Palestinians versus Israelis

There's no questions that Palestinians have done some terrible things to the Israeli people. No one who's been paying the slightest bit of attention denies that. There's also no question that the Israelis (both the government and individuals) have returned the favor in spades. In fact, there's a certain dark irony in the ghetto the Israel has created in Gaza, strangely reminiscent of past horrors Jews suffered in Warsaw and other places.

Given this, and given that the solution to the Palestinian issue is one of the three big stumbling blocks to peace in the Middle East¹, why is the US so firmly backing Israel rather than backing the peace process? I've been doing a huge amount of research on this issue and frankly, I'm quite mystified by this.

1. The other two issues are US military bases in the Muslim holy land of Saudi Arabia and continued Western violation of sovereignty of Middle Eastern states.
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1) Are there still U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia?

2) I think there are a LOT more "stumbling blocks to peace in the Middle East" than just those you mentioned.

3) U.S. foreign policy is heavily influenced by various lobbies comprising neocons (a large subgroup of whom are hawkish Jews), not-necessarily-conservative Jews who are nevertheless paranoid about the safety of Israel, and Evangelical Christians who want a strong Israel to be home to all the Jews so they can die in the Armageddon and Jesus can return.

Jews have tremendous power within the Democratic Party, and Evangelicals have tremendous power within the Republican Party, so both parties are, in different ways, beholden to these lobbies.

Of course, there are also plenty of leftist Jews -- 78% of American Jews voted for Obama -- many of whom are highly sympathetic to the Palestinians. And they've very slowly, but surely, been making ground on the lobbying front.
Oh, sorry. I'm smoking crack. We've pulled out bases from Saudi Arabia (a few years ago, actually). We have bases in UAE, Kuwait and Oman which are still pissing off Muslims. The 2008 DOD base structure report gives (some) more detail.

And yes, there are more stumbling blocks, but I think that the big three are Palestine, military bases and sovereignty. Solve or tremendously ameliorate those three issues and much of the public in the middle east will slowly calm down. There are more issues, but I'm curious to know what other issue you feel are as important as those three?
There is so much to write here, I really don't know where to start. I keep typing stuff and deleting it.

The political problems in the Middle East are wide-ranging and profound. Among them are pervasive and crushing poverty, government corruption, lack of civil liberties, lack of access to education (especially for girls), lack of economic opportunities even for those who are highly educated, salination of arable land, other types of pollution, and an exploding population that takes all of the above problems and simply multiplies them.

Remember how the Bush Administration said that the Iraqis would "greet us as liberators" and everything would be sunshine and roses once we threw off Saddam Hussein? But that isn't what happened. Instead the country erupted into ethnic and religious conflict. The civil war there has slowed since the Anbar Awakening and the Surge, but it's still simmering. The violence level there is still at a level we would find utterly unacceptable in any American inner city.

In this respect, Iraq is a microcosm of the Middle East. Those who speak Persian don't get along with those who speak Arabic, and neither get along with those who speak Kurdish, or Turkish, or any of the dozens of other regional languages. The Shiites and Sunnis hate each other. The Muslims and the Christians and the religious minorities hate each other. Even within the same group, the rich and the poor fear each other. I'm not sure that Emirs are so much more beloved in the Arab slums than are members of the IDL.


I'm not saying Israel doesn't need to negotiate with the Palestinians, nor that the U.S. doesn't need to get out of Iraq. Both are true. But the occupations are just aggravating factors in the larger mess that is the Middle East.
A lot of the issues you mentioned could be listed as internal issues that people in the Middle East have to deal with. Corruption? Lack of education? Pollution? Those are issues they need to deal with. They could deal with them if they were so inclined, but I people aren't blaming the US and UK for corruption in Syria. I simply don't believe that these issues are going to be easily addressed unless the three areas I previously mentioned are dealt with. Those three things will constantly give the disaffected reasons to take up arms and that's the large threat the world is dealing with. Solve those three things and let things settle down and the Middle East might have a better chance of looking after itself.
I didn't say they were easy problems to solve. On the contrary, I said they were "wide-ranging and profound." Many of them are likely intractable.

