Latent Constructivism in the Oslo Peace Accords: The Paradox of the American-Israeli Alliance
By Joey Roulette - May, 2016
The political identity within the United States has affected the international system unlike any other hegemony seen in history. The implementation of US foreign policy has touched nearly every corner of the globe, giving its values and intentions an aura of resilience amongst the permissive world context. Conflicts in the Middle East have frequently provoked the United States to reveal paradoxical interests either in the form of interstate alliances or human rights violations. The most questionable subtext to justify the vulnerable nature of US foreign interests is perhaps its unconditional relationship with Israel. According to traditional political philosophy, the intended alliance between the US and Israel would be anything but a constructivist complex. However, the soft power, lobbying, and social influence of the zionist discourse creates the body on which Israel exerts influence to the decision making process of Washington’s malleable foreign policy. In my research, I question the unwavering Western support for the state of Israel by assessing the viability and legitimacy of United States’ foreign aid and the factors that may or may not influence it.
In a media-dominated society with little to no campaign finance laws, a constructivist system manifests within the social interactions under a neoliberal government . The subsequent conditions of a neoliberal agenda in foreign policy empowers interest groups, political action committees, and lobbyists within the domestic sphere to a point where, ironically, their generated social power is used to influence the neoliberal regime. This is a reciprocal system of power that I would call latent constructivism. Although the regime itself is driven by the idealistic maintenance of friendly alliances, the ideological response from each state’s citizens henceforth saturates the alliances by forming groups that extend them. This strong and influential response from the citizen community is permitted by the state’s laws that fail to regulate campaign finances, interest group rights, and taxexempt statuses. The strong domestic support towards neoliberal institutions is preserved and groomed by manichaeistic nationalism and elitism as a somewhat capitalist byproduct.
Furthermore, it is important to begin the deconstruction of information by looking back on the history of Israeli-American alliances. Why does the United States risk its own national security for the sake of maintaining a costly relationship with a distant democracy? In addition to U.S. assistance, it is estimated by the Congressional Research Service that Israel receives roughly $1 billion annually through philanthropy, an equal amount through short and long term commercial loans, and around $1 billion in Israel Bonds proceeds1 . The overarching figure of utmost controversy is the annual $3 billion in foreign, state-controlled aid from the United States. Many would argue that the foreign policy schema of keeping Israel the largest foreign aid recipient is to sustain a westernized democracy in the middle of contrasting landscape of instability and chaos. Some can also assert that the massive amounts of aid are in the best interests of strategic operations and moral duties.
The transnational expenditures can be put into context by highlighting the events of the Oslo Peace Accords, and as a way to emphasize the factor of national security to the west and Israel, noting the conflict between Palestine and Israel is the canvas on which these decisions are executed. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a territorial dispute where the state of Israel is vehemently occupying Palestinian territories, and in reaction to the occupation, terror factions and individual acts of violence have emerged from Gaza and the West Bank. A strategic failure by the newlyelected Clinton administration in 1993 was its oblivion to the Oslo talks in spite of the ineffectiveness of the concurrent Madrid Conference, orchestrated by former Secretary of State James Baker in 1991 during H.W. Bush’s administration. Baker’s plan to facilitate peace in the middle east (peace amongst Israel and Palestine) required the exclusion of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leadership and rather included Palestinian scholars, engineers, and farmers3 . Israel recognized the lack of PLO representation in Madrid as an opportunity to sabotage the political process, so they coordinated their own dialogue with the PLO leader in Oslo. Then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin catalyzed the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA), with Yasser Arafat as the first president in 1995. The PA was created to implement and execute the conditions that favored Israel’s strategic plans to further encapsulate and govern Palestine. The agreement in these talks created three zones in the territories that Arafat and Rabin both agreed to have Israeli Defense Forces police. Subsequent and concurrent initiatives from 1991 to 1995 include multiple Oslo Peace Accords, the Gaza–Jericho Agreement that created the PA, and the 1994 Cairo Agreement4. Ultimately, the fruits of the Oslo talks favored Israeli interests and provided no viable solution. The Madrid conference failed in that it allowed Israel to divert its attention to have a chance to extend its expansionary agenda. Both talks syllogistically benefitted the Israeli government, which in turn benefited the United States who continued to arm the Israeli Defense Forces as Palestine suffered economically and defensively.
