translate to genuine support for Israel. If US diplomacy continues to serve as an instrument of Israeli expansionism in the Middle East and to the detriment of Palestine and its people, peace will remain unattainable.
Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and a final year student at the University of Pretoria, currently completing a degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student. Tshegofatso is a permanent member of The Art of Politics writing staff.