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«American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions By Yuval Levin Aid in U.S. policy American aid to the Middle East is a tragedy of good ...»

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Substantial numbers of Israeli elites in fact accept the vision of the new Middle East that drives American policy. Like their American counterparts, Israeli officials, too, state passionately that a whole new era is upon us, and that the realities of the past have lost all relevance. “The international political setting is no longer conducive to war,”54 writes former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and in the future “national goals will no longer be based on control or territory.”55 He continues, echoing the views of many elites in Israel, Europe and the United States, that “national political organizations can no longer fulfill the purpose for which they were established…the modern era offers no foolproof means of national defense other than a wide-ranging regional arrangement.”56 But although these views are very much in line with U.S. policy, they are very much out of line with the understanding of regional politics that Israel requires to survive. And yet, just as aid has driven these elites to accept and champion the peace process, it has also allowed them to argue that any dangers to which their policies expose Israel are more than made up for by American support.

U.S. aid, then, creates the strategic equivalent of what investors call “moral hazard” – that is, an inducement to irresponsibility caused by the belief that someone else will bear eventual losses. In foreign policy as in economic policy, then, aid masks the effects of the Israeli elites’ defects. The cycle of error is circular and self-intensifying. Israel’s elites do not wish harm on their people or their nation, but the combination of economic and political interests with a crude idealism in international politics has made them heedless of the consequences of their actions. The violence which began in September 2000 is the starkest example and most direct result of this cycle of errors.

Arieh O’Sullivan, “Waiting for Israel to Blink,” Jerusalem Post, 11 July 2000.

Shimon Peres, The New Middle East (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1993), 80.

Ibid., 156.

Ibid., 83.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 19 Aid and the Peace Process The peace process of the past decade has exacerbated the contradictions inherent in American aid policy. It has put more Arab states in Egypt’s position (profiting from American largesse while working against U.S. interests), and has deepened Israel’s acceptance of and dependence on this line of policy. It has placed American policymakers in the position of paying to maintain a fiction that masks a disastrous policy.

Following the American decision to pay most of the costs related to the implementation of the Camp David Accords and to place the signatories on a program of sustained massive aid, it became clear that American dollars would be a major prize for any Arab state willing to even recognize Israel’s existence. The Palestinian Authority and Syria have both sought (and the Palestinians have indeed begun to obtain) the same sort of American assistance that the Egyptians have received. Upon receiving it, they have appeared equally unlikely to act in accordance with American interests. That is because the interests of the parties involved, particularly of the Palestinians and Syrians, are not always what they appear and are nearly never those of the United States. Hence American money cannot buy genuine change.

The Palestinian Authority The Palestinian case very much resembles that of Egypt. The peace process has committed the U.S. to supporting a regime that has proven to be undemocratic, inhumane, and anti-American in nearly all respects.

The United States has mustered great resources to reviving the Palestinian Liberation Organization and to building it up into the Palestinian Authority. Each year since 1993, the U.S. Congress has allocated several hundred million dollars to the Palestinian Authority, mostly under the auspices of the USAID.57 The benefits for the United States are, presumably, an end to the conflict in the Middle East and enhanced stability in the region. If there really were a process leading to real peace, these American dollars might be well spent. But the notion that the corrupt thugs who run the Palestinian Authority are interested in peace and participation in America’s “globalized” world is a fiction difficult to maintain.

Following the pattern of Egypt, the Palestinian press, including the official mouthpieces of the Palestinian Authority, regularly revile and malign the United States as much as Israel. “The actions taken by the United States in the name of international legitimacy in recent years,” wrote the PA paper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in 1998, “are the worst sort of contemporary barbarism, worse than what we have seen in this century from the Nazis, the Fascists, the Jews, the Cambodians, the Serbs, and the Rwandans.”58 Such statements, The allocation request for FY 2001 currently stands at $100 million, though of course any new agreement with Israel is likely to bring the PA far greater sums, if the patterns of the past are any indication.

Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Gaza), 2 December 1998.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 20 and school textbooks in the same vein, are standard fare. Official PA statements about Israelis and Jews go further, much further.

Moreover, the Palestinian Authority openly opposes American policy in the Middle East, including most prominently the American stance on Iraq (Arafat and the PLO, it must be remembered, supported Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, and official Palestinian spokesmen have continued to speak out in support of the Iraqi leader ever since). Despite the fact that Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait and the PA’s support for it caused tens of thousands of Palestinians to be expelled from good jobs in the Gulf and into poverty, the Palestinian leadership regularly and successfully uses support for Iraq to rile up its people, as when Palestinian Ministry of Justice official Sheikh Mahmoud Salameh called on Palestinians to take up arms in the cause of Iraq. “Islam obliges us to wage jihad,” he told PA television, “the Arab nation is a Muslim nation and Iraq is a Muslim nation that is under attack.”59 Guess by whom!

The PA is anti-American to its core. There is not a shred of evidence for the notion that this regime will turn pro-Western in the foreseeable future. Conceivably the death of the entire current leadership might do the job. But paying and empowering that very leadership certainly cannot. There is no doubt that the PA leadership’s policies, from the Gulf War to the Rosh Hashanah 2000 War, plus its own corruption – all abetted de facto by U.S. aid – have impoverished Palestinians. Unfortunately, there is even less doubt that the PA leadership has succeeded in turning popular anger at misery toward the U.S. and Israel.

