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Yes: Should the United States provide military and financial support to the state of Israel?

| Monday, September 8, 2014

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a special Viewpoint Debate which asks the question, “Should the United States provide military and financial support to the state of Israel?” To read the column that answers “no” to this question, read Billy McMahon’s accompanying article.

As we headed back to campus in August, the conflict in Gaza had already taken over 1,400 lives. The recent violence has showcased the need for policy changes in the region to the entire world.

As the largest player on the world stage, the United States has been attempting to influence the politics of Israel since its founding in 1948. The reasons for the U.S. support of Israel are widely understood – it is one of the only true democracies in the Middle East, and Israel and the U.S. share many of the same foreign policy goals. With this in mind, military trade has always been a key part of U.S.-Israel relations, as Israel has fought multiple wars against its neighbors, some of which have called for the destruction of the entire country.

Today, Israel has lasting treaties with those neighbors. Now, the fighting is almost exclusively with the Palestinian people. The most recent conflict comes at a time when the U.S. and the United Nations are both calling for a peaceful transition to a two-state solution, where Palestinians could have autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank. Complicating matters are the internal politics of Palestine itself.

The US recognizes the Palestinian Authority (PA), a secular, peace-oriented organization that is attempting to work with Israel toward a resolution. In 2006, however, Hamas swept elections in the Gaza Strip – the U.S. recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization. The weapons the United States sells to Israel right now are supposed to protect the Israeli people – mainly from rocket attacks that have marked offensive action by Hamas in the past.

Of the many lives lost since fighting began, the vast majority of them have been Palestinian citizens. Israel continues to blockade the Gaza strip, even with eased restriction calming some international criticism. 

In the U.S., the White House and State Department have condemned Israeli military actions over the last two months, but military-to-military arms trades, even those of offensively-capable missiles, have continued as normal.

Just as recent Israeli military action has received criticism, so has U.S. support of Israel. 

As Israel receives more and more criticism from the international community – as well as from a growing population within the United States – does the U.S. continue to benefit from supporting the Israeli military? I argue that these gains still exist, but they are seriously at risk.

The United States has continuously advocated for democracy around the world, and for the past 66 years, Israel has been part of the advancement of democracy. In order to support the existence of Israel and the dream of democracy in the Middle East, America committed special resources and knowledge to Israel’s military. 

Now though, Israel is seen as the aggressor and no longer the beleaguered nation in the midst of enemies. The death of Palestinian civilians by the hundreds is a black mark on Israel and on the hopes of democracy in the region. A system where U.S. officials condemn Israeli actions in public, but military-to-military deals still take place behind the scenes is not sustainable.

The key to balancing U.S. support of democracy with condemnation of certain military actions is through tighter control of the arms trade with Israel. If the Obama administration hopes to exert any influence on its ally, the exchange of offensive military weapons must be used as the bartering tool. Every time civilians are killed in Israeli operations, more people are driven into the arms of Hamas, and away from the peace-seeking establishment of the Palestinian Authority. This is the process the U.S. and Israel must work to stop.

The threat of Hamas and others in the region dictates the continued sale of weapons to Israel. This continuous process opens an important avenue of negotiation for the U.S. to influence Israeli action in Palestine. The United States can retain a special relationship with Israel, and Israel can maintain its regional military supremacy. De-escalating violence will have the opposite affect that aggressive military action has – it will move Palestinians away from Hamas again, and toward a peaceful resolution within a two-state solution.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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