But I wasn't talking about easy solutions; I was talking about peace, or the lack thereof. "Peace" is an elusive term, but I think we can all agree that when countries are invading one another, that's not peace.

Just in last three decades, Syria has (periodically) invaded Lebanon, Iraq has invaded Iran (in a war that lasted almost a decade and killed well over a million people), and Iraq has invaded Kuwait. That's leaving aside border skirmishes and (sometimes genocidal) internal struggles.

And I wouldn't be shocked if Turkey, Syria, and / or Iran invade Iraq sometime in the next decade.
There's a documentary called Occupation 101 that explores the conflict and US involvement. I recommend seeing it, if for nothing else, just seeing/hearing the interviews of the local Palestinians.
I recommend the book "Sharing the Land of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle" (2004) by Mazin B. Qumsiyeh. It is both extensive in its scope and very hopeful in its presentation of a human rights-based solution to the conflict. It is, in fact, one of the most hopeful things I've read in a long time, concerning the conflict in Palestine and Israel.

Just as with South African apartheid, the political components are complex, with intermingling regional, international and local issues.... I took a wonderful (if depressing and utterly heartbreaking) class on this issue, and came to the conclusion that it is pretty much the usual suspects who have driven the U.S. war machine, who really bring so much influence to bear on official U.S. policy. The Israel lobby may be powerful, but as Qumsiyeh points out

"It would be a mistake to attribute [a U.S. foreign policy discordant with much of the world] to the Israeli lobby [alone]. That lobby is influential, but US policy is also dictated by a small group of elites running the oil and arms industries. Their interest is simply to 'manage' the Middle East and maintain the status quo. This policy tolerates low-level conflicts and sometimes encourages them (as in the case of the Iran-Iraq war where these elite interests supported both sides)." (pp 168-9)

In the course of my class (Spring 2006), I also found an examination of the U.S. media coverage vis-a-vis that of the rest of the world, of events in Israel and Palestine to be shockingly different, if they were covered at all. The US portrayal of events, players, etc, was very frequently favorable to Israeli actions and explanations and consequences for them, in detriment to the explanations or actions or consequences of Palestinians. Not always of course, and you would come across the odd piece that let both sides be heard (although incredibly rare in anyone's coverage was any kind of human dimension -- a lot of time was given to chest-beating and ugly threats from officials but very little discussion of the human suffering that goes on -- quite a lot of sanitization and an adolescent-level portrayal of conflict).

To me, this is indicative of part of the sad state of the "fifth estate of democracy," as Jefferson called the public media. (I don't subscribe to the racist notion of "Jewish media control" - I wish that dangerous canard would be put to bed, because it's not good for anyone, as it trivializes what really is going on, to create this situation, as well as providing a convenient scapegoat to avoid addressing real, systemic problems.) There are a great many failures by our media to serve the function of an informed citizenry, without which, I believe, a democracy simply cannot exist. Just as with many of the species-threatening issues which are ignored or obfuscated in the U.S. media, this one would require public outcry and pressure, to overcome the "status quo gatekeepers" as it were, whom we have inherited in the historical development of this nation.

Just my two cents
"No one who's been paying the slightest bit of attention denies that. There's also no question that the Israelis (both the government and individuals) have returned the favor in spades."

Well, you know, when you're a small country surrounded by sworn enemies and your sworn enemies try to wipe you off the map a couple of times, you tend to run an aggressive defense.

"... continued Western violation of sovereignty of Middle Eastern states."

You'll have to be more specific.

"why is the US so firmly backing Israel rather than backing the peace process?"

Here's a few off the top of my head:

Reason 1 - Cold War Historical Bias: Israel == U.S; Syria, Egypt, Jordan == Soviets.
Reason 2 - Favored Government/Empathy: Israel == Democracy; Syria, Egypt, Jordan == Dictatorship.
Reason 3 - Jewish Population/Lobby in the U.S.
Reason 4 - Sense of obligation to protect Israel post WWII.
Reason 5 - Military exports. F-16's to Israel == profit.