Aid To Israel - Time To
Set Conditions
By Terrell E. Arnold

In the past few days both print and electronic media have reported that Ariel Sharon will present a request to the US for $15 billion for 2003. That request will be in addition to $3 billion that Israel has received regularly from the United States since the 1967 War. In current, that is 2001 dollars÷adjusted for inflation÷the Christian Science Monitor estimates that Israel has received about $240 billion in assistance÷an average of $8 billion per year in grants and loans--in the past 30 years. Among them, Israel (240 billion), Egypt (117 billion), and Jordan (22 billion) have received more US aid in those three decades than all other US aid receiving countries of the world combined. The amazing feature of this situation is that while other aid receiving countries have run up long-term debts to the United States, Israel has not. The reason is the US Congress regularly forgives each new loan to Israel.

Sharon can ask for these incredible amounts of US aid without a care, because the record shows that Israel will never have to repay it. Moreover, Israel enjoys several advantages over any other aid recipient. Aid is provided at the beginning of the year in a lump sum with no strings attached. Israel is not required, as others, to spend the funds in the United States. Israel also benefits from highly US subsidized joint R&D programs.

It is time we Americans take a hard look at this picture and ask bluntly what is in it for us. The aid to Israel, Egypt and Jordan was part of the deal for signing the Camp David Accords. The aim of the both Camp David and later Oslo Accords was peace. Where is it? Today the region is farther from peace than it has been at any point since signature of the Accords. Why? The official Israeli answer, regularly not disputed by US leadership, is Palestinian terrorism. But we must weigh against that answer (a) Israeli Defense Force occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, (b) continuing Israeli settlement building in both zones, (c) Israeli assassination of Palestinian activists/militants, (d) systematic IDF destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure, (e) Israeli preemption of the lionâs share of water in the region, (f) Israeli treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians as second or third class citizens, as well as widespread discrimination against Sephardic Jews, although that situation has improved greatly over the years.

The truly remarkable feature of the foregoing equation is that the only reclama the Palestinians have made to this pattern is periodic terrorism. For anyone else dealt with in the way the Israelis treat the Palestinians the response would be all out war.

The standard Israeli justification for the foregoing pattern is that Israel has a right to defend itself. Even when they are politely critical, US officials always insert an affirmation of the Israeli right to self-defense. What Sharon is saying with the current aid request is Israel needs $18 billion this year to defend itself against an unarmed population that is under the control of an occupying army. Really? Then what would it cost to defend Israel against an enemy of roughly symmetrical military power? Fortunately for US taxpayers, there is not one in the region, so we are not likely to find out.

Sharon might go on to argue that the Israeli economy is in the pits, and the country needs the requested funds to get the economy back up and running. However, the bulk of the economic cost lies in support of Israeli Defense Force operations, and a good deal of the economic downturn in Israel is due to loss of tourism and other side effects of the IDF conduct of operations and the Palestinian response to them. The bottom line for this calculation is that giving Israel the money it wants to defend itself is merely pouring US taxpayer funds down a rat hole. We could better use these funds here at home.

It is probable that the realization that the solution of the Israeli recession lies in Israeli decisions on such matters as the occupation of Palestine led the International Monetary Fund to state in its annual report on Israel that the country is entirely able to cope with its recession without US help.

The larger issue however concerns where real US interest lies. Despite a virtual US and Israeli official mantra on this, Israeli and US interests are not identical. The Israeli assertion that it is the only democracy in the region is only superficially true. Israel has elections, but from the beginning it has been run by an elite of Central European Zionists. By the accounts of Israelis the Sephardic Jews are still less than equal to the Ashkenazi, while the Muslims and the Christians are a tier below that. Most recently, Sharonâs party and other rightist groups have sought to disenfranchise Palestinian Muslims and Christians altogether. Sharonâs own party faces charges of vote buying and racketeering. Democratic processes work about that well or badly in neighboring countries.

