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United States officials approach their Middle East policies from a pragmatic and realistic perspective which forcefully promotes the goal of a stable Middle East. In pursuit of this stability, U.S. foreign policy has therefore been based upon four cornerstones: the preservation of a continued flow of large quantities of cheap Gulf oil; the protection of the State of Israel; the containment of Communism as introduced by foreign powers (the Soviet Union in past years); and the curbing of movements potentially threatening stability, especially Islamic fundamentalism and (historically) radical leftist ideology.
Such are the premises underlying all U.S. policies in the Middle East.
Also, it is no secret that U.S. foreign policy and its national interests are determined by domestic political parameters. To understand this modus operandi, it is important to note that in the post-Cold War era, there is a lack of rationalism and of clear-cut consensus in formulating U.S. foreign policies. These policies are domestic objective derivatives, based on the democratic nature of the American political system, which is a pluralistic society with strong minority influence. In this set-up, pressure groups and lobbyists are pivotal in affecting the decision-making process, which in turn becomes selective and responsive to the needs of the former. Within this context, the American Jewish community plays a seminal role in defining American national interests; the rationale behind this is that the American Jewish community is very involved politically, and most generous in terms of contributions to political campaigns, be it on the local, state or national levels.
Furthermore, charitable organizations are most prominent in the American Jewish community and their voting behavior, with 90-percent participation in elections, is among the highest of all the minority groups.
The domestic Jewish influence on larger national interest gives U.S. foreign policy the image of being inextricably connected with pro-Jewish forces. Let us look at these four.

The Politics of Oil

Almost 40 percent of the world's oil is located in areas under the rule of Arab states. This figure acquires disproportionate importance when one considers two other factors: that much of the remainder of the world's oil resources are inaccessible, and that the growing world economy is increasingly becoming more dependent upon foreign oil, rather than searching for viable alternative energy sources.
The sheikdoms of the Arabian Gulf, where much of the oil is located, suffer from several severe problems. The existence of two powerful regimes in the Gulf (Le., Iraq and Iran) poses threats to the leadership of the sheikdoms which seek out military help from larger powers and, in this case, from the United States. The relationship plays itself out with the United States ensuring the survival of authoritarian regimes, with it receiving cheap oil and selling them expensive military equipment. Needless to say, many of these regimes suffer from lack of popularity with their populace. The general disclaimer put out by these governments is the danger from Iran or Iraq; however, this usually tends to hide the fact that some of these regimes have very little legitimacy and are only the heirs of colonialist monarchical systems.

The Protection of Israel

Ever since the creation of Israel, the United States has supported it to the generous extent of $140 billion. Such a staggering figure is disproportionately larger than that received by any other u.s. ally. Analysis of this unwavering support has often tended to spark conspiratorial theories of pro-Israeli/Jewish influence in Washington. Although this influence is considerable and is in no way to be disregarded (as we shall see later), one must not overlook the important strategic role Israel plays for the United States. Due to Israel's strategic location at the doorway to Asia, strong U.s.-Israeli relations ensure safe passage through the Suez Canal, including the dozens of oil tankers that pass through it daily. Such a situation also means that America can ensure the continuation of the status quo - a status quo which is in its economic and military interest."

The Containment of Communism

Particularly during the Cold War period, the United States fought desperately to maintain control over the region. Their dominance was threatened most especially during the rule in Egypt of Gamal Abdel Nasser from 1954-1970, who at times would flagrantly turn away from the West and seek support in arms from the Soviet Union. With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the United States was able to impose unthreatened hegemony in the region, a privilege never before seen in world history. Such domination of the incredible resources of the Gulf in many ways means the United States can do what it wants. This results in an American arrogance and a readiness to destroy all possible threats to its hegemony. Iraq, through its invasion of Kuwait, was the first victim in 1990-1991, and it looks like it will be the next one if America assesses it as a continued threat. The message seems to be this: "Woe to the country that attempts to stand in our way." In making an example of Saddam Hussein, U.S. interests in the region are well served for a long time to come.

