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Saturday, March 02, 2024
University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jon Pevehouse speaks at a Monday evening talk with students.

UW-Madison professor discusses US support for Israel, historical context behind conflict

Professor Jon Pevehouse’s Monday night lecture touched on the history of Israel and the United States’ support for the nation.

University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Jon Pevehouse spoke about United States support for Israel at a Monday lecture hosted by the Wisconsin Union Directorate Society & Politics Committee.

The lecture began with a focus on the modern roots of the Israeli state. Pevehouse detailed the end of World War I and the issuance of the Balfour Declaration by the British government in 1917. 

The declaration, which expressed support for the creation of a "national home for the Jewish people" in Palestine, was issued under the condition that non-Jewish communities in the region and Jewish communities in other countries would be free from discrimination.

According to Pevehouse, the largest stride toward the foundation of an Israeli state came with the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947, which proposed a Jewish state on more than half of the British-controlled territory of Mandatory Palestine and became the impetus for the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the mass displacement of Palestinians in the Nakba.

Throughout the lecture, the crowd was silent and only made commentary during the Q&A portion, contrasting with reactions that took place during other lectures hosted this semester focusing on Israel. 

The lecture then moved on to Israeli independence, which the nation declared on May 14, 1948. U.S. President Harry S. Truman immediately recognized the new nation, which began nascent American-Israeli relations, Pevehouse said.

“Ultimately, the U.S. leads the way to diplomatic recognition of Israel,” Pevehouse said. “This [was] the first sign that the U.S. and Israeli relationship is going to be close.”

Israel’s choice to support the U.S. in the Cold War as many Arab states in the region supported Soviet Union interests further strengthened the two countries’ bond, Pevehouse said.

Following a stretch of tension between Israel and the U.S. during the 1956 Suez Crisis, U.S. aid to Israel skyrocketed in 1973. Pevehouse said the aid was essential to Israel’s ability to defend itself in the Yom Kippur War and began the practice of the U.S. spending billions of dollars every year to bolster Israeli defenses.

In addition to military aid and support, Pevehouse expanded on the United States’ crucial role in brokering international recognition and peace between Israel and neighboring Arab states.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter facilitated the Camp David Accords in 1978, returning Sinai to Egypt in exchange for Israel gaining recognition from Egypt.

The U.S. again facilitated Israeli recognition from an Arab state when President Bill Clinton signed the two-part Oslo Accords in 1993 and 1995. 

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The accords, which made Palestine acknowledge Israel as legitimate and Israel recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, created the Palestinian Authority to exercise control over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

“Until this point, Israel kind of pretended that there were no Palestinians in the sense of diplomatically or politically,” Pevehouse said.

But steps towards peace in the region have stalled since the Oslo Accords were signed.

The lecture comes amid the Israel-Hamas war, where 15,000 Gazan civilians have been killed. Israel has reported an official death toll of 1,200 from the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack. 

“My experience is that political decisions are made quickly and on the fly under extreme political pressure,” Pevehouse said. “The long-term planning of foreign policy by any country is sometimes a lot to handle.”

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