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I. U.S.-Israeli Relations: the Bush administration policy
II. The debate about "the Lobby"
III. Annapolis and the Peace Process
IV. The Election of Hamas
V. The 2006 Israel-Hizballah War
Bibliography/Recommended Reading

Unlike his predecessor Bill Clinton, whom many believed was obsessed with pushing for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President George W. Bush and his administration took a hands-off approach to the region until the final year of his second term. Although the Bush administration helped create a road map to peace in 2003 that secured the blessing of the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia, little had been done since to directly involve America in peace negotiations until November 2007, when President Bush brought together Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart stalled peace negotiations. Although the Bush administration's main actions have been explicit or implicit approval of all major Israeli actions-the construction of the fence, the pullout from Gaza, repeated incursions into Palestinian territories, and the recent war with Hizballah-President Bush offered statements in January 2008 in support of a two-state solution without Israeli settlements dotting the map of any future Palestinian state, revealing that he maintains some differences with the Israeli right.1

The lockstep between American and Israeli policy during the Bush administration comes at a time when much of the academic and policy-making community is up in arms over an article written by two prominent international relations theorists. In The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt question whether such a tight alliance with Israel and support for Israeli policies is in the American national interest. The two go even further, claiming that many of America's actions regarding Israel are driven by a wide-ranging collection of government officials, lobbyists, academics, and journalists who push their pro-Israeli-right agenda over the heads of the American public. While this analysis has many critics, the American-Israeli alliance, which has for so long persisted without serious challenge, is finally being debated in academic and policy circles. 2

This heated discussion is going on amidst three of the largest developments in the region since Bush became president: the election of Hamas in Palestine, the war with Hizballah in Lebanon, and the resumption of peace negotiations after the near-miss at Camp David in 2000. Although the entire scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond the reach of this project,3 the focus on these three significant developments against the backdrop of the renewed debate over American-Israeli relations will provide key insights into American foreign policy in the region today and in the future.

  1. U.S.-Israeli Relations: the Bush administration policy

    A. The Bush administration has favored a far more hands-off strategy in Israeli affairs than its predecessor; many believed that Clinton was obsessed with finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue4

    B. The Bush administration has explicitly or implicitly backed Israel on all of its major actions: the construction of the fence, the pullout from Gaza, the repeated incursions into the Palestinian territories, and the summer 2006 war with Hizballah; criticism of Israeli policies from the Bush administration has been almost nonexistent

    C. U.S. aid to Israel remains significant: ~$3 billion/year in grants, which has held relatively steady for the past 20 years5

      1. The only major changes are less economic aid (due in large part to Israel's economic success) and relatively more military aid (although whether the type of aid matter is debatable since Israel, unlike other nations, is not required to provide evidence of how it spent the aid money)

      2. For more on U.S. foreign aid, see the "Foreign Aid" in the Foreign Policy Index

II)The debate about "the Lobby"

    The Mearsheimer and Walt article, and the subsequent book, raise a number of important questions regarding the U.S. support for Israel and the consequences of that support.

      1. In sum, the authors argue that U.S. policy should not always mirror Israeli policy, especially when it comes to issues like Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, Iran, and negotiations with the Palestinians, since the U.S. has different interests than the Israelis and hurts its standing with other countries when it gives Israel carte blanche despite its significant domestic and international policy shortcomings
        1. The more contentious aspect of the article involves claims that U.S. policy mirrors Israeli policy so often because of the well-funded and connected "Israel Lobby" that pushes for pro-Israeli-right policies that are not favored by or favorable to the American public (let alone many of the Israelis themselves)
        2. The principal shortcoming of their analysis is giving too much weight to the Lobby as the primary driver of U.S. policies over other plausible influences (such as oil in the Gulf as a main reason for the war in Iraq).

III) Annapolis and the Peace Process

    A) On November 27, 2007, leaders from over 50 countries and organizations convened at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland for a conference to discuss a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    B) The conference was put together by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and was attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as leaders from the EU, Russia, the Arab League, China and others6

    C) The conference itself achieved far less than those held during the Clinton administration, but it was significant for marking a renewal of the peace process that had been stalled for the majority of Bush's term in office

    D) Bush followed the conference with visits across the Middle East in an attempt to push involved parties to agree to a negotiated end to the conflict by the time he leaves office. After two days of meeting with Abbas and Olmert, Bush stated, "I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous."7

    E) One party excluded from the conference (and Bush's negotiations) has been Hamas, whom the Bush administration and Israel have done everything in their power to weaken and delegitimize due to Hamas' stated goal of the destruction of Israel and continued attacks on Israel since the Israeli pullout from Gaza.

      • For their part, Hamas sees itself as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, having won a majority of the seats in the 2006 election, and observers find it difficult to imagine a stable peace that did not account for Hamas in significant fashion

