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Tracing the Origins of Israel’s Diplomatic Relations and Foreign Policy

By Aditi Motani

Israel’s foreign policy is one of the most studied topics in the field of international relations, making it almost as important as the foreign policies of superpowers such as the United States and China in the 21st century. Israel’s geographical location in the heart of the Middle East and its proximity to the Suez Canal become additional reasons for analyzing its diplomatic relations with countries. As a nation, it was affected majorly by the Zionist ideology and the Holocaust. Therefore, this article will draw a historiography of Israel’s foreign policy, major factors that influenced the establishment of Israel, and how it maneuvered to gain legitimacy in the international arena as a nation-state. Furthermore, this article digs deeper into the evolution of the diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel and the essential role played by the United States- a superpower, as Israel’s security partner.

Structural Backdrop

The call for the establishment of Israel as a state occurred in the historical backdrop of the Holocaust and Zionist politics. Today, Israel is home to around 7 million people, a burgeoning technology industry, and is known for its secularism but the foundation for such a country was laid nearly 70 years ago, in the decade of the 1940s. It secured the epithet straight from a non-state actor backed by a nationalist ideology to an internationally recognized state. The factors that played in favor of Israel were a mix of both structural and individual factors.

This took place in the 1940s, the decade of decolonization and the fall of the British empire. The fall of the British empire implied that many nations such as Afghanistan, Iceland, Sweden, Siam (Thailand) in 1946, Pakistan in 1947, and Yemen and Burma in 1948 had just received international recognition as independent States by the United Nations (UN). These countries being granted UN membership based on their right to self-determination set a favorable precedent for Israel to do the same. Moreover, the 1940s  was also marked by the end of the cold war which saw the emergence of other superpowers in the world. This new world order meant that the two superpowers, the United States of America and the Soviet Union would become increasingly dominant, both of them having the incentive to establish their presence in other parts of the world such as the Middle East. This proved to be in favor of Israel as it leveraged it to gain the United States as a partner. Israel also made good use of bloc politics to gain international recognition and support. Lastly, it goes without saying that this period was marked by the end of World War II which witnessed the horrific death of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Therefore, whenever one looks at the origins of the Israeli establishment and the development of its foreign policy, it is to be to be looked at in the shadow of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. This very recent history implied that the plight of Jews would help to unite and rally the Jewish diaspora across the world, especially in the United States. The Holocaust had also created a sense of guilt in the Western world inclining all nations to help the Jewish cause, in some way or the other. Whereas,  the individual factors included  Israel being blessed with Zionist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion who were very dedicated to establishing the Israeli State from the very start and went out of their way to further their Zionist motives. 

Tracing Israel’s diplomatic Strategies at the United Nations

On 28th April 1947, the UN called for a Special Session to discuss the issue of Palestine which established the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) which would travel to the region to investigate the Palestine issue and present its recommendations to the UNGA. The events following this marked the first win for Israel’s foreign policy in the form of procedural wins as well as substantive wins as they managed to sway the decision in their favor. The Jewish leaders managed to get favorable countries on the committee by ensuring that countries such as Guatemala and India were included, which would carry out on-ground land surveys and prepare a report to be put to vote, in place of Arab nations. The Zionists succeeded in securing the Eastern bloc and breaking the British-led bloc with regard to the individual Western European countries. After much of bloc politics and persuasion of countries, the UN General Assembly Resolution 181, famously known as the UN Partition Plan, to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish State of Israel was passed with 33 in favor, 13 against, and 1 absent vote. The passing of the UN Resolution was one of the biggest achievements of Israeli diplomacy that granted the Jewish State of Israel a legal right to be recognized as a nation-state in the international arena. This marked the start of many historical wins at the United Nations.

Israel’s Relations with the United States

The Israeli-American relationship can be represented by a speech that George W. Bush had given during his visit to Israel where, while addressing the Israeli people, he had stated that “you might think that you are a nation of 7 million but in reality, you are a nation of 307 million”, representing the close relationship between the two countries. There has been a great deal of cooperation between the two nations from the beginning, and it may be safe to say that America has been Israel’s biggest ally since its establishment in the 1950s. The American attitude towards Israel is heavily based on ideology and this nature of the American policy became a determining factor in deciding their relationship. Additionally, there was a religious flavor between the two countries illustrated by almost all presidents. The United States during the Truman administration with George C. Marshall as the Secretary of State played a key role in laying the groundwork for the relations between the two nations by voting in favor of the UN Partition Plan. Even though the Israeli flirt had started in 1949, the origins can be traced back to 1939 when the British government chose to withdraw from the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations mandate. That is when David Ben-Gurion moved to the US and started carrying out his Zionist politics based out of New York. The USA is Israel’s biggest security partner that has kept Israel safe in a region that is surrounded by all its diplomatic enemies. Even though the diplomatic ties between the two nations faced a stint during the Eisenhower administration for utilizing water from the Jordan river, the relations between the two nations overall have been favorable.

The major goal of the Israeli diplomacy regarding the relations with the US as a partner was to be translated into a security partner with  Israel actively working towards it. Israel desperately needed a security partner from a superpower because of the security concerns that David Ben-Gurion articulated. These concerns were based on demography and geography. It was surrounded by Arabic nations such as Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Libya that did not accept the result of 1948 which convinced him that they would be in a constant state of tension. Moreover, it was the United States that helped Israel come out of one of the biggest economic crises in the 1950s by allowing for donations from the wealthier people in the US to the people of Israel.

Another reason for the United States’ support to Israel was the incentive to have a reliable ally in the middle eastern region that could serve as a military base to fight the domination from the Soviet Union. In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union started selling military equipment to Middle eastern countries such as Egypt and Libya to establish a presence in the region and secure an ally which incentivized the United States to start selling arms to Israel. The year 1963 was a significant milestone for the strategic partnership between the two nations when Israel got the hawk missiles from the Kennedy administration.

The relations between the two nations have been evolving along with the change in administration as recent as the US-Israel relations being at a tipping point during the Trump administration. This was marked by the instance of the United States shifting its official embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem recognizing Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel. It has been evolving over the years with many blunt gaps in between but there is a lot to look out for as to what the way the future of US-Israel relations will take.

The Author is Aditi Motani, a 2nd-year law student studying at Jindal Global Law School in Sonepat. Her primary research interest lies in constitutional law, competition law, arbitration law, and global politics.

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