US Diplomatic Quarrel with Israel Highlights Weakness of World’s Superpower

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In less than a month at the time of writing, a second border clash left at least 14 dead and scores of wounded as Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of Palestinian protesters trying to break into the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights from Syria. Barely one month before, hundreds of people broke through a border fence and clashed with thousands of Israeli troops mobilized in anticipation of possible unrest as Palestinians prepared to protest the anniversary of the Arab defeat in the 1967 Mideast war. This is just a ‘skirmish’ compared to the history of violence and bloodletting that stains the region, the latest eruption of confrontations in an age-old conflict that has pitted the Israeli and Palestinian populations against each other as each sinks deeper and deeper in their ruling classes’ respective nationalist ideologies: Palestinian “liberation” and Israel Zionism. For more than 60 years since the establishment of the Israeli state, these nationalist ideologies, fueled by the dominant classes on each side and aggravated by the opposing interests in the area of all the major Western powers, have caused immeasurable suffering and destruction, with no perspective for peace.

US Shifts Policies to Adapt to Its Weakened Position

Already back in the early 90’s the US had to adapt to the disappearance of the influence of the USSR in the Middle East as it became clear that countries which had been supported by the USSR during the Cold war, such as Syria, looked for a new ‘sponsor,’ while others, such as Iraq, threw their weight around in search of a greater imperialist position in the region. A ‘peace accord’ between Israel and the PLO became the centerpiece of US policy as it attempted to orientate the future shaping of alliances in the region and ensure a predominant role for the US. This led to the Oslo accords of 1992, where the US sponsored an agreement between Israel and the PLO in which the latter would recognize Israel’s right of existence and Israel would agree to the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West bank. The Oslo accords however floundered in the early 2000’s, as Israel, emboldened by the Bush administration’s ‘war on terrorism’ following the attacks of September 11, and its acquiescence with Israel’s policy of building Jewish settlements in the West bank, played its own card and tried to strengthen its imperialist position in the area. The US went along with Israel’s withdrawal of its compromise on the Palestinian question. In this way, it hoped to both soothe Israel’s growing attempts to play its own card, and reaffirm and strengthen the US position of dominance. The ‘war on terror’ may have given the US and Israel a sense of cockishness for a while, but it proved incapable of restoring the position of hegemony of the US. Instead, it multiplied the animosity and challenges against it, created fissures within once stable nations, and encouraged all imperialisms, big and small, to take advantage of the weakened US position to gain influence in the wake of US failure. This is what is at the root of the present intolerable and unpredictable situation of ‘each nation for themselves.’

In the face of this apparent loss of control over the inter-imperialist scenario, the US bourgeoisie became increasingly alarmed. In 2008, it succeeded for a time in gaining some control over its election campaign (see article in the present issue on the difficulties of the US bourgeoisie vis-à-vis its own political strategy) and put at the head of its state a democratic-led team who developed a foreign policy with the rhetoric of cooperation and ‘peace,’ rather than war. This was done in order to reverse eight years of disastrous foreign policies implemented by a Bush administration hell-bent in flexing US military muscle in the face of the multiplication of challenges against its hegemony even at the cost of increased isolation. But restoring the US’ position of world power, a daunting task for the Bush administration, is proving impossible for the Obama administration, which is faced today by increasingly difficult and multiplying challenges.   Even the US gendarme in the Middle East, Israel, its staunchest ally in the region, repeatedly challenges US authority with acts of insubordination against it. While the US needs the cooperation of Israel to impose its control over the region—which lies at the core of the Obama administration’s attempts at bringing Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table--, Israel constantly defies any attempt by the US to bring about a settlement between the two parts. President Obama’s speech on May 19 aimed at sending a message to Israel that it intended to be the one to ‘run the show’ as to the prospects of a new round of ‘peace negotiations’ between Israel and Palestine. This attempt however turned into a diplomatic embarrassment for the US, as Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu fired back with vehement assertions that clearly showed he was not going to follow US diktats. President Obama had to renege on his earlier statement on May 19 about the necessity for Israel to accept two states on the basis of the ’67 borders and grant Netanyahu a grand platform before a joint meeting of Congress, where he was warmly applauded. Netanyahu was rebuked again on May 26, when the US announced sanctions against an Israeli company for its role in a September 2010 transaction that provided a tanker valued at $8.65 million to…The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines!

 The US desperately needs to show that it has the ability to force Israel to toe in line so as to discourage other powers in the region, i.e. Syria and Iran from playing their own imperialist cards. The US is also very concerned that Israel’s hard stance about the Palestinian question risks fuelling even greater anti-American sentiments in the area, in which case the US would have to side with Israel and lose the little diplomatic credibility it is trying to win The US’ desperate need to maintain order in the area to prove its status as world power leads it to take increasingly contradictory steps. In the relationship with Syria and Iran, in particular, the US walks a dangerously fine line. If it cannot convince Syria of the advantage of siding with it, and with the advent of a nuclear Iran, the US will lose all diplomatic credibility. Its overtures to Syria, exemplified by the US present reluctance to take a stronger stance against President Abbas in the wake of the bloody repression he is leading against the Syrians protesting for his ousting, can only frighten and irritate Israel, who sees Syria as a dangerous prey and ally of Iran. The stakes are high, as it is clear that without progress in the Israeli-Palestinian ‘peace process’ the Europeans will take full advantage of US weakness and endorse Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September. While the US wages this as a stick in front of Israel’s nose, it has no carrots to offer. Indeed France, most notably among the European nations, has already suggested that endorsement of Palestinian statehood is what it intends to give. 

The chaos and destabilization that have ravaged the planet since the collapse of the ex-Soviet bloc at the end of the 80’s, resulted in the weakening of the world’s remaining superpower—the US.   The ensuing constant reshuffling of ad-hoc alliances has been the hallmark of life in the last two decades, and a mere foretaste of more and worse to come.   The latest ‘historic’ speech delivered by President Barack Obama on May 19 has to be understood against this backdrop of aggravating political instability and imperialist rivalries. The quarrels with the Israeli state and the disagreements with the European counterparts–most notably France-over the future contours of a Palestinian state are a manifestation of the weakened hegemonic position of the US and a stark confirmation of the impossibility of peace under capitalism.

Ana, 6/6/11