By Major Chris Heatherly
Best Defense guest columnist
"...and she loved a boy very, very much -- even more than she loved herself." -- Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
Many Americans read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein while growing up. Summarized, the story is about the relationship between a young boy and a tree whose self-sacrifice to please the boy is a recurrent theme. By book's end, the tree is reduced to little more than a lonely stump with nothing left to give. Although The Giving Tree is nearly 50 years old, the book's warning on the dangers of self-sacrifice are particularly apt when describing the current state of U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations. If the United States does not address the manner and tone of this relationship to determine our irreducible interests, it risks sacrificing international influence and our own national priorities.
Fact: The United States provided nearly $3.1 billion to Israel in 2012.
Fact: The United States has provided $115 billion to Israel since its foundation in 1949.
Fact: The United States has provided over $4 billion to the Palestinians since they began limited self-governance in the 1990s.
Question: What, if anything, has this goodwill bought the United States and how have our own interests been furthered?
Israeli forces attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 U.S. sailors. Israel has conducted numerous espionage operations against the United States, gravely damaging U.S. national security. Amongst the known spying incidents, the case of Jonathan Pollard is particularly egregious. A U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Pollard passed tens of thousands of highly classified documents to Israel before his capture in 1985. Pollard received a life sentence for espionage in 1987. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger considered Pollard's actions so damaging that "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called ‘year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in the view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel." Since his conviction, Israel's government admitted to running Pollard as an agent, granted him Israeli citizenship, and has continually lobbied for his release.
Palestinian behavior towards the United States is no better. The Palestinian Liberation Front hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, killing U.S. passenger Leon Klinghoffer. On 9/11, CNN and other media sources showed video of Palestinians dancing in the streets in celebration of al Qaeda's terrorist attacks. Hamas, a U.S. and European Union designated terrorist organization, enjoys widespread political support from the Palestinian people and election to parliamentary seats.
American government support for Israel goes far beyond simple financial donations. The United States has employed its veto authority to block United Nations Security Council resolutions against Israel over 40 times. (By comparison, China has used the veto authority just 8 times while Russia/Soviet Union together tallied 13.) In most of these instances, the United States has cast the sole vote of opposition. Additionally, the United States has deployed military assets and personnel to protect Israel against its neighbors. Such one-sided support has not gone unnoticed, especially in the Arab world. It generates widespread suspicion of American motives, interests, and actions in the Middle East and the greater Muslim street -- a trend that has occurred for decades.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear to be truly interested in a lasting, peaceful solution to their decades-long struggle for territorial control. Israeli "settlers" build illegal settlements in Palestinian areas in violation of U.N. resolutions. Hamas fires rockets from schools, mosques, and other protected locations against civilian targets. Israel conducts drone and air strikes in retaliation. A Palestinian suicide bomber kills numerous Israeli citizens...and Israel's military forces destroy the bomber's family home with resultant collateral damage. Both sides clamor to play the victim on the world stage. It's a modern day version of the Hatfield and McCoy feud with religious extremism added to the equation.
In my opinion, there is no compelling or logical reason for the United States to retain the status quo relationship with either Israel or the Palestinians. Some may see this view as either anti-Semitic or Islamaphobic. In reality, it is neither. I am an alumnus of a Jewish national collegiate fraternity and proud to have several Jewish and Muslim friends. I believe, however, that America should withhold all foreign aid to both parties, reframe the situation in the Middle East, and develop a fresh, balanced approach to Israelis and Palestinians alike. First and foremost, this approach should be built to achieve American national interests, be they a peaceful Middle East, greater global influence, continued access to oil resources, a non-nuclear Iran, or the spread of democracy. My recommendation aspires to follow President George Washington's cautious advice on foreign entanglements. It is time to stop being the proverbial giving tree, and instead to begin acting in our own national interests.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, or the United States Army. Major Heatherly enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1994 and earned his commission via Officer Candidate School in 1997. He has held a variety of assignments in special operations, Special Forces, armored, and cavalry units. His operational experience includes deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Kuwait, Mali, and Nigeria. He holds master's degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the School of Advanced Military Studies.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.