The Practical Importance Of International Recognition
Most countries recognize their mutual sovereignty diplomatically, and a large share of international wars involve countries that do not recognize another country's sovereignty over some or all of its territory.
In international diplomacy, not recognizing a country's existence is the metaphorical (and sometimes literal) equivalent of pointing a loaded gun at it at all times, whether or not the non-recognizing country actually fires it. It can escalate to war with little provocation on short notice and requires constant military vigilance on the part of the unrecognized country.
Israel has historically not be recognized as a legitimate sovereign country by most of its neighbors for the understandable reason that prior to British colonial government decisions made after World War I, no Israeli state had existed for many centuries and most of the citizens of Israel were 20th century immigrants who displaced and/or subordinated Palestinians who had preceded them there, a people with whom other Middle Eastern and North African Muslims shared many commonalities.
The unwillingness of its neighbors to recognize Israel gave rise to wars with its neighbors in which Israel prevailed in 1948, 1967, 1973, and to a Palestinian insurgency and at times terrorism campaign (with meaningful foreign support from Israel's neighbors) that has continued on and off (but mostly on) since then.
International recognition ends one primary justification for international war against Israel, making peace more likely.
International Recognition Reduces The Pressure To Provide Foreign Aid
The international military conflicts mostly subsided after the Camp David Accords negotiated by the U.S., in which Egypt recognized Israel in exchange for a stream of foreign aid to Egypt, basically as a bribe, in order to maintain peace with Israel, which the U.S. has maintained since then. A similar arrangement was reached with Saudi Arabia and the U.S. has continued to provide foreign aid to Israel to help prevent its annihilation which could have been as devastating to the Jewish people as the Holocaust.
Israel, Jordan and Egypt are now some of the primary foreign aid recipients of the U.S., something that peace in the Middle East secured by wider recognition of Israel by its neighbors could mitigate. Saudi Arabia is a major source of U.S. military sales for similar reasons.
Globally in 2018, the United States spent over $47 billion in foreign
aid ($1 billion more than 2017). Nearly 37% of that budget went to
just ten countries:
- Afghanistan ($5.94 billion)
- Israel ($3.11 billion)
- Jordan ($1.67 billion)
- Egypt ($1.23 billion)
- Iraq ($1.18 billion)
- Ethiopia ($878 million)
- Syria ($835 million)
- Kenya ($824 million)
- Nigeria ($820 million)
- South Sudan ($789 million).
It’s also worth noting the breakdown between economic and military
spending in these countries: Of the roughly $17.3 billion foreign aid
dollars given to the top 10 countries, about 57% of it ($9.77 billion)
was designated as military funds. In comparison, overall US foreign
aid allocated to military funding was just 28.8% (or $13.5 billion) of
its foreign aid budget in 2018.
Peace also reduces pressure to make U.S. military sales to uncertain Middle Eastern arms trade partners who insist on the sales in order to refrain from attacking Israel. The table below shows that those sales on essentially both sides of a potential Middle East war in the future are substantial.
U.S. Arms Transfers 1997-1999 out of $91,485 million total (Western Europe, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea make up most of the rest of U.S. arms transfers):
While these figures are somewhat dated, the general trend in U.S. military transfers has held steady in this region of the world.
International Recognition Supports Lower, Stable Oil Prices
War in the Middle East drives up oil prices. Historically, low oil prices have been critical to the U.S. economy, which was heavily dependent upon foreign oil until the last couple of decades. Peace in the Middle East, which is furthered by wider recognition of Israel, tends to keeps oil prices stable and low. Since this is perceived as good for the U.S. economy, international recognition of Israel is seen as providing long term security for the U.S. economy.
Why Does The U.S. Politically Supports Israel's Continued Existence?
The U.S. has supported Israel's continued existence, in part, because the U.S. has the largest Jewish population in the world (by a broad definition) and the second largest Jewish population in the world (by a small margin) by a narrow definition:
Two countries, the United States (51%), and Israel (30%), including
the West Bank (2%), account for 81% of those recognised as Jews or of
sufficient Jewish ancestry to be eligible for citizenship in Israel
under its Law of Return. France (3%), Canada (3%), Russia (3%), United
Kingdom (2%), Argentina (1%), Germany (1%), Ukraine (1%), Brazil (1%),
Australia (1%) and Hungary (1%) hold an additional 16%, and the
remaining 3% are spread around 98 other countries and territories with
less than 0.5% each. With nearly 6.5 million Jews, Israel is the
only Jewish-majority and explicitly Jewish state.
Every Jew is Israel is one or two degrees of separation from an American and every American Jew is one or two degrees of separation from an Israeli (and every American is not more than two or three degrees of separation from an Israeli). Many Israelis are former Americans or dual American citizens.
The U.S. has also had non-Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa since the 18th century. But immigrants to the U.S. from this region have been disproportionately non-Muslim relative to the source populations, and until the last few decades, the U.S. has had a much larger Jewish population than its Muslim population.
Furthermore, the Jewish population of the U.S. has been highly concentrated in the Northeast and a few other population centers in the U.S. that has made it possible for Jewish culture and Zionist (i.e. pro-Israel) sentiment in those communities to remain strong. In contrast, the U.S. Muslim population, even as it has grown in recent decades has been more diffuse and less well established at a community scale.
U.S. support for Israel is also not just Jewish in origin. Many Evangelical Christians (a key political demographic on the American right that is balanced by Jews as a key political demographic on the American left) are strongly pro-Israel for reasons of their own religious faith (which places greater emphasis on the Hebrew Bible a.k.a. Old Testament than some other Christian denominations). Evangelical Christians, like all Christians, have roots in Judaism, and for example, mutually hold the religious sites there that are sacred to the Jews as sacred to them as well.
There is also cultural similarity and comfort between the U.S. and Israel. Israel is a country of people who mostly have European ancestry, like most Americans, and unlike other peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. Israel also has one of the most advanced economies in the region, with an economy that is more similar to that of the U.S. These similarities have fostered some sense of relatively likemindedness with Israel that is not shared with other countries in the region.
So, of the U.S. political factions that care about Israel, one way or the other, these factions have historically been predominantly strongly pro-Israel.
As a result, since at least the 1970s, the U.S. has been the leading political patron of Israel in world affairs. Therefore, securing international recognition for Israel and preserving its long term existence has been a widely shared goal of American diplomacy on a bipartisan basis. Efforts to secure international recognition of Israel helps advance these goals.