Special Partnership: US-Israeli Relations and the Peace Process

By Jones, Hal | Harvard International Review, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview
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Special Partnership: US-Israeli Relations and the Peace Process

Jones, Hal, Harvard International Review

Martin Indyk is US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

As US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs since October 1997, Martin Indyk assists Secretary of State Madeline Albright in providing overall direction, coordination, and supervision of US government policy in the Middle East and North Africa. From April 1995 until October 1997, he served as US Ambassador to Israel. In that capacity, he worked to strengthen US-Israeli relations, and he helped to reinforce the US commitment to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Prior to his assignment to Israel, Indyk was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. Before entering government service, he served for eight years as Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research institute specializing in Arab-Israeli relations. Editor-in-Chief Hal Jones spoke with Assistant Secretary Indyk in mid-January about US-Israeli relations and the Middle East peace process.


Over the past fifty years, Israel and the United States have enjoyed an extraordinarily close relationship. The United States has provided large amounts of foreign aid to Israel, and the two countries have often stood together even at very difficult moments. What, in your view, are the factors that form the foundation for this strong alliance?

Our close relations come first and foremost from our shared values. With Israel, we have the strong ties that can come only from looking at the fundamental issues of society and government in the same way. Representational government and freedom of expression are two principles to which the United States and Israel share a strong commitment.

From Israel's beginning, and after we saw the devastation to which the Jewish people had been subjected during World War II, the United States understood intellectually and emotionally that the only way that Jews could be truly secure was to have a state of their own. Our own national experience of breaking free of foreign repression strongly informed our sympathy for Jewish aspirations.

As Israel continued to develop, it has become ever more clear that our interests in the Middle East are very similar as well. Peace and security serve both our interests, and a succession of governments of differing political philosophies have worked closely together to achieve our shared objectives. Obviously, there have been differences on questions of approach and timing, but the United States and Israel have been and remain partners in the search for peace. We see our unshakable commitment to Israel's security as the basis from which Israel can take risks for peace and as indicative of both our shared values and our shared interests.

My next question relates to the way in which the United States is viewed in official and private circles in Israel. Is the United States appreciated for its traditional friendship with Israel, or is there resentment over what is perceived as US pressure to make concessions in peace negotiations?

I think that both feelings coexist in Israel today. There is certainly a great deal of identification with and appreciation for the United States. One of the things I noticed when I was Ambassador in Israel was that on Israel's Independence Day, all the cars have flags flying, attached to their windows. They sell American flags on street corners as well as Israeli flags, and most cars fly both flags on Independence Day. So Israelis identify the United States directly with the moment of their greatest national pride. That speaks volumes about the attitude toward the United States. We of course loom very large in their lives, and that is not just because we are the superpower but also because we provide US$3 billion per year in military and economic assistance and because we are critical to everything that they seek to do in terms of their foreign policy and their national security policy.

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