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How the US Is Bankrolling Israel

Israel has been the top recipient of American foreign aid for the last three decades, despite instability in the area.

| Mon Feb. 10, 2014 4:48 PM EST

Strategic Self-Interest and Unconditional Military Aid

On the activist front, American military patronage of Israel is not much discussed either, in large part because the aid package is so deeply entrenched that no attempt to cut it back could succeed in the near future. Hence, the global BDS campaign has focused on smaller, more achievable targets, though as Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, an advocacy group, told me, the BDS movement does envision an end to Washington's military transfers in the long term. This makes tactical sense, and both the Jerusalem Fund and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are engaged in ongoing campaigns to inform the public about American military aid to Israel.

Less understandable are the lobbying groups that advertise themselves as "pro-peace," champions of "dialogue" and "conversation," but share the same bottom line on military aid for Israel as their overtly hawkish counterparts. For instance, J Street ("pro-Israel and pro-peace"), a Washington-based nonprofit which bills itself as a moderate alternative to the powerhouse lobbying outfit, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), supports both "robust" military aid and any supplemental disbursements on offer from Washington to the Israeli Defense Forces. Americans for Peace Now similarly takes the position that Washington should provide "robust assistance" to ensure Israel's "qualitative military edge." At the risk of sounding literal-minded, any group plumping for enormous military aid packages to a country acting as Israel has is emphatically not "pro-peace." It's almost as if the Central America solidarity groups from the 1980s had demanded peace, while lobbying Washington to keep funding the Contras and the Salvadoran military.

Outside the various factions of the Israel lobby, the landscape is just as flat. The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank close to the Democratic Party, regularly issues pious statements about new hopes for the "peace process"—with never a mention of how our unconditional flow of advanced weaponry might be a disincentive to any just resolution of the situation.

There is, by the way, a similar dynamic at work when it comes to Washington's second biggest recipient of foreign aid, Egypt. Washington's expenditure of more than $60 billion over the past 30 years ensured both peace with Israel and Cold War loyalty, while propping up an authoritarian government with a ghastly human rights record. As the post-Mubarak military restores its grip on Egypt, official Washington is currently at work finding ways to keep the military aid flowing despite a congressional ban on arming regimes that overthrow elected governments. There is, however, at least some mainstream public debate in the US about ending aid to the Egyptian generals who have violently reclaimed power. Investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has even drafted a handy "explainer" about US military aid to Egypt—though they have not tried to explain aid to Israel.

Silence about US-Israel relations is, to a large degree, hardwired into Beltway culture. As George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Washington Post, "It's like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don't talk about it; you don't criticize Israel, you protect Israel."

This is regrettable, as Washington's politically invisible military aid to Israel is not just an impediment to lasting peace, but also a strategic and security liability. As General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2010, the failure to reach a lasting resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians makes Washington's other foreign policy objectives in the region more difficult to achieve. It also, he pointed out, foments anti-American hatred and fuels al-Qaeda and other violent groups. Petraeus's successor at CENTCOM, General James Mattis, echoed this list of liabilities in a public dialogue with Wolf Blitzer last July:

"I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that [alienates] all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us because they can't come out publicly in support of people who don't show respect for the Arab Palestinians."

Don't believe the generals? Ask a terrorist. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks now imprisoned at Guantanamo, told interrogators that he was motivated to attack the United States in large part because of Washington's leading role in assisting Israel's repeated invasions of Lebanon and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.

The Israel lobby wheels out a battery of arguments in favor of arming and funding Israel, including the assertion that a step back from such aid for Israel would signify a "retreat" into "isolationism." But would the United States, a global hegemon busily engaged in nearly every aspect world affairs, be "isolated" if it ceased giving lavish military aid to Israel? Was the United States "isolated" before 1967 when it expanded that aid in a major way? These questions answer themselves.

Sometimes the mere act of pointing out the degree of US aid to Israel provokes accusations of having a special antipathy for Israel. This may work as emotional blackmail, but if someone proposed that Washington start shipping Armenia $3.1 billion worth of armaments annually so that it could begin the conquest of its ancestral province of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighboring Azerbaijan, the plan would be considered ludicrous—and not because of a visceral dislike for Armenians. Yet somehow the assumption that Washington is required to generously arm the Israeli military has become deeply institutionalized in this country.

Fake Peace Process, Real War Process

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is leading a push for a renewed round of the interminable American-led peace process in the region that has been underway since the mid-1970s. It's hardly a bold prediction to suggest that this round, too, will fail. The Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Ya'alon, has already publicly mocked Kerry in his quest for peace as "obsessive and messianic" and added that the newly proposed framework for this round of negotiations is "not worth the paper it's printed on." Other Israeli high officials blasted Kerry for his mere mention of the potential negative consequences to Israel of a global boycott if peace is not achieved.

But why shouldn't Ya'alon and other Israeli officials tee off on the hapless Kerry? After all, the defense minister knows that Washington will wield no stick and that bushels of carrots are in the offing, whether Israel rolls back or redoubles its land seizures and colonization efforts. President Obama has boasted that the US has never given so much military aid to Israel as under his presidency. On January 29th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to upgrade Israel's status to "major strategic partner." With Congress and the president guaranteeing that unprecedented levels of military aid will continue to flow, Israel has no real incentive to change its behavior.

Usually such diplomatic impasses are blamed on the Palestinians, but given how little is left to squeeze out of them, doing so this time will test the creativity of official Washington. Whatever happens, in the post-mortems to come there will be no discussion in Washington about the role its own policies played in undermining a just and lasting agreement.

How much longer will this silence last? The arming and bankrolling of a wealthy nation committing ethnic cleansing has something to offend conservatives, progressives, and just about every other political grouping in America. After all, how often in foreign policy does strategic self-interest align so neatly with human rights and common decency?

Intelligent people can and do disagree about a one-state versus a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. People of goodwill disagree about the global BDS campaign. But it is hard to imagine what kind of progress can ever be made toward a just and lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine until Washington quits arming one side to the teeth.

"If it weren't for US support for Israel, this conflict would have been resolved a long time ago," says Josh Ruebner. Will we Americans ever acknowledge our government's active role in destroying the chances for a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel?

Chase Madar (@ChMadar) is a lawyer in New York, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso).

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