Hint: it’s not determined by the “Jewish lobby”.
American policy toward Israel may seem schizophrenic. One the one hand, we provide enormous amounts of military and other aid; on the other, we often put great pressure on Israel to take actions that are not in her interest.
Ami Isseroff argues that there is, however, a consistent logic to American behavior:
The US adopted [In 1967] a two fold approach to regaining its standing in the Middle East. The first part was to make Israel dependent upon it for arms and diplomatic backing, while at the same time working for a permanent peace settlement and Israeli withdrawal. The “peace settlement” part would be satisfactory to the pro-Israel faction that was generally in charge in the White House, while the Israeli withdrawal part would satisfy the rank and file career diplomats of the State Department, who never had excessive love for Israel or people of the Jewish persuasion.
This policy could be marketed to supporters of Israel as a pro-Israel policy that sought peace, and would, as Kissinger noted even to the Iraqis, oppose the destruction of Israel, while it could be marketed to Arab states and their supporters as US opposition to annexation of Arab territory, and reduction of Israel’s size.
Isseroff has always been a member of the Israeli ‘peace camp’ (and still is). But he adds,
Peace in return for Israeli withdrawal would be a fair bargain, if it is really peace. Unfortunately, we should be well aware that the United States does not possess either the will or the means to guarantee continued peace after Israeli withdrawal, and on the other hand, pressures in the United States are growing to get any kind of settlement and call it “peace.” Anti-Zionists have managed to blame the Iraq war on Israel, and as the Iraq war sours, pressure for the US to divest itself of its obligations to Israel, and its association with the occupation, has grown.
The aftermath of 9-11 and the miscarriage of the Oslo process poses a dilemma for the United States, especially as domestic pressure mounts for a gracious exit from Iraq. The conviction has grown in the US that somehow an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will help to remedy US failures in Iraq, but such an agreement does not appear to be practicable. In the wake of 9-11, the US clearly cannot indulge Islamist extremism. The people in charge in a large part of Palestine as of 2007 are Islamist extremists. But where there is a will there is a way, and if it is deemed necessary to US policy commitments — a euphemism for the flow of oil from the Gulf states — Israel may find itself forced to withdraw in return for a token peace treaty.
And, worse yet:
Acute analysts will note that if Israel ever does return all of the conquered territories, then Israel would be of no further use in American attempts to ingratiate itself with the Arabs. At the same time, America would have very little leverage with the Arabs unless it pressed Israel for further concessions. Without doubt, there are those in the US diplomatic corps who would not be averse to exerting such pressure.
Israeli politicians therefore have to think ahead to what American policy might be two days after the peace treaty is signed, when some Arab states, or Muslim groups, inevitably, nonetheless declare their objections to the presence of Israel in the Middle East. From the Israeli point [of view], we will have no more territory to concede, but that may not necessarily be the American view. After all, in the early 50s, the US was behind a plan to get Israel to make concessions to Egypt in the Negev. [my emphasis]
Americans concerned with our Mideast policy, particularly now as we are thinking about possible presidential candidates, must read Isseroff’s entire article, “Territorial Integrity: American Middle East policy and what it means for Israel“.