Relations with the United States
For strategic security and diplomatic support, Israel has depended
almost totally upon the United States. Since the establishment
of the state in 1948, the United States has expressed its commitment
to Israel's security and well-being and has devoted a considerable
share of its world-wide economic and security assistance to Israel.
Large-scale American military and economic assistance began during
the October 1973 War, with a massive American airlift of vital
military matériel to Israel at the height of the war. From 1948
through 1985, the United States provided Israel with US$10 billion
in economic assistance and US$21 billion in military assistance,
60 percent of which was in the form of grants. From 1986 through
1988, total United States economic and military assistance to
Israel averaged more than US$3 billion a year, making Israel the
largest recipient of United States aid. Of the annual total, about
US$1.8 billion was in Foreign Military Sales credits, and about
US$1.2 billion was in economic assistance.
During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the United
States-Israeli relationship was significantly upgraded, with Israel
becoming a strategic partner and de facto ally. A number of bilateral
arrangements solidified this special relationship. In November
1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political-Military
Group to coordinate military exercises and security planning between
the two countries, as well as to position United States military
equipment in Israel for use by American forces in the event of
a crisis. In 1984 Israel and the United States concluded the United
States-Israel Free Trade Area Agreement to provide tariff-free
access to American and Israeli goods. In 1985 the two countries
established a Joint Economic Development Group to help Israel
solve its economic problems; in 1986 they created a Joint Security
Assistance Group to discuss aid issues. Also in 1986, Israel began
participating in research and development programs relating to
the United States Strategic Defense Initiative. In January 1987,
the United States designated Israel a major non-NATO ally, with
status similar to that of Australia and Japan. Two months later,
Israel agreed to the construction of a Voice of America relay
transmitter on its soil to broadcast programs to the Soviet Union.
In December 1987, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding
allowing it to bid on United States defense contracts on the same
basis as NATO countries. Finally, the two countries signed a memorandum
of agreement in April 1988 formalizing existing arrangements for
mutually beneficial United States-Israel technology transfers.
Israel has also cooperated with the United States on a number
of clandestine operations. It acted as a secret channel for United
States arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986, and during the same
period it cooperated with the United States in Central America.
The United States-Israeli relationship, however, has not been
free of friction. The United States expressed indignation with
Israel over an espionage operation involving Jonathan Jay Pollard,
a United States Navy employee who was sentenced to life imprisonment
for selling hundreds of vital intelligence documents to Israel.
During the affair, Israeli government and diplomatic personnel
in Washington served as Pollard's control officers. Nevertheless,
United States government agencies continued to maintain a close
relationship with Israel in sensitive areas such as military cooperation,
intelligence sharing, and joint weapons research.
The main area of friction between the United States and Israel
has concerned Washington's efforts to balance its special ties
to Jerusalem with its overall Middle Eastern interests and the
need to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which
the United States has played a major mediating role. In 1948 the
United States hoped that peace could be achieved between Israel
and the Arab states, but this expectation was quickly dashed when
Arab nations refused to recognize Israel's independence. American
hopes were dashed again when in 1951 Jordan's King Abdullah, with
whom some form of settlement seemed possible, was assassinated
and in 1953 when the Johnston Plan, a proposal for neighboring
states to share the water of the Jordan River, was rejected.
The June 1967 War provided a major opportunity for the United
States to serve as a mediator in the conflict; working with Israel
and the Arab states the United States persuaded the United Nations
(UN) Security Council to pass Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967.
The resolution was designed to serve as the basis for a peace
settlement involving an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied
in the June 1967 War in exchange for peace and Arab recognition
of Israel's right to exist. Many disputes over the correct interpretation
of a clause concerning an Israeli withdrawal followed the passage
of the UN resolution, which was accepted by Israel. The resolution
lacked any explicit provision for direct negotiations between
the parties. Although the Arab states and the Palestinians did
not accept the resolution, it has remained the basis of United
States policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In December 1969, the Rogers Plan, named after United States
Secretary of State William P. Rogers, although unsuccessful in
producing peace negotiations, succeeded in ending the War of Attrition
between Israel and Egypt that followed the June 1967 War and established
a cease-fire along the Suez Canal. In 1971 United States Assistant
Secretary of State Joseph P. Sisco proposed an "interim Suez Canal
agreement" to bring about a limited Israeli withdrawal from the
canal, hoping that such an action would lead to a peace settlement.
The proposal failed when neither Israel nor Egypt would agree
to the other's conditions.
In October 1973, at the height of the Arab-Israeli war, United
States-Soviet negotiations paved the way for UN Security Council
Resolution 338. In addition to calling for an immediate cease-fire
and opening negotiations aimed at implementing Resolution 242,
this resolution inserted a requirement that future talk be conducted
"between the parties concerned," that is, between the Arab and
the Israelis themselves.
In September 1975, United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger's
"shuttle diplomacy" achieved the Second Sinai Disengagement Agreement
between Israel and Egypt, laying the groundwork for later negotiations
between the two nations. The United States also pledged, as part
of a memorandum of understanding with Israel, not to negotiate
with the PLO until it was prepared to recognize Israel's right
to exist and to renounce terrorism.
Another major United States initiative came in 1977 when President
Jimmy Carter stressed the need to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict
by convening an international peace conference in Geneva, cochaired
by the United States and the Soviet Union. Although Egyptian President
Anwar as Sadat conducted his initiative in opening direct Egyptian-Israeli
peace talks without United States assistance, the United States
played an indispensable role in the complex and difficult negotiation
process. Negotiations ultimately led to the signing, under United
States auspices, of the September 17, 1978, Camp David Accords,
as well as the March 1979 Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel.
