Reprinted from the New York Post Online of January 4, 2000

FROM ALLY TO PROTECTORATE

By David Bar-Illan

ISRAEL needed all the help it could get when it emerged from its War of Independence in 1948. Outnumbered 100 to one by peoples sworn to its destruction, the new state fought for its life, opened its gates to Jewish refugees from Arab countries and survivors of Nazi death camps, and turned them into a powerful, modern nation. No cause could more convincingly justify the massive assistance Israel received. But, ultimately, assistance is truly helpful only if it enables the recipient to become independent. And until recently, this was the direction Israel was taking. The highly motivated immigration from the former Soviet Union and Israeli expertise in the field of high tech have given the nation marked advantage in today's marketplace. Israel seemed to be on the threshold of complete economic and political independence.

Instead, Israel is becoming more dependent on the United States than ever. Partly, this is due to the slow pace of its emergence from a centralist and inefficient economy saddled with confiscatory taxation. It is easier to remain addicted to American assistance than to take the painful, drastic steps needed to transform the economy.

But far more threatening to Israel's independence is Washington's concept of Middle Eastern peace. The administration is forcing Israel to do what all Israeli governments have vowed they would never do -- relinquish the Golan and most of the West Bank and agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.

Some believe this reflects President Clinton's ambition to leave the stage as a Nobel Peace Prize winner rather than as the second president in history to be impeached. But a more likely explanation is that the administration has concluded that the only way to bring peace to the region is to make all its nations economically and militarily dependent on Washington. This would enable America to call the shots and prevent its dependents from attacking each other.

That dictatorial Arab regimes with crumbling armies and stagnant economies should accept such an U.S. solution is hardly surprising. It enables them to retrieve territories lost in wars of aggression, improve their economies -- at least enough to avoid internal turmoil -- and modernize their armies to match Israel's. Signing peace treaties on the White House lawn is a small price to pay for a realistic chance to overpower Israel in the future.

Why Israel is willing to go along with this is less obvious. Barak's political indebtedness to Clinton may be part of the explanation. He owes his election to the White House political advisers, to munificent contributions by Democratic fat cats, and to the almost daily savaging of Benjamin Netanyahu by the administration during the campaign.

But it is inconceivable that Barak would relinquish the Golan, a move he has always considered unthinkable, only to pay a political debt. Nor is it possible that, after years of deriding Shimon Peres's vision of a New Middle East patterned after the European Union, Barak would suddenly believe that an agreement with the ruthless Syrian dictatorship would usher a new era.

It is more likely that he has despaired of Israel's ability to withstand world pressure and internal division. So instead of striving for greater independence from the United States, he has opted for making Israel a quasi-protectorate, counting on America to provide the tens of billions in aid and military equipment, and the "trip wire" military forces for the Golan that the fake peace with Syria will necessitate.

It is a solution that negates the very purpose of Zionism. And it is the surest way to turn Israel from a strong, invaluable ally into a pesky, costly dependent. It will sour U.S.-Israeli relations, especially if American soldiers are killed in the process of peacekeeping, and it will perpetuate Israel's image as a foreign body in the Middle East.

Ironically, no one could have articulated how unworkable and foolhardy such a solution is than Ehud Barak himself.



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