Any future final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would certainly transfer many more American dollars to the Palestinian regime. In late July of 2000, sources in the Congress told the Washington Post that they believe a new IsraeliPalestinian deal “could cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $15 billion--and possibly much more--over the next few years.”60 Moreover, Palestinian officials have floated a figure of $40 billion for the cost of relocating refugees – an expense the U.S. has said it will cover with the help of EU and Persian Gulf allies.61 “Whatever it takes will be astronomical,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, recently told the Washington Post, “but it will be worth it to have peace.”62 If money could buy genuine peace, it might indeed be worth it, but that is not what American money has so far bought, and no one has suggested how America might get its money’s worth in the future.

Palestinian Authority Television, 18 December 1998, (in Arabic) (Washington: Middle East Media Research Institute, 1998).

John Lancaster, “Congress Alerted To Price Of Peace,” Washington Post, 16 July 2000.



American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 21 Syria American money has also had much to do with Syria’s calculations in the peace process.

Most sources suggest the Syrians would receive tens of billions of dollars if a SyrianIsraeli deal followed the pattern of earlier peace agreements.63 The track record of the Assad regime under the current president’s father suggests that these funds would be used for ends that squarely contradict American interests. Syria’s decision to open discussions on a deal with Israel led some in the U.S. and Israel to argue that the late Haffez el Assad had made a “strategic choice for peace,” and that this meant he had rejected his earlier anti-American policy goals, but an examination of Assad’s strategic considerations suggests otherwise. Indeed, a peace strategy is very much in line with those long held anti-American objectives.

Peace with Israel would put America’s stamp of approval on Syria’s occupation of Lebanon, and would allow the Syrians to eradicate any remnants of Lebanese independence without fear of negative reactions in the West. Israel has already signaled its willingness to accept such a Syrian move if a peace deal were achieved, and the U.S.

has suggested it would support it as well.64 Such a deal would also free the new Syrian leader to renew Syria’s longstanding confrontation with Turkey – a vital American ally. Once the American and Israeli governments have committed themselves to the preservation of Bashar Assad’s regime by signing an accord with him, they would be hesitant to risk the hard-bought pretense of peace on an intervention on behalf of the Turks, should Syria take action against them.

Assad would be bound to gain some leeway in his treatment of Turkey, and some leverage against it. The Turks depend on American diplomatic and military support.

What would Turkey do without it? And what would the U.S. be doing to itself by exchanging the allegiance of the friendly Turkish regime for the deceptive half smiles of Syria’s dictators?

The Syrian regime also houses and aids international terrorists of all stripes, and serves as a hub of the regional trade in illegal narcotics. An American sponsored Israeli-Syrian deal would make it far more difficult, rather than easier, for the United States to speak up or take action against these activities.

John Broder, “Israel and Syria Resuming Search for Major Accord,” New York Times, 4 January 2000.

On January 4th, 2000, the New York Times reported that Clinton Administration officials were prepared to ask Congress for “between $10 billion and $100 billion over the next several years” to fund an IsraeliSyrian accord. The upper end of that figure is certainly an effort to overestimate in order to soften the blow when the true request comes, but it suggests that the eventual amount may be in the tens of billions of dollars. The deal that was expected in early 2000 never came, but any future deal would likely carry a similar price tag.

Lally Weymouth, “Q & A: ‘We Have To Act, Not Just Talk,’” Washington Post, 31 October 1999, B1.

“Syria has had a say in Lebanon for a long time,” Israeli Prime Minister Barak told the Washington Post late last year, “and will have a say in Lebanon in the future – even once an agreement is achieved.” American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 22 Along with all this, as stated above, a deal with Israel would bring enormous amounts of American dollars into the Syrian treasury. Thus, as with Egypt and the Palestinians, a peace deal would simultaneously allow the Syrians to finance direct opposition to American interests. Again, the U.S. would be placing its policy in opposition to its interests, and paying the bill to boot.

Aid as a consequence of deals stemming from the peace process would exacerbate the problems which aid policy has caused for Israel. In early 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Barak made it clear to the United States that he expected any deal with the Syrians to bring over 17 billion American dollars to his country. One report paraphrased Barak’s message to the Administration as stating, “without knowing what Israel might get in new U.S. commitments, he cannot sign away control over the Golan Heights and convince Israelis that they will remain secure.”65 Again, aid has the effect of convincing Israelis that otherwise unthinkably dangerous strategic moves are safe and profitable because the U.S. backs them. Yet the scenario envisaged by the architects of American aid, in which the Arab states obligingly play their role on the stage of the comprehensive peace drama is belied by the fact that the Arab states continue to act on their long-held objectives behind the scenes – objectives that have nothing in common with what American policymakers assume are their interests. Dangerous deals become particularly attractive to Israeli elites because, though it is unclear what good or harm they may bring to Israel, they will surely bring American money to help sustain these very elites and their statist system.

In the end, this is not only bad for Israel but for the United States as well.

Conclusion: Aid and American Interests America’s aid policy as currently structured is not and cannot be good for American interests. But is there not danger in changing it?

That danger is generally seen to involve the relative disarmament of Israel (to which most Americans are rightly opposed), the danger to regional stability, a loss of American leverage, and a decline in the allegiance of the states involved.

As this paper has tried to show, these objections are largely unfounded, and the problems which might be caused by the ending of aid, are of a smaller magnitude than those caused by its continuation. Aid does not help Israel or strengthen it. Aid does not ensure stability, it does not provide real leverage, and it does not by any means guarantee the allegiance of recipient nations.

The ending of the current situation, in which any Arab country that deigns to acknowledge Israel’s mere existence in Aesopian language while training its people to Barbara Slavin, “Israel Wants $17B Military Package as Part of Peace Deal,” USA Today, 24 March 2000, A13.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 23 kill Jews, automatically receives American taxpayer dollars, would in fact enhance America’s ability to use aid selectively, as it should properly be used in international affairs.

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