- 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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org