Reprinted from the NEW YORK POST -- October 24, 1999
AN ISRAELI DILEMMA
By David Bar-Illan
THE reason American aid to Israel is renewed every year is simple: It benefits both giver and receiver. For Israel it means an enhanced ability to deter potential aggressors and provide shelter to persecuted Jews. For the United States, Israel serves as "an unsinkable aircraft carrier," as one military expert put it, in an unstable region vital to American interests.
An effective bulwark against Soviet expansionism during the Cold War, Israel is now a vital democratic outpost in a region plagued by radical anti-American regimes, fanatic Islamic movements, and terrorism. The American public seems to understand this. U.S. grants to Israel over the years - the largest awarded any country - have not diminished public sympathy for the Jewish State.
But some Israeli leaders on both sides of the political spectrum want Israel to wean itself from aid. Dependence of any kind is addictive and unhealthy, they reason, and Israel cannot afford to worry about its benefactor's concerns whenever the country's security is on the line.
It is precisely this dependence on American approval that the State Department wants to perpetuate. It considers Israel's vulnerability to American pressure essential to a Pax Americana in the Middle East. It also needs Israel to keep the whole foreign-aid package alive. For while there is always a large bipartisan majority in Congress for aid to Israel, there is little support for aid to other countries, including Egypt, whose aid package is linked to Israel's.
Israel is thus used as a lever to aid a regime which Foreign Minister David Levy accused last week of "blocking every attempt by Israel to improve its relations and cooperation with Arab countries." It is a regime, moreover, that has nurtured a virulently anti-Semitic environment ever since the Israel-Egypt peace treaty was signed 20 years ago.
A similar problem now bedevils the combined aid package for Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Congressmen who do not relish granting $400 million to the corrupt and oppressive Palestinian regime, which refuses to crack down on the terrorist infrastructure and continues anti-Semitic incitement, find themselves opposing a grant of $1.2 billion for Israel.
But many Israelis worry about more than the free ride for the Palestinian Authority. They wonder about the nature of the peace process if such vast amounts must be spent on military substitutes for forfeited land. Peace agreements are expected to reduce military expenditures, not raise them. This applies even more acutely to the projected withdrawal from the Golan, for which Israel expects to need an estimated $20 billion. That Congress will grant this colossal sum, plus a substantial package of benefits for the Syrian dictatorship, is doubtful. That such an enormous Israeli indebtedness will not conduce a healthy relationship between Jerusalem and Washington is certain.
The reliance on American largesse also distorts Israel's ability to calculate risks. Presuming that the United States will always be there to compensate for relinquished land, Israeli leaders tend to belittle problems money cannot solve. The guerrilla-terrorist warfare now waged in Lebanon, where the Israeli army - the most powerful in the region - cannot vanquish a few thousand Hezbollah gunmen, is an illuminating example. If the areas turned over to the Palestinians become another Lebanon near Israel's major population centers, no addition of sophisticated weaponry will replace the lost geographical and topographical advantage.
Perhaps most worrisome is that converting the concept of "land for peace" into "land for dollars" will be harmful to Israel's image and deterrence capacity. Such a trade-off may seem a reasonable compromise to Westerners. But to Israel's neighbors it appears like a readiness to trade a national birthright for money. It reinforces their conviction that Israel's presence in the region is as transient as it is illegitimate, a conviction which is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Copyright 1999 NYP Holdings, All rights reserved.