Friday, October 8, 2010

Stop the Aid to Israel!

Like most Israelis, I care much for my country and want to see her prosper. I live in Israel, I have two boys who serve in the Israeli "Defense" Forces, and I have nothing to gain from weakening my country. Therefore, the title above is not meant in any way to hurt the State of Israel - on the contrary.
Most Israelis are proud to say that their country is very solid, powerful and independent, from the economy and military viewpoints. I agree. Thus, the title above should not upset anybody who cares for Israel (but I know that it will); after all, if Israel is so powerful, then why the heck does she need $3B in foreign aid?
Coming to you in the series “things I don’t understand, and probably never will”: the number 1 unclear issue to me is – why is this stupid conflict taking so long to resolve?! I think that it could happen very soon, if the Obama administration gave the Israeli government a simple ultimatum.
We are being told all the time, that Obama, unlike Bush, is an intelligent, rational, and above all – unbiased man, without any commitment to one side or another. He is focused and determined to justify the Nobel Peace prize, which he received prematurely. There are even “good souls” who state that he is a Muslim and even anti-Semite. If that is the case, what stops him from pointing a gun to Netanyahu’s head (metaphorically speaking, of course!), and to tell him: Bibi boy, let's cut the BS. From now on, I not only demand a complete freeze of new constructions in the occupied territories; I demand a practical plan for dismantling the Settlements, on my table tomorrow morning. If I don’t see on my table a detailed plan, with a commitment to a reasonable schedule – then no more aid to you, sir.
Well, obviously this is over-simplistic. In fact, what I suggest here is the exact same demagogic approach, typical to the Right, which I hate so much – as if a 90 years old conflict could be resolved by a flash of a quote from a B-picture.
OK, so let’s make it a little more subtle: not by tomorrow, by the end of next week. And not all settlements – let’s start with those which can be evacuated in a short time period. Let’s leave Ariel and Ma’ale Edomim (two bigger towns, which will be more complicated to evacuate) to the next phase – or to a negotiation.
What’s stops this wonderful scenario from happening?
No, no. This is impossible, you would say. No American President has ever dared to confront the powerful Jewish lobby, and this would mean committing suicide by Obama. But if that is so, then why do they call John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt – anti-Semites? The book by the two Political Science professors, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” has been compared to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, in that it argues that the Jewry in the US has a legendary influence on the Administration, to the extent that it pushes the US to “support Israel” on the expense of crucial US interests. If the claim of a powerful Jewish community is so bogus, then why should all American presidents be so afraid of failing?
Obviously, there is not much love between Obama and Netanyahu. It is also clear, that Obama is “disappointed,” to say the least, from the rejection of his proposal to Netanyahu, regarding the extension of the Freeze on construction. Obama would prefer that Israel not only will freeze new projects, but would evacuate the majority of Settlements, which no American administration has ever recognized, including the big Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem; this is the reason, by the way, that there are hardly any foreign embassies in the Israeli capital, including the American one.
If all this is so clear, then what does Obama have to worry about?
The main argument against the scenario that I propose is that it will have a boomerang effect: in case of an American pressure on Israel, the entire Israeli public will unite in resistance.
This is a solid argument. In fact, this is the main argument I am using, against the idea of attacking Iran: it will only unite the otherwise diverse and heterogeneous Iranian society.
But in the Israeli case, that’s not what is going to happen. The Israeli public is very diverse, but roughly speaking, about half of it already came to terms with the concept of a Palestinian state residing in most of the territories captures by Israel in 1967, and that includes the evacuation of most of the Settlements. This group is not motivated, in general, by trust in the Palestinian side, nor is it moved by moral considerations, for the most part. Just because of that, those people will not insist on what they see as a more just solution – namely, that the Palestinians would make the concessions. The vast majority of the secular and moderate public is interested in peace, for financial reasons, in the spirit of the life in the Tel-Aviv “bubble”. Evidence to this is the characteristics of the support base of the Liberal party, Meretz: wealthy Ahskenazi people, who belong to the upper or second highest echelons, and have much to lose.
The Israeli secular section, being well educated and with foreign affairs awareness, understands very well the meaning of a confrontation with the superpower of the world; and they are not willing to go there. In case of a serious crisis with the US, they will prefer the voice of reason, over the option of continuing with the Messianic policy of nourishing the Settlements, and hoping for help from heaven.
Another argument is, that Israel actually does not need the US aid. There are even claims, that there is no aid at all! This kind of rhetoric can be found, for example, in the Right-wing periodical “Nativ”. They claim, that that $10 billion loan guarantees that the US gave Israel, actually were a loan for business purpose only, and by very good terms to the lender, too. In addition, most of the money ought to be spent in the US, which would benefit the economy of the latter.
Well, here are the facts:
Since 1987, the US pays the State of Israel real money in the sum of $3 billion per year, out of which $1.8 billion is military aid. This is besides “special aid” such as during the 1991 Gulf War, or the 2003 Iraq War. This also excludes aid to special projects such as the “Arrow” missile, totaling $1.3 billion. In 1996, the Israeli Prime Minister of the time (a guy named Benjamin Netanyahu) decided to discontinue the economic part of the aid, but at the same time, the military part grew to $2.4 billion.
The loan guarantees are actually for loans which Israel borrows elsewhere, so the US does not benefit from them.
The argument that most of the aid is spent in the US, is true. However, ending the aid will cause a severe damage to the support base of Israel within the American public, which currently benefits from the aid.
“Israel is not economically self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing to maintain its economy. Since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II.” (1) (From Congressional Report Service, 2004)
Per capita, this is $340; compare to the average US aid to the rest of the world, which is $22.
If this aid stops, then Israel will have to give up expensive weapon systems, such as the “Arrow”, F-35 stealth fighter, and even Merkava tanks. In addition, thousands of Israelis who work in the design, manufacturing and support, will lose their jobs. In the secondary circle, a big section of the Israeli economy, which relies heavily on the military contract industries, will be severely hurt.
The second component of Israel’s neediness is in the foreign policy arena. The last time that the US has put real pressure on Israel was in 1956, when the Israeli military took the entire Sinai peninsula (3 times as big as Israel proper), in just 4 days. David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister and secretary of Defense, declared: “Eilat will be again (after King Solomon’s regime, around 1000 B.C.) the major Hebrew southern port, and Tiran (at the southern tip of Sinai) will again be part of the Third Israeli Kingdom!” It took just a few days of pressure, and “The Old Man” agreed to give back the entire land to Egypt.
Since then, the US hardly ever used its power to pressure Israel. In 1975, the Ford administration announced a “re-assessment” of the relationships, including a weapons Embargo – and the earth shook. Since then, the US always uses its veto privilege in the UN Security Council, to save Israel dozens of unpleasant resolution, which would otherwise haunt Israel – as do the very few which did pass, such as resolution 242 (calling for all parties to “withdraw from Territories which were captured by force”).
Without the continuous American diplomatic support, Israel would be far more isolated and weakened, even more that the dire state in which she is now. The faith that “it doesn’t matter what the Goyim will say,” is no longer common in the Israeli public – except for the followers of Rabbi Kook (the Guru of the religious Right).
Therefore I hereby call the almighty American Jews, and President Obama: if you really care for the future of Israel, if it is precious to you as much as it is to me – then start putting pressure on Israel’s government! Do it instead of sending your spoiled children to 2-week trips to the best part of the country. Call your congressperson, and demand the end of the generous aid. You will be surprised, how fast our brave, ex-commando officer PM chickens under real pressure. We, the majority of the people in Israel, will back you up all the way!


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