Delinda C. Hanley is news editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told newspaper editors in Tel Aviv on Dec. 5 that U.S. loan guarantees and extra aid to the tune of $14 billion will arrive "in the very near future." The aid is unconditional, he added, and not linked to Israel's agreement to a peace plan based on the "Bush framework."
Israel asked Washington for $4 billion in new military aid to defray the costs of fighting Palestinians, and $10 billion in loan guarantees to help Israel recover from its worst economic recession in 25 years. This, of course, is in addition to $2.7 billion in military and economic aid and an extra $200 million for anti-terrorism assistance already included in the 2003 U.S. foreign aid bill.
At a Nov. 25 White House meeting Sharon's chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, and other Israeli officials presented the request, first broached by Sharon during his Oct. 16 White House visit, to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
A Nov. 29 Forward article claimed that Israel's "biggest wish-list in more than a decade" garnered few headlines here because at the time the U.S. administration and media were focused only on a possible war with Iraq and the troubled economy at home. A less disingenuous reason is that Israel's outrageous request was withheld or buried in the U.S. media to prevent a public outcry from taxpayers.
Israeli newspapers did headline the new aid requests, however, with Ha'aretz reporting Rice's promise of a prompt response and Sharon's assurances of a speedy influx of U.S. aid. Sharon is banking on the extra aid to cure Israel's economic woes in time for the Jan. 28 election.
The week before the Israelis met with Rice, the State Department announced future plans to increase aid to Israel in 2004. It intends to ask Congress for $2.16 billion in military assistance to Israel for fiscal 2004--up from a $2.1 billion 2003 request and $2.04 billion forked over in 2002. The $14 billion Israel requested on Nov. 25 would be in addition to those amounts.
A recent defense spending bill not included in the military aid mentioned above appropriates $227.5 million in funding for joint U.S.-Israeli programs, including the Arrow anti-missile defense program, the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser, the Litening II Targeting Pod, and the Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles program.
Led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), U.S. pro-Israel organizations will do their best to lobby the 108th Congress when it convenes in January to authorize the entire additional aid package. Already AIPAC is hard at work greasing the wheels (or is it palms?) to encourage the already pliant new Congress to pass the 2003 foreign aid bill, which includes Israel's regular annual $2.1 billion in military aid and $600 million in economic aid.
Israel desperately needs extra funds to deal with economic problems caused by rising military costs, increased unemployment, and severe losses in investment and tourism caused by the two-year-old Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. The intifada has cost Israel's economy close to $3.15 billion a year.
Nevertheless, despite anxiety over its ailing economy, Israel's 2003 budget allocated $420 million to maintain settlements in the occupied territories. Labor leader Binyamin Ben-Eliezer proposed using $145 million of that money to repair Israel's social safety net, and left Sharon's coalition government to protest the funds flowing instead to the illegal outposts.
Most Israelis believe the settlements should be dismantled. They point to the outrageous cost--a considerable portion of Israel's annual $9 billion defense budget--of protecting 200,000 settlers, as well as world condemnation of the illegal colonies.
Israel's settlement policies and occupation of Palestinian land add up to an economic nightmare of Israel's own making which it now expects the American taxpayer to solve--with no strings attached. …