Saturday, March 20, 2010


Last week, my blog post dealt with the Netanyahu Government’s insult of Vice President Biden in announcing an expansion of Israel’s East Jerusalem settlements at the same time that Biden was in Israel to kick off a new round of brokered peace talks. At more or less the same time that I wrote that piece, a related article was published in the “Middle East Channel,” a partnership of the NAF Middle East Task Force and the Project on Middle East Political Science. This article included the following paragraph:

“… Vice President Joe Biden was embarrassed by an Israeli announcement that the Netanyahu government was building 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, the administration reacted. But no one was more outraged than Biden who, according to the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, engaged in a private, and angry, exchange with the Israeli Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, what Biden told Netanyahu reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus's Mullen briefing: ‘This is starting to get dangerous for us,’ Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. ‘What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.’ Yedioth Ahronoth went on to report: ‘The vice president told his Israeli hosts that since many people in the Muslim world perceived a connection between Israel's actions and US policy, any decision about construction that undermines Palestinian rights in East Jerusalem could have an impact on the personal safety of American troops fighting against Islamic terrorism.’ The message couldn't be plainer: Israel's intransigence could cost American lives.”

There you have in a nutshell the absurdity of American foreign policy today. We are throwing bazillions of dollars and over a hundred thousand troops into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In waging those expensive wars, we recognize that the continued conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is largely fueling our enemy, which associates us with our ally, Israel. Yet, despite the fact that we have stated in strong and consistent terms our opposition to Israel’s policy of relentlessly expanding its settlements in pre-67 Palestine, we continue to provide Israel with $2.4 billion per year in aid, far more than we give to any other country.

Perhaps that equation doesn’t sound so absurd to you. Perhaps you have bought into the AIPAC party line that (a) it is in the United States’ interests to throw tons of money at Israel because Israel is America’s best friend in the most sensitive region in the world, and (b) how Israel chooses to deal with its Palestinian neighbors is none of the United States’ business. Strip down that logic, however, and what you see is a country – and a lobby – trying to have its cake and eat it too.

Yes, Israel has no less of a right than the United States to wage war as it sees fit, and there is no question that Israel and the Palestinians are at war. But if you believe people like Joe Biden – or if you pay any attention to common sense – the continuation of that war is threatening the vital interests of the United States, including the survival of our own soldiers. Moreover, the United States, not Israel, is the sole party who has the right to decide how much international aid America should give to foreign countries. If Israel is acting in a way that the United States disapproves vis a vis its neighbors, that is Israel’s business, not ours … but when it comes time to dole out international aid, the United States should take into account whether Israel is behaving in a way that we deem to be consistent with the welfare of Americans generally, and our soldiers in particular.

Given everything I have said about America’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is ironic that I would quote General Petraeus for anything. But please consider what he recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee and tell me, do these words not have the ring of truth? “[The Middle East] conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in [the Middle East and South Asia] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hezbollah and Hamas.”

The point is undeniable: America needs the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to end. President Obama has decided that a critical step in that direction is for Israel to stop building its controversial settlements. And Israel is resolute in furthering a policy of settlement expansion. To bring another country into the mix, that should be what’s known as a Mexican stand-off: a confrontation in which two parties are at an impasse, and which neither should be able to “win.” Yet so far, one party has been winning -- because no matter how much America needs Israel to make some compromises, no matter how much America calls for compromise, and no matter how unwilling the Netanyahu Government is in making compromises, America continues to dole out far more money to Israel in international aid than to any other country. (Egypt, which is in second place, receives $700 million less than Israel, and Pakistan, in third place, receives $1.6 billion less than Israel, or only 1/3 of what Israel receives.

As a staunch Zionist, I am loathe to even discuss the issue of America’s aid to Israel. I support it wholeheartedly – as a general principle. But there are times in history when tough love is appropriate. And given just how far to the right the Netanyahu Government has turned, this may just be one of those times. If Israel continues on its current course of strangling Gaza and building up its settlements in the West Bank/East Jerusalem – i.e., if Netanyahu remains hell bent on maximizing Palestinian pain in an attempt to get them to “cry uncle,” a policy that Obama and Clinton clearly oppose -- it is time to take a hard look at our own purse strings. Even by withdrawing a small amount of aid to Israel, this could have significant symbolic significance.

Trust me, as a People of the Book, we Jewish people understand symbolism. For years, Israel has been employing the symbol of the bully as a weapon against the Palestinians, and this has reached a crescendo in the person of Netanyahu. Armed with the seemingly omnipotent wing-man known as AIPAC, he seems to think he can treat Obama (and the American taxpayer) in the same way, and so far, he’s been right.

My advice to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is to think of the money America doles out in foreign aid like a kid thinks of lunch money. That belongs to us and to those who treat us like friends. Bullies can go buy their own lunches.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Joe Biden. He must understand what I’m saying. After all, he’s from Scranton – he knows that a bully only respects you when you fight back.

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