Curbing Islamic Fundamentalism and Radical Leftist Ideology

The United States was caught off guard and greatly embarrassed by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, and the prolonged hostage crisis that ensued. The U.S. government, after losing such a powerful and wealthy ally, swore never again to be so unprepared. The strategy formulated since then (in the case of Islamic fundamentalism) takes the form of an impressive propagandist campaign, seeking to portray Islam as the "new communism," the next great threat to disrupt world order. The mullahs and imams who are said to preach that doctrine, fit well into a stereotypical image which Western audiences, largely ignorant of Islam, believe unquestioningly. Vehement anti¬Western sentiments, combined with military capacity, support this image. In portraying Islam as irrationally passionate, the United States seeks to justify its containment policy of Iran and its support for the virtual liquidation of Hamas, which exists in opposition to the U.S.-brokered Arab-Israeli peace process.

United States Middle East Policy and the Peace Process

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has never been the same since the historic handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn in September 1993. Arafat's calculations in coming to the table were the following: lacking the financial backing of the oil states after the disaster of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Arafat thought he could rely upon the goodwill of Yitzhak Rabin and the evenhanded shepherding of the
Clinton Administration to gain a mutual acceptance of the "Land for peace" concept. This strategy had been circulating around the region since Israel occupied territories from Egypt, Syria and Jordan after the Six-Day War of 1967.
Unfortunately, for reasons which are not entirely his own fault, Arafat's calculations came to nothing, as the current morass indicates. Because the Oslo Accords in substance agreed to very little (basically to negotiate real issues of the conflict later on), the peace process is basically stuck, while Israel is creating facts through its settlement policy, bypass roads and the cantonization of the West Bank.
Perhaps most devastating of Arafat's miscalculations was his assumption that the United States, as co-signer of Oslo, would at least pretend to be an honest broker. Unfortunately, nothing has been further from the truth. Even with the abusive Netanyahu (whom, I might mention, President Clinton does not like), American policy with respect to Israel has not changed, remaining unwavering in providing military, financial and moral support. Arafat was able to accept the Oslo Accords because he knew they were based upon United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, essentially calling for "Land for peace." Yet, Israel has ignored this underlying tenet of the Oslo Accords and Big Brother, the United States, has turned a blind eye to Israel's failure to implement U.N. resolutions.
Since the signing of Oslo, Israel has expropriated more land for settlement building than during any other time in history. Over 50 percent of the West Bank and 35 percent of Gaza are now reserved for settlements, leaving the Palestinian Authority in charge of a• meager 3 percent. While this massive expropriation continues to take place, the United States remains silent. Instead, we now hear Netanyahu talk of the need for Palestinians to lower their expectations, as though there was never an agreement signed between the PLO and the Israeli government. Israel, quite simply, wants both the land and the peace - a situation Palestinians cannot tolerate or accept. Yet, every time a U.N. resolution condemning Israel comes up, it is vetoed by the United States, sparing Israel the international condemnation it deserves. America has used its veto at the United Nations over 60 different times in the protection of Israel, more than all other vetoes for other states combined. Former Israeli foreign minister, David Levy, before he resigned, called on Palestinians to "refrain from attempts to transfer the disputes and the negotiations onto the world stage." The Americans echoed this with their own complaint calling for "Palestinians to stop running to the U.N."
Yet, the United Nations and the international arena seem the only place where the Palestinians have any power. Many people in the West forget, or simply do not know, that Israeli practices in the occupied territories are illegal, according to international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Furthermore, the United Nations resolutions call upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, stop its settlement policy and permit the return of the Palestinian refugees who were the victims of the Zionist conquest in 1948, and many of whom still live in refugee camps with no certain future, nor any government to protect their rights.

