By the end of the 20th century Israel had received nearly $100 billion in military and civilian aid from the US. This staggering figure dwarfed the sums the US gave to other client states.
It confirmed that there must indeed be a very special relationship between the US and Israel. But what is it?
A widely held view blames the pressure of the “Jewish lobby” in the US.
A recent variation of this sees the Jewish neo-conservatives - with their roots in Israel’s fanatical right wing Likud Party - at the heart of the Bush administration as the driving force behind the US-Israel alliance.
One version even claims that whereas the US used to direct Israeli policy in the Middle East, now Israel directs US policy.
This perspective misunderstands how Washington’s policy in the Middle East is dictated by US, not Israeli, strategic needs.
As Noam Chomsky explained in his bestselling book on US/Israeli/ Palestinian relations, The Fateful Triangle, this was the region which, according to a US State Department analysis in 1945, contained “one of the greatest material prizes in world history” - oil.
Israel could play its part in helping encase the region in a military structure which would protect Western oil supplies.
Former US president Ronald Reagan summed it up. The US needed a “strategic asset” in the area. He said:
“With a combat experienced military, Israel is a force in the Middle East that actually is a benefit to us. If there were not Israel with that force, we’d have to supply our own, so this isn’t just altruism on our part.”
It is interesting that it has often been US Republican presidents like Reagan rather than Democrats who have hardened the alliance with Israel.
This is despite the fact that it is the Democrats who have traditionally attracted the big majority of Jewish votes, as well as Jewish campaign fund contributions. And they still do to this day.
US Republican president Richard Nixon used to boast that he didn’t need the so called “Jewish lobby”.
Yet it was Nixon who cemented the alliance with Israel at the beginning of the 1970s. He showered it with billions of dollars of military hardware.
The US’s rulers, especially oil company executives - nearly all of them “WASPs” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) - not Jews, were ecstatic when Israel defeated Nasser, Egypt’s famous Arab nationalist ruler, in 1967.
Nasser was the greatest threat to US military, political and economic control of the region. And Israel had knocked him out.
Nixon’s need of Israel was part of the doctrine he forged as a response to the US defeat in Vietnam.
From now on, US interests in dangerous parts of the world would be protected by proxies - locally-based regional powers.
Nixon became the first US president to endorse comprehensively Israel’s perception of itself as “watchdog” of the Western powers.
This had nothing to do with Jewish pressures in the US. In fact, according to his hatchet man, Henry Kissinger, Nixon took it for granted that Jews were politically hostile to him. Kissinger wrote:
“The president was convinced that most leaders of the Jewish community had opposed him throughout his political career.
“The small percentage of Jews who voted for him, he would joke, had to be so crazy that they would probably stick with him even if he turned on Israel.
“He delighted in telling associates and visitors that the ‘Jewish lobby’ had no effect on him.”
The political scientist Abramo Organski has made a careful study of the whole argument about the “Jewish lobby”. He focused on the majority of US Senators and Congressmen who are in no way indebted to Jewish support.
He discovered that they support Israel in the same way as those politicians who might have been influenced by Jewish votes or campaign contributions. What mattered to them was Israel’s behavior in the region. They saw a bargain.
Unlike aid to many other countries, Organski wrote, “economic aid does at least some good for Israel’s people, while military aid does a lot of good for America’s technological and power image”.
He titled his study The 36 Billion Dollar Bargain. US politicians see an aid package to Israel, in the fashionable jargon of neo-liberalism, that’s both value for money and good for the US.
But what about the hardline Jewish neo-conservatives in the Bush administration? Certainly their influence matters, but a false contrast is drawn between Bush’s Israel policy and that of Clinton and the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Bush and the neo-cons have deviated far less from Clinton than is commonly realised.
Clinton wanted the Palestinians to police their own repressed, mean little statelet on Israel’s behalf. At the same time Clinton was just as ready as Bush to let Israel go on building settlements on the West Bank.
This strategy blew apart with the second intifada, which erupted four years ago.
Bush’s “road map” attempted to put that strategy back together again, but failed because even the most moderate Palestinian leaders could not deliver their people’s acquiescence.
In the shadow of the “war on terror” Bush and the neo-cons worry less about the bloody open wound that has resulted. But Clinton is just as responsible as them.
The US press gratuitously celebrated how Oslo represented a humiliation for Yasser Arafat and the PLO.
Typically, Thomas Friedman, veteran commentator for the New York Times, described Arafat’s letter to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin recognising Israel as “not simply a statement of recognition.
“It is a letter of surrender, a typewritten white flag in which the PLO chairman renounced every political position on Israel he has held since the PLO’s foundation in 1964.”
Israeli journalist Danny Rubenstein had all too accurately predicted what the “autonomy” that the US and Israel were ready to accept for the Palestinians really meant.
It was the autonomy “of a prisoner of war camp, where the prisoners are autonomous to cook their meals without interference and to organise cultural events.”
Within just a few months of the Oslo agreement the Israeli press was reporting “secret government plans to extend the integration of Greater Jerusalem virtually to Jericho, with vast construction projects, plans for tourist sites along the northern shore of the Dead Sea, some $700 million of investment in new roads to connect settlements with Israel, bypassing Palestinian villages and towns”.
Oslo also consolidated Israel’s theft of Palestine’s water.
One of Israel’s leading water specialists, Professor Haim Gvitzman (who is also a consultant for the US defence department), insisted Oslo safeguard 500 million out of the 600 million cubic metres of water stolen annually from “Judaea and Samaria”, the words he used to describe the West Bank
Clinton also used Oslo to drop US rhetoric about the right of return of the Palestinian refugees, expelled by Israel in 1948.
The refugee question was shelved by Oslo until so called final status talks.
The offer of talks on refugees was a figleaf to try and undermine 50 years of United Nations policy on the matter.
Clinton reversed longstanding US support for UN Resolution 194 of 11 December 1948, which affirms the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
For the first time the US joined Israel in opposing the resolution, which was reaffirmed by a vote of 127 to two in the UN general assembly.
Resolution 194 was a direct application of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously by the United Nations the day before the resolution was passed.
Article 13 states, “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”
Clinton’s argument was that, following Oslo, past resolutions were “obsolete and anachronistic”, because the “peace process” would achieve mutual agreement over the refugees.
No wonder the second intifada erupted. US calumny was exposed for all to see long before George Bush appeared on the scene.
John Rose’s The Myths of Zionism (Pluto, £14.99) has just been published. He is also the author of Israel: The Hijack State (Bookmarks, £2).
He is speaking at the ESF with Jamal M Juma from the Stop the Wall campaign in Palestine on The Myths of Zionism Today, Sunday 17 October, at 10am in the Palms Court, fourth floor, University of London Union, Malet Street, WC1 (Euston Square and Tottenham Court Road tubes). Workshop organised by Bookmarks and Pluto Press.