The Three Roots of the Special Relationship: What makes U.S.-Israeli ties so strong?

President John F. Kennedy, in 1962, was the first to coin the phrase “Special Relationship” to describe the unique nature of U.S.-Israeli ties. In essence, however, they were “special” well before that – indeed, they were special all along, ever since President Truman recognized Israel 11 minutes after her Declaration of Independence went into effect. What made them special, and this remains true today, is that it was never possible to explain the relationship simply in terms of calculated national interests, or to reduce it to the impact of domestic politics. It has always rested on three complementary pillars, or rather grew from three strong roots, and could not have risen to the levels it achieved – particularly in the last thirty years or so – without the synergy between all three: the commonality of interests, the affinity of values, and the impact of politics.

The purpose of this paper is thus to present first the fruit – the practical implications of the special relationship – and then concentrate on its three roots, to survey the history and the evolution of each of the three, and to offer insights into what continues to sustain them now – despite well-publicized differences on policy, and acute personal tensions at the leadership level. It points out the legacies of past experience, the active elements of today’s dynamics, and the prospects (as well as dangers) looking towards the future. Each chapter could easily fill a volume; by necessity, this study is just an introduction to the understanding of one of the world’s most unusual partnerships.

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Author:Eran Lerman
Published: 22-03-2017