The accords included provisions that called for granting autonomy
to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through a
freely elected self-governing authority during a five-year transitional
period; at the end of the period the final status of the occupied
territories was to be decided. Carter had hoped that this process
would enable the Palestinians to fulfill their legitimate national
aspirations while at the same time safeguarding Israeli security
concerns. While criticizing the Begin government's settlement
policy in the occupied territories, the Carter administration
could not prevent the intensified pace of construction of new
Following Israel's invasion of Lebanon in early June 1982, on
September 1, 1982, President Reagan outlined what came to be called
the Reagan Plan. This plan upheld the goals of the Camp David
Accords regarding autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip and disapproved of Israel's establishment of
any new settlements in these areas. It further proposed that at
the end of a transitional period, the best form of government
for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be self-government
by the resident Palestinian population in association with Jordan.
Under the plan, Israel would be obliged to withdraw from the occupied
territories in exchange for peace, and the city of Jerusalem would
remain undivided; its final status would be decided through negotiations.
The plan rejected the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
Although Labor leader Peres expressed support for the plan, Prime
Minister Menachem Begin and the Likud opposed it, as did the PLO
and the Arab states. The plan was subsequently shelved.
The United States nevertheless continued its efforts to facilitate
Arab-Israeli peace. In March 1987, the United States undertook
intensive diplomatic negotiations with Jordan and Israel to achieve
agreement on holding an international peace conference, but differences
over Palestinian representation created obstacles. In Israel,
Likud prime minister Shamir and Labor minister of foreign affairs
Peres were at odds, with Shamir rejecting an international conference
and Peres accepting it. Peres and Labor Party minister of defense
Rabin reportedly held talks with Jordan's King Hussein, who wanted
the conference to include the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council, as well as Israel, the Arab states, and the
PLO. The Reagan administration, on the other hand, was reluctant
to invite the Soviet Union to participate in the diplomatic process.
The administration insisted that any prospective conference adjourn
speedily and then take the form of direct talks between Israel
and Jordan. The administration also insisted that the conference
have no power to veto any agreement between Israel and Jordan.
A major difficulty involved the nature of Palestinian representation
at a conference. A Soviet-Syrian communiqué repeated the demand
for PLO participation, which Israel flatly rejected. The United
States asserted that, as the basis for any PLO participation,
the PLO must accept UN Resolutions 242 and 338 with their implied
recognition of Israel's right to exist. Both the PLO mainstream
and its radical wings were unwilling to agree to this demand.
The Palestinian uprising (intifadah) in the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip began in December 1987. In February 1988, Secretary
of State George Shultz visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria;
in a statement issued in Jerusalem he called for Palestinian participation,
as part of a Jordanian/Palestinian delegation, in an international
peace conference. The PLO rejected this initiative. The United
States proposal called for a comprehensive peace providing for
the security of all states in the region and for fulfillment of
the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The proposal
consisted of an "integrated whole" and included the following
negotiating framework: "early negotiations between Israel and
each of its neighbors willing to do so," with the door "specifically
open for Syrian participation"; "bilateral negotiations . . .
based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338
in all their parts"; "the parties to each bilateral negotiation"
to determine "the procedure and agenda of the negotiation"; "negotiations
between an Israeli and a Jordanian/Palestinian delegation on arrangements
for a transitional period for the West Bank and Gaza," with the
objective of completing "these talks within six months"; and "final
status negotiations" beginning "on a date certain seven months
after the start of transitional talks," with the objective of
completing the talks "within a year."
On March 26, 1988, Shultz met with two members of the Palestine
National Council (PNC), which represents Palestinians outside
Israel various political and guerrilla groups with the PLO, and
associated youth, student, women's and professional bodies. According
to a PLO spokesman, the PNC members, Professors Ibrahim Abu Lughod
and Edward Said, both Arab Americans, were authorized by Yasir
Arafat to speak to Shultz, and they later reported directly to
the PLO leader about their talks. Little resulted from this meeting,
however, and Shultz found no authoritative party willing to come
to the conference table.
The United States once again involved itself in the peace process
to break the stalemate among the Arab states, the Palestinians,
and Israel following King Hussein's declaration on July 31, 1988,
that he was severing most of Jordan's administrative and legal
ties with the West Bank, thus throwing the future of the West
Bank onto the PLO's shoulders. PLO chairman Yasir Arafat thereby
gained new international status, but Shultz barred him from entering
the United States to address the UN General Assembly in early
December because of Arafat's and the PLO's involvement in terrorist
activities. When Arafat, following his December 14 address to
a special session of the UN General Assembly in Geneva, met American
conditions by recognizing Israel's right to exist in "peace and
security," accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and renounced
"all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state
terrorism," the United States reversed its thirteen-year policy
of not officially speaking to the PLO.
The Israeli National Unity Government, installed in late December,
denounced the PLO as an unsuitable negotiating partner. It did
not accept the PLO's recognition of Israel and renunciation of
terrorism as genuine.
Whether the United States-PLO talks would yield concrete results
in terms of Arab-Israeli peace making remained to be seen as of
the end of 1988. Notwithstanding the possibility of future progress,
the new willingness of the United States to talk to the PLO demonstrated
that, despite the special relationship between the United States
and Israel and the many areas of mutual agreement and shared geopolitical
strategic interests, substantial differences continued to exist
between the United States and certain segments of the Israeli
government. This was especially true with regard to the Likud
and its right-wing allies.
Data as of December 1988