IV) The Election of Hamas

    1. Hamas surprisingly received a majority of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament in elections held in January 2006 due to anger at corruption and a lack of progress brought by Fatah (aka, Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, Yasser Arafat's group) as well as Hamas' comparative unity and popular ideology among Palestinian youth
    2. The 2006 National Security Strategy (NSS) of the U.S. states that "the Palestinian people voted in a process that was free, fair, and inclusive," however, it also claims that "any elected government that refuses to honor these principles [including "protection of minority rights," "basic freedoms" and "a commitment to a recurring, free, and fair electoral process"] cannot be considered fully democratic, however it may have taken office."8
      1. The NSS also calls on Hamas to "renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm as outlined in the Roadmap"
      2. These statements left the door open for the U.S. to withdraw assistance to Palestinians, which it has largely done; support for Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor and the first prime minister of the Palestinian national authority, was initially almost non-existent from the Bush administration, despite his call for an end to violence against Israel, his recognition of Israel's right to exist, and his push for a two-state solution
      • These moves undermined the U.S. reputation for democracy promotion in Middle East, along with the sham elections in Egypt and Saudi Arabia
    1. For a description of Hamas' terrorist activities, see the "Terrorism" Section of the Foreign Policy Index
    1. The Israelis cut off border crossings around Gaza in January 2008 and suspended sale of fuel to the Palestinians in Gaza in response to the continued launching of rockets into southern Israel by Hamas militants.9 This has led to a vigorous debate over the justness and effectiveness of such collective-style punishments that lie at the root of many issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It remains to be seen whether Israel and the U.S.'s different treatment of Hamas-dominated Gaza and the Fatah-led West Bank will yield the desired results.

V) The 2006 Israel-Hizballah War

    1. On July 12, 2006, eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two were captured by Hizballah fighters who had launched a small attack on the Lebanese border
      1. Although this incident may have been the spark to start the war, Hizballah's possession of approximately 13,000 missiles and rockets, positioned within striking distance of Israel since its withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, represented an unacceptable threat as far as the Israelis were concerned, who appear to have planned attacks against Hizballah before the war began (see Figure 310)
      2. Hizballah sought the release of Hizballah and Hamas prisoners in exchange for the safe return of the captured Israeli troops, revealing stronger possible links between the predominantly Shi'a and Sunni groups than had been previously thought
      3. Israel instead responded with massive air strikes in southern Lebanon as well as in other Shi'a dominated areas on the coast and in the Beirut suburbs
        1. The IDF estimates that more than 500 Hizballah fighters were killed; double that number of Lebanese civilians were killed, thousands more wounded, and 1,000,000 displaced by the fighting11
        2. The IDF had 118 soldiers killed, 400 wounded, 40 Israeli civilians were killed and 500,000 displaced12
      4. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set the war's objectives as the destruction of Hizballah's fighting capacity, and the release of the Israeli prisoners
      • For reasons still unclear, the Israelis appeared to believe that wide-ranging air strikes could achieve these goals; even after ground forces were committed, the Israelis achieved neither objective by the time a cease-fire was put in place over a month later (August 14, 2006); see Figure 4 for Israeli and Hizballah strikes and this map from the New York Times.
    1. Following its line of near carte blanche for Israel, the Bush administration supported Israel 100 percent during the conflict, and in fact was the only country in the world to do so. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the conflict "the birth pangs of a new Middle East," a statement widely criticized13
      • During the war, the Israelis were running low on smart bombs and requested an expedited shipment for more from the U.S., which was quickly approved by the Bush administration and carried out amidst the fighting in mid-July14


Figure 1: Israel Political Map

Figure 2: Map of Israeli Fence

Figure 3: Hizballah's Arsenal

Figure 4: Israeli and Hizballah Strikes (July 15-16)

Bibliography/Recommended Reading

David Grossman, The Yellow Wind (Picador, 2002), new edition. "This stellar, seamlessly translated report records the devastation that two decades of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has wreaked on Palestinians and Israelis alike." (Publishers' Weekly).

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books 48:13 (August 9, 2001)

Joel Beinin and Rebecca L. Stein, eds., The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005 (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006)

Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006)

Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2007)

Tanya Reinhart, The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (London: Verso, 2006)

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Farrar Strauss, 2007)

    A series of articles in Foreign Policy magazine that discuss The Israel Lobby (requires



Jeroen Gunning, "Hizballah and the Logic of Political Participation," and "Hamas," in Marianne Heiberg et al, eds., Terror, Insurgency, and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)

Andrew Kydd and Barbara Walter, "Sabotaging the Peace: The Politics of Extremist Violence," International Organization, Vol. 56, No. 2 (Spring 2002), pp. 263-296,

Robert Pape, "The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, August 2003,

David Lake, "Rational Extremism: Understanding Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century," Dialog-IO, Spring 2002, pp. 15-29,

Scott Atran, "The Moral Logic and Growth of Suicide Terrorism," The Washington Quarterly, Spring 2006

Michael Herzog, "Can Hamas Be Tamed?" Foreign Affairs (March/April 2006)

Tony Karon, "Who Really Won the War?" Time,,8599,1227264,00.html


1. Steven Lee Meyers, "Bush Outlines Mideast Peace Plan," New York Times, Jan. 11, 2008.

2. For the original article, see John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," Working Paper, March 2006. See also their talk at MIT, with response from Bruce Riedel.

3. For a decent synopsis of U.S. relations with Israel from 1948-2004, see

4. For a discussion of the "Clinton Parameters" and the subsequent Taba negotiations in 2001, see For a comparison of the various, controversial maps of the proposed solutions believed to have been presented at Taba, see

5. This is to say nothing of the military equipment the U.S. makes available to Israel, which is generally as good or better quality than equipment sold to any of its other allies. For U.S. aid to Israel by year, see

6. For a full list of participants, see the list here:

7. "Bush Outlines Mideast Peace Plan," op. cit.


9. Steven Erlanger, "Israel Closes All Gaza Border Crossings, Citing Palestinian Rocket Attacks," New York Times, January 19, 2008.

10. For more on Hizballah's rockets and missiles, see


12. Ibid.

13. Rice's statement, from the State Department; for criticism, see, for example, Roula Khalaf, "Rice 'new Middle East' comments fuel Arab fury over US policy," Financial Times (July 31, 2006).


Massachusetts Institute of Technology