The Peace Process, the Palestinians and the Future

Idealists hope that the remains of Oslo might be salvaged if a certain accountability were enforced upon the parties. But that is exactly what the process lacks. In contrast to its original aims of building trust which will develop a momentum for peace, the peace process has destroyed Palestinian hopes. Today, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza is worse in all aspects of life than it was when Oslo was signed. Palestinian annual income is less than half its figure for 1993, a consequence of the severe closure and collective punishment imposed by Israel. On top of destroying the already weak Palestinian economy, the closure has had other disastrous effects. Palestinians are not free to move in areas both inside Israel and throughout the West Bank (creating new Bantustans), limiting economic opportunities and access to family members, etc. People are not allowed to go to hospitals or get the medical treatment they need. East Jerusalem suffers economically, as well as culturally, as it is gradually cut off from the West Bank and annexed to Israel. If it were not for the European Union funding the economic "resuscitation" of Palestinian areas, the Palestinian economy would quite simply collapse.
Is there then any hope that things will change, that the United States will put its foot down and demand Israel to stop its settlement policy, abide by the Oslo Accords and not in any way prejudice or prejudge the final-status negotiations? However moving this demand (from Palestinians as well as moderate Israelis), the cry has gone unheeded. The major and final indication that things would not change was Netanyahu's and Arafat's visit to Washington early in 1998. President Clinton's talks with them predictably brought no breakthrough to the stalled peace process, which means, in effect, that it was a complete failure from the point of view of Palestinian interests. In contrast for Israelis, no progress on the peace front simply means Israel continues to enjoy the advantages the stalemate has brought: cantonization of the large centers of restless Palestinians, combined with unimpeded financial assistance from the U.S. Palestinians simply cannot comprehend the unlimited depths of U.S. support for Israel, even under the leadership of an irresponsible prime minister like Netanyahu. The latter even thwarted Clinton with a quick trip to see the Clinton-basher, Jerry Falwell, just before his limousine showed up at the White House. In all senses, Israel under such leadership should be considered nothing less than a liability to American interest. Yet, the American administration remains meek when confronted by the savvy Netanyahu and, like a player in a dreadful charade, it ignores the absurdity of the real situation of the Palestinians.
The continuation of this performance is largely contingent upon two issues which I have already mentioned: U.S. strategic interests with respect to oil, and access to the East. Here, I wish to dwell briefly on the influence of pro-Israeli lobbies in the U.S. House and Senate, not to mention Clinton's inner cabinet. Although it is easy to over-exaggerate such claims with conspiratorial theories of Zionism, a close study reveals the immense power such lobbies are able to exert upon politicians. AIPAC (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee) is the largest and strongest foreign lobby in Washington with an annual budget of over $20 million. Its strength brought the Federal Elections Committee in 1988 to investigate, then later to punish it as a political committee that violated election laws on donations. Its power is purportedly so widespread that an AIPAC president was once forced to resign when he openly boasted that any congressman or senator would lose his seat in the next elections if he attempted to oppose AIPAC's policies.
The picture gets more pessimistic when we take a look at Jewish irLfluence inside Clinton's inner cabinet. Before becoming Secretary of Defense, William Cohen was for 18 years senator from Maine. During his tenure, he accepted $162,462 in campaign contributions from pro-Israeli political action committees. The State Department Head of Near Eastern Affairs, Martin Indyk, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel, was a former high-level AIPAC official. Madeleine Albright was asked in October 1997 whether Israeli settlements were legal, to which she bluntly replied "yes." Later on that evening, the State Department attempted to sanitize her comment by saying that settlements were "legal in Israel, but against international law." Clearly, a pro-Israeli leniency characterizes many high-powered American officials, including National Security Council Director Sandy Berger, and Vice-President Al Gore.

Conclusion

This characteristic pro-Israeli tendency, along with the continued geographic and military role of Israel in promoting U.S. interests, provides a recipe for one of the strongest international relations seen throughout history. It is hard to know how long this can continue. The United States adopts a double standard with Israel on human rights, on United Nations resolutions, on the existence of weapons of mass destruction. Clearly, such abuses increase international resentment, especially anti-American sentiments in the Middle East. Although the United States is accountable on a moral level, questions of morality and integrity remain a footnote to history unless accompanied by the mobilization of political power which could compete with American might.
This said, U.S. policy might also backfire. As happened in the case of the Shah of Iran, it seems to be only a matter of time before some form of movement (secular or religious) mobilizes enough power to overthrow the monarchies in the Gulf.
With respect to the peace process, while the United States supports Arafat as representative of the moderate strain of PLO politics, it continues to back Israel in every possible fashion. The risk is that Arafat will start to lose credibility with his people, what with the worsening conditions for Palestinians and Israel's complete denial of their right to self-determination. Indeed, many Palestinians perceive Oslo as becoming the tool through which Israel sought to grab more land, and rermanently eliminate the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. With no single party commanding a degree of credibility among Palestinians, the door is left wide open for alternative movements and popular vigilantism to take their turn at changing the status quo.

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