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$38 Billion More for Israel

Allan Brownfeld
October 6, 2016

WHY THE PACKAGE IS HARMFUL TO BOTH COUNTRIES

by Allan Brownfeld

IN SEPTEMBER, the U.S. signed an unprecedented pact with Israel that will provide it with the largest amount of military aid ever awarded to any country -- $3.8 billion annually for ten years, with promises of the latest in fighter jets, missile defense systems and cutting-edge technology.

All of this comes with no strings attached. Yet the U.S., under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has held that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are in violation of international law and an impediment to peace. The U.S. has long advocated a two-state solution, with the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has meanwhile escalated its settlement activity, and prominent voices in the Israeli government reject the two-state solution and call for annexing the occupied territories. Promising $38 billion in aid to a government that is pursuing policies that the U.S. considers an impediment to peace means, in effect, that we are helping to finance policies we oppose. This makes no sense at all.

Many Israelis themselves recognize that their government's policies are not in Israel's long-run best interests. In a letter issued in September, hundreds of Israeli artists and intellectuals urged Jews around the world to challenge Israel's policies toward the Palestinians in an open letter. It declared: "We call upon Jews around the world to join with Israeli partners for coordinated action to end occupation and build a new future, for the sake of the State of Israel, and generations to come."

The 470 signatories include forty-eight winners of Israel's most prestigious awards (the Israel Prize and the EMET Prize); seven high-ranking IDF officers; twenty former Israeli ambassadors, ministers, senior government officials and members of the Knesset; and 160 professors at Israeli universities. "The prolonged occupation is inherently oppressive for Palestinians and fuels mutual bloodshed," their letter argues. "It undermines the moral and democratic fabric of the State of Israel and hurts its standing in the community of nations."

The organization "Save Israel, Stop Occupation" seeks to end Israel's control of the territories occupied after the 1967 Six Day War and to see the establishment of a Palestinian state. The organization's director, Jessica Montell, said that Israel's military rule "harms Israeli society and it harms Jews around the world." Today, over 350,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and outposts and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem. The international community views these settlements as in violation of international law.

Even a former official of AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying group, Greg Slabodkin, citing "nearly half a century" of occupation, has called for conditioning U.S. aid to Israel on that country agreeing to freeze its settlements. Writing in The Hill, Slabodkin reacted to the news that the Obama administration was preparing to sign a massive new aid package with Israel, "the biggest aid package ever given to any country." He notes that, "Under Netanyahu's watch, Israel clearly has no intention of ending the occupation. Consequently, the U.S. should be exerting pressure on Israel to persuade the Netanyahu government to abandon its settlement activities, not rewarding the Jewish state with increased military aid. The Obama administration should make it clear that there are strings attached to U.S. aid and that Israel's failure to comply with a settlement freeze will have financial penalties...Netanyahu recently formed the most right-wing government in Israel's history, has driven U.S.-Israeli relations to their lowest point in a generation by undermining the prospects for peace with the Palestinians by entrenching the Israeli occupation."

IN THE VIEW of columnist Gideon Levy in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (September18, 2016),

Barack Obama is a bad president for Israel. If the military aid he approved for the coming decade is the largest ever, then as president he is the worst ever for Israel. The last thing Israel needs is more arms, which will push it toward acts of violence. Three hundred dollars for each U.S. taxpayer for the next ten years. Not toward America's considerable social needs, not to assist truly needy countries -- imagine what $38 billion would do for Africa -- but to provide weapons for an army that is one of the most powerfully armed in the world . . . one which methodically defies the U.S. and the international community. And worst of all, this country will receive another free gift, without having to give anything in return.

Levy concludes: "Israelis should not be grateful for U.S. generosity; it is damaging to their country. What does Israel need more armaments for? Why does it need to make war against the barefoot people of Gaza and the young men of the West Bank? . . . wIth friends like that one hardly needs enemies. Israel can go about its business, the check is blank and America is paying, no strings attached . . . Is there any worse news for Israel?"

At the signing ceremony for this massive new aid agreement, President Obama called for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Eventually, he said, two independent states must emerge, one for Israelis, one for Palestinians. Doesn't President Obama understand that providing $38 billion in aid with no strings attached provides Israel with absolutely no incentive to withdraw from the occupied territories and move toward peace?

Whatever President Obama's intentions, this aid package will serve the long-term interests of neither Israel nor our own country. Neither will it aid us in recruiting Arab allies in the fight against ISIS. Our subsidization of Israel's occupation alienates other countries in the region, making them reluctant to work with the U.S. We cannot both say that we oppose the occupation, and finance it with massive aid. What, it is fair to ask, was President Obama thinking when he signed this aid package? And, sadly, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are firm supporters of this destructive policy.

Allan C. Brownfeld is publications editor for the American Council for Judaism, founded in 1942, and a nationally syndicated columnist.