WASHINGTON, August 8, 2016 – It has long been U.S. policy, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is in violation of international law. Both parties have also argued that the way to bring peace to the Middle East is with the two-state solution, the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. Part of that solution is in ending Israeli settlements in Gaza.
Yet, Israel continues to build settlements in the occupied territories.
The US provides Israel with more financial aid than it gives to any other country in the world. The $3.3 billion in annual assistance has no strings attached.
That means the US gives enormous sums to Israel regardless of its actions, and that Washington is essentially subsidizing policies it opposes and which it believes are a threat to peace.
The US and Israel are now negotiating the largest military aid package the U.S. has ever given any country and that will last more than a decade after President Obama leaves office. In August, Brig. Gen. Yaakov Nagel, the acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, arrived in Washington to advance this new agreement. The proposed aid is said to involve $40 billion over a ten year period. As with previous aid packages, Israel would receive the assistance even if it advances policies the US believes threaten peace.
In July, the State Department sharply criticized Israel for taking steps to build hundreds of new housing units in East Jerusalem. John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, described the activities as “corrosive to the cause of peace. These steps by Israeli authorities are the latest examples of what appears to be a steady acceleration of settlement activity that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”
Also in July, a report was issued by the so-called “Quartet,” consisting of the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the U.N., which have been trying to nudge Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace negotiations that broke down more than they years ago.
This report called on Israel to halt settlement construction and expansion, and to stop designating land for exclusive Israeli use.
Nickolay E. Mladenov, the U.N. Special coordinator for Middle East peace, said that he was “increasingly concerned by the near-daily advancement of the illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”
Israel’s current government is committed to expanding Jewish settlements and no longer even gives lip-service to the goal of creating a Palestinian state. In June, it approved $20 million in additional financing for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, underlining its strengthened right-wing orientation.
Many Israelis are highly critical of this expansion of settlements. Speaking at the annual Herzlya security conference, former prime minister Ehud Barak said that a “fanatic seed of extreme ideology has taken over the Likud.” He argued that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priority was not security but “a slow and cunning advancement of the one-state solution agenda.”
He said that this would lead to either an apartheid state or a bi-national state “in which the Jews will become a minority within a couple of generations.”
By turning its back on the two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Netanyahu government has not only rejected US policy, but the best advice of Israel’s own military and intelligence establishment. Former Shin Bet (Israel’s domestic security agency) Director Avi Dichter says that,
“Any intelligent person realizes that a one-state solution with the six million Jews and seven million non-Jews, mostly Muslims, is irresponsible.”
Another former Shin Bet director, Yuval Diskin, says,
“The unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents an existential threat. We need to reach an agreement now, before we reach ‘the point of no return.'”
Former Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) head Efraim Halevy notes that,
“No solution means that there’s going to be one state. It will be a non-democratic system for the majority, and this is unsustainable and untenable.”
Today, the West Bank and East Jerusalem are inhabited by 370,000 Jewish settlers and 2.8 million Palestinians. The settlers have full legal rights as Israeli citizens. The indigenous Palestinian population, the overwhelming majority, do not share those rights. They live, in effect, under a military occupation which is approaching its 50th year. For the U.S. to increase our aid to Israel, while remaining silent about the occupation we oppose, makes no sense.
This point was recently made by a former official of AIPAC, the lobbying group with close ties to the Israeli government.
Writing in “The Hill,” Greg Slabodkin says that any further U.S. aid to Israel should be conditioned upon “a freeze to its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
In Slabodkin’s view,
“Under Netanyahu’s watch, Israel clearly has no intention of ending its occupation. Consequently, the U.S. should be exerting pressure on Israel to persuade the Netanyahu government to abandon its settlement activities, not rewarding Israel 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.”
Slabodkin speaks for an increasing number of American Jews when he says that, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently formed the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has driven U.S.-Israel relations to their lowest point in a generation by undermining the prospects for peace with the Palestinians by entrenching the Israeli occupation, which has lasted nearly half a century.”
There are other aspects of U.S. aid to Israel which are unusual and counterproductive. Israel is not only the greatest beneficiary of U.S. defense assistance, but also the only one allowed to spend a portion of that assistance on weapons and equipment from its own industry. Everyone else has to spend their aid in the U.S. purchasing American-made products.
According to Bloomberg News,
“President Obama is now looking to end this U.S. subsidy of Israel’s defense sector, according to U.S. and Israeli officials. They say ‘the offshore procurement’ provision is unique to Israel’s aid package, Obama would like to phase out the agreement that allows Israel to spend 26% of annual U.S. aid at home. This reflects unease among many U.S. defense companies that Israel is now a competitor in the international arms market.”
The idea that Israel, a prosperous country in its own right, requires massive US aid that comprises more than 50% of America’s total military aid budget, is open to serious question. Israel’s gross domestic product in the last ten years has nearly doubled to around $230 billion. In this period, Israel has emerged as one of the world’s top arms exporters.
In 2015, Israel sold $5.7 billion worth of military goods to other countries. Mary Beth Long, who served as assistant Secretary of Defense from 2007 to 2009, asks, “How inexplicable is it that we are competing against the Israelis in the Indian defense procurement market at the same time we are subsidizing the Israeli defense industry?”
Beyond all of this, ending the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is essential to defeating ISIS and restoring order to the Middle East. Speaking in February at the Middle East Security Conference in Munich, King Abdullah II of Jordan said, “Left unresolved, the Palestine-Israel conflict will become a religious conflict of global dimension.”
He noted that the “festering injustice” of the unresolved conflict “continues to be exploited by ISIS and its kind…It is only a matter of time before we may be faced by yet another war in Gaza or South Lebanon. This is why reaching a two-state solution should remain a priority for us all.”
US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro says that Israel’s fast-moving expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands “raises honest questions about Israel’s long-term intentions” and commitment to a two-state solution. Shapiro also said that, “Too many attacks on Palestinians lack a vigorous investigation or response by Israeli authorities, too much vigilantism goes unchecked, and at times there seems to be two standards of adherence to the rule of law: one for Israelis and another for Palestinians.”
US policy with regard to the Middle East should, ideally, advance American interests, enhance the prospects for peace, and seek to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and assist in the establishment of a Palestinian state. None of these goals would be achieved by increasing already massive U.S. aid to Israel without insisting that the occupation come to an end. Israel’s own long-term best interests would also be advanced by such a policy, as more and more Israelis are coming to understand.