Alana Barrington Dye: The Role of the US in the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Currently, the largest obstacle to a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is the intervention of the United States. According to James L. Gelvin, the United States holds “‘99 percent of the cards’ in the region.”[1] As “the world’s only superpower,”[2] the United States could hypothetically be in a position to broker peace in the region, but this is not the case. Rather than acting as an impartial third party working with the United Nations to reach a peace settlement, the US, for a number of confusing and often paradoxical reasons, has continued to support Israel throughout this conflict. The financial and political support of Israel by the United States has only worsened the situation between Israel and Palestine, increasing the radicalism of the region and debilitating any efforts to reach peace.

The United States gives a huge amount of financial support to Israel every year. In their article “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt state: “In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year.”[3] This means that every year, the US gives the state of Israel $500 for every Israeli citizen, with which the state can do whatever it wants, because, “Israel is the only recipient [of US foreign aid] that does not have to account for how the aid is spent.”[4] To make the situation even more ridiculous, the money that Israel receives is one fifth of all US foreign aid,[5] even though, as Mearsheimer and Walt make clear, “Israel is now a wealthy industrial state,”[6] implying that Israel actually has very little need for these funds.

The United States supports Israel in more ways than just financially. Throughout the decades-long conflict, US policy makers have politically supported Israel. Stephen Zunes points to the Bush administration in its clearly biased treatment of the situation, saying that the administration’s “demands included an end of attacks on civilians in Israel while not demanding that Israel likewise end its attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.”[7] The Bush administration also actively “pressured the Canadians, Europeans and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority.”[8] However, it is not only the Bush administration that worked in international spheres to politically attack the Palestinians. Mearsheimer and Walt point out that “Since 1982, the United States has vetoed 32 United Nations Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members.”[9] The United States is supporting Israel in this conflict in an unprecedented manner that, largely because of the international standing of the US, is unlike any other alliance in the world, and it has repercussions.

The United States is jeopardizing its own security, and the security of others, with its single-minded support for Israel as well as its efforts to spread democracy. These factors have turned many Arabs and Muslims against the United States.[10] Since the early 1990s, actions taken by Israel and the United States have led to an increase in radicalism in the region. Zunes states: “at the time of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, polls showed that Hamas had the support of only 15 percent of the Palestinian community.”[11] What changed was the increased colonization of the West Bank. In light of a complete lack of accountability, thanks in large part to the Clinton administration, the people who were exiled from their homes “became heroes and martyrs, and the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians grew enormously—and so did its political strength.”[12] This situation is actually beneficial for Israel and pro-Israel groups that do not want a two state solution because it is easier to reject negotiations if the other side appears too radical. As Zunes states, “M.J. Rosenberg of the Israel Policy Center observed, ‘the fact is that Israeli (and American) right-wingers are rooting for the Palestinian extremists’ since ‘supplanting…Fatah with Islamic fundamentalists would prevent a situation under which Israel would be forced to negotiate with moderates.’”[13] The US has gone much father to avoid negotiations with moderates than simply rooting for extremists. Zunes believes that the US plays a huge role “in making it possible for Hamas to come to power in Gaza in the first place,” pointing to moments throughout the past couple decades when the United States has actively fought resolutions that could lead to peace.[14] In 2007, Hamas showed “an unprecedented willingness to engage with Israel, accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and negotiate a long-term cease-fire with Israel,” which might very well have led to a two state solution and peace, but this offer of negotiation was rejected by both Israel and the United States.[15] This rejection is a clear statement that, for some reason, peace in this region is not the goal of Israel and the United States.

The unconditional support of Israel on the part of the United States is very clear. Mearsheimer and Walt go so far as to assert: “the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians.”[16] This act of enabling keeps the United States from putting any pressure on Israel to negotiate for peace. The extreme financial and political support that the US lends Israel makes Israel spoiled as a state. If the situation does not change in the next couple of decades, Israel will continue to expand the area classified as the “occupied territories” and may have even less reason to work towards a two state solution. The American unconditional support of Israel worsens the chances of negotiating peace,[17] and without American pressure on Israel, it is very unlikely that peace will be negotiated.[18]

The first step towards reaching a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine is for the United States to end its unconditional support of Israel. Ending the unconditional support would force Israel to engage with Palestine on a more equal playing field. An equal playing field would hopefully allow Israel to realize the importance of peace agreements. The removal of the United States from the situation would hopefully stall the radicalization of the region as well before neither side is willing to negotiate peace. The first step in reaching peace, therefore, is to somehow remove the United States from the situation.




Works Cited

Gelvin, James L. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Mahallati, M. Jafar. “The Politics of War.” Religion and Politics in the Modern Muslim World, Oberlin, Ohio. November 16, 2016.

——-. “Prospects for Solutions.” Religion and Politics in the Modern Muslim World, Oberlin, Ohio. November 18, 2016.

Mearsheimer, John J. and Stephen M. Walt. “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.” Faculty Research Working Papers Series, Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, March 2006.

Zunes, Stephen. “America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rose to Power.” Foreign Policy. Last modified January 2, 2009. Accessed November 17, 2016.



[1] Gelvin, The Modern Middle East, 275.

[2] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” 39.

[3] Ibid, 2.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5] Mahallati, “Prospects for Solutions,” 11/18.

[6] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” 2.

[7] Zunes, “America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rise to Power.”

[8] Ibid.

[9] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” 3.

[10] Mahallati, “Prospects for Solutions,” 11/18.

[11] Zunes, “America’s Hidden Role in Hamas’s Rise to Power.”

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” 40.

[17] Mahallati, “The Politics of War,” 11/16.

[18] Mearsheimer and Walt, “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” 40.