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The Coming Crisis in Israeli-American Relations
George W. Ball, currently a senior managing director of the firm of Lehman Brothers Kuhn Loeb in New York, was Under Secretary of State from 1961 to 1966 and Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1968. He is the author of The Discipline of Power and Diplomacy for a Crowded World.See more by this author
A veteran of Middle East negotiations recently said to me: "Trying to help Israel find the way to peace is like pushing a bicycle out of the path of an approaching train while the boy riding it frantically back-pedals."
The metaphor reflects the dangers of the current situation but does not explain them. A major contributing cause is the excessively ingrown and convoluted relations between Israel and the United States. Over the last 30 years these relations have evolved to the point where Israel is more dependent on the United States than ever, and yet feels itself free to take hard-line positions at variance with American views without fear of anything worse than verbal admonition from Washington. The result is to encourage Israeli positions and actions that cannot be in the long-term interest of Israel itself, and to deprive the United States in practice of freedom of diplomatic action on issues that deeply affect its national interest.
The state of the relationship between the two countries has been uneasy for some years. It is now approaching a crisis state, and unless American-Israeli relations are radically redefined-either in a closer or looser direction-the search for an Arab-Israeli peace will be completely thwarted and the interests of both nations increasingly jeopardized.
How did we get into the present situation of "dependence without responsibility"? What can we learn from the past? And, above all, what is the American national interest in the present situation, and how can our support of Israel, and our relationship with Israel, be brought into line with that national interest?
To those familiar only with the period since 1967, it may come as a surprise that for nearly 20 years the relations between Israel and the United States were far from being as intricately intertwined as they have become since. Until 1956, America treated Israel not much differently from other friendly states. The rapid decision to recognize Israel in 1948, 11 minutes after Israel had proclaimed statehood, had been made by President Truman against the judgment of others in his government, and when, in Israel's first war, the Arabs promptly attacked the new state, the United States used United Nations machinery to bring about separate armistice agreements between Israel and the four belligerent Arab states, in 1949.