The initiatives under the Clinton and H.W. Bush administrations are few out of many other instances in which the United States aimed to keep the Palestinian territories weak and the Israeli government strong. Arming an otherwise helpless regime of Israel is an act of gratitude that, according to Steven W. Hook, directly reflects an institution of neoliberalism in the international context as a way to retain interstate reciprocity5. Therein lies the strategic failure nonetheless. Widespread dissidence towards the west from Arab states is party due to its support for Israel, a regional threat to Arab sovereignty and theocracy. The theory that Israel and the United States unite in the shadows of jihaditerrorism is a popular belief however, the opposite is true when Islamic factions deplore any support for Israel, identifying with the resistancemovements in Palestine6. Osama Bin Laden, Ayman alZawahiri and AbuYasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha of Egypt, Mir Hamzah of Pakistan, and Fazlur Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh, have all expressed contempt specifically for western support of Israel. In this case, any continuation of asymmetrical support for Israel will be a catalyst for the very terrorism the west spends so much to defeat. Terror factions are few groups amongst a wider range of international voices condemning the actions of Israel. President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, the Algerian Foreign Minister, Bangladeshi and Bahraini Foreign Ministry, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Ban KiMoon, and countless other officials have all vehemently condemned the brutal tactics of Israel7. No other issue molds the regional perceptions of America more critically than the issue of Palestine and Israel. Therefore, the risks of sustaining a neoliberal identity with Israel outweighs the benefits when Washington’s core objective is to combat regional terror and heighten international cooperation.
The unusual aspect of this particular contradiction in American foreign policy is that it goes unchecked and has continued for decades. Along with America’s counterproductive support for the IDF, it also turns a blind eye towards Israel’s nuclear stockpile and their use of white phosphorus bombs, some of which have barreled on active United Nations infrastructure in Palestine8 9. While getting very little if not nothing in return, how could America, a western country of strong democratic mores, spend onethird of its foreign aid budget on a distant regime that is conspicuously violating international law?
The paradox of unequal support begs the concept of latent constructivism. The institution of neoliberalism is a trusted mutual exchange in foreign benefits amongst two or more countries for the ultimate goal of democratic peace within a security community, according to Hook10. The relationship between Israel and the United States is neither reciprocal nor beneficial for American foreign policy, but the diplomatic facade between the two reflects neoliberal institutionalism. The justifications and reasons for foreign policy decision making such as those held by the United States can inherently uphold neoliberal identities, yet also be influenced by the American communal actors within which a constructivist approach would operate. Constructivism asserts that intermestic governance is socially constructed and driven by normative and epistemological factors11. A government that makes foreign policy decisions based off the influence of the citizens within its own nation constitutes a constructed system, according to IR theory. As stated previously, I argue that neoliberal institutionalism and constructivism can coexist when a country’s political processes are controlled if not dominated by ideologicallymotivated discourse communities such as political action committees, interest groups, lobbyists, and think tanks. So, why has the United States unconditionally backed the nationstate of Israel despite decades of regional upheaval and opposition?
In a New York Times interview in 2002, US congressman Dick Armey asserted “My number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.” Ehud Olmert, former US Senator, said in a sound bite from the Chicago Jewish Star "Thank God we have AIPAC, the greatest supporter and friend we have in the whole world."
The United States has tremendously taxing support for Israel because of the power and influence of its political action committees (PACs) in the domestic context. The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been ranked second place by Fortune Magazine, and the committee’s affluence has been generously praised by members from the Executive Branch of the US government. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called AIPAC "the most effective general interest group... across the entire planet." The Israeli political identity transgresses common democratic boundaries in the American political system in ways that favor the conditions for Israel. The Jewish state of Israel identifies with a common mimesis of conservative, nationalistic goals, and will utilize the lack of political campaign restrictions in the United States in order to disseminate their political identity. As long as PAC members have underregulated powers to plant foreign service officials in office, the legislature and policy on Israel’s foreign aid will last. In his memoirs, US president Harry Truman states:
“I do not think that I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance [the partition of Palestine U.N. vote]. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders— accentuated by political motives and engaging in political threats— disturbed and annoyed me.”
Professor at the Bush School of Public Service at Texas A&M University Michael C. Desch reports that many believe George H.W. Bush’s defeat in 1992 reelections was the result of JewishAmerican opposition fueled by his rhetoric against Israeli settlements under the Shamir government15. Throughout these Oslo Peace talks in the 1990’s AIPAC was the most prominent Israeli lobby. As in the case of Desch, many constituents agreed that Washington was heavily influenced by Israeli lobbyists and had the power to sway an election that favored a zionist political identity.
It was not until the early 2000’s that campaign finances were talked about in a more legalistic light. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was passed in February, but such legislation was, obviously, too late to impact the events in the Oslo Peace Accords. Legislation that sought to limit public influence and soft money during US presidential elections was turned down by a Republican majority in the 1990’s, perpetuating the role of AIPAC.
Looking back on neoliberal institutionalism, interstate relations are maintained by mutual efforts of support and aid. The illusion of benefit and national security for the United States is generated from the many interest groups and political action committees in Washington with immense lobbying power. Israel seems to support the United States in order to ensure the reciprocated (albeit disproportional) military aid. Despite the asymmetry, the support exists on both sides and is further justified by the US and the Knesset to have strategic and moral imperatives. That interstate reciprocity upholds the tenets of neoliberal institutionalism but, given the masked intentions and lobbying power of ideological interests, the internationally recognized human rights violations committed by Israel, and the amount of US foreign aid to Israel, it draws on a wider, paradoxical picture that can fit within the frame of constructivism. Given that both neoliberal and constructivist theories hold, latent constructivism is the coexistence that sheds light on the soft power of the Israeli lobby and represents the vulnerability of US foreign policy.