A second assertion is that Israel is a strong ally of the United States in the Middle East. We are speaking here of the same Israelis who deliberately attacked and tried to sink the USS Liberty with all hands aboard, killing more than 30 American sailors in the process. We are speaking of the same Israelis whose behavior toward everybody else in the region makes Israel, and by association the United States, the enemy of Islam. We are also speaking of the Israel whose leadership, at least its hard right, harbors territorial ambitions that would be destructive not only of the interests of Palestinians but other regional societies, notably Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as well. Moreover, any alliance that might exist is constantly undermined by the fact that Israel has a nuclear arsenal that is the spur for the nuclear ambitions of Iraq and Iran. Finally, we are speaking of an ally who not only is a dependant but who wants us repeatedly to pay for the benefits of the relationship. Given the IMF view of the Israeli financial situation and the desire of the Bush team to keep Israel out of the way in any Iraqi invasion, the current aid package should be considered a bribe.

The time obviously is past for the United States to extend aid to Israel with no strings attached. It is also not sensible to provide assistance where there is no compelling need. Nor is it sound US foreign policy for the United States to go along with indiscriminate and unlawful Israeli use of US supplied military equipment and weapons as the IDF now operates in the West Bank and Gaza. If we write the next check, therefore, we should surround it with real expectations for progress on issues that matter to us in the Middle East. Israel should start by carrying out its commitments under the letter and spirit of the Camp David and Oslo Accords.

Immediate decisive actions are required by Israel: First, the IDF has to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. Second, Mossad and others who carry out their orders have to stop assassinating Palestinians. Third, all further settlement development activity has to stop. Fourth, a program to dismantle the existing settlements must be up and actually running as soon as possible. Fifth, the holy places of Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem in fact, should be handed over to the UN for administration so that the worldâs Muslims, Christians and Jews are guaranteed access. Ultimately the Israelis should leave the Palestinians alone and let them develop their state.

In exchange for those actions, which are the minimum necessary to demonstrate Israeli worthiness as a member of the family of nations, the Palestinians must stop terrorist attacks. Suicide bombings of the past few days are a serious setback. Critics of the Sharon regime say that he needs the bombings in order to justify his program to expel the Palestinians. If that is so the Palestinians tragically play into his hands and prolong their own agony.

What must happen next, however, has little to do with who may be at fault on any given day. The initiative lies with the Israelis because they are the occupying power. Israeli withdrawal is an essential first step. All Israelis and their supporters must understand that the Palestinians have no incentive to stop those attacks so long as Israeli leadership remains on its present course. Conventional military power favors Israel, but economy of force favors the Palestinians. The Israelis are systematically destroying Palestine, but the Palestinians are conducting a successful war of nerves. No one is winning.

Scanning the world media and the Internet, one can see that a growing number of Israelis, American Jews and Jews in other countries deeply feel the truth of the foregoing paragraphs. As shown in writings by Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom and others, many of them delicately balance a growing concern about the future survival of Israel with an increasing shame about Israeli repression of the people of Palestine.

Some of these Israeli critics see the unreality of the situation and assert that easy access to US financial support is a corrupting influence that they would like to see terminated. A significant minority it seems would accept Israeli adoption of the kinds of austerity and conservative financial management programs the international financial system expects of other aid recipients, at least so long as it would show that the Israelis can stand on their own feet.

To make such habits a reality, however, the US Congress must stop passing laws that routinely forgive Israeli debts to the United States. That means the very powerful Israel support groups in this country must back off, stop a corrupt and deeply imbedded practice, be at least moderately fair, and stop pressing the Congress for abnormal, even immoral amounts of aid to Israel. This under the table practice abuses both the trust and the good will of the American people. Peace in the Middle East is plainly in the interest of the people of Israel, and it is a travesty for American taxpayers to have to pay Israeli leadership to undertake the effort to achieve peace. In short, it is time to get real, because the conditions of the current relationship are a cruel fantasy for everybody concerned.

The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State. He will welcome comments at
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