The Editors

President George W. Bush came to office promising to keep his distance from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which his predecessor, Bill Clinton, was so visibly engaged. So far, the administration has kept this promise and focused on the region as a whole. Its main concern has been securing Middle East oil at stable prices for the energy-starved, high-tech U.S. economy.

President Bush’s instinctive desire to keep distance between the White House and the search for peace may be a sound one. Camp David II failed, in part, because the Palestinians viewed President Clinton, justifiably or not, as a mouthpiece for Israeli negotiators. Renewed distance from both sides on the part of the Bush administration—especially after the election of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon—could be the first step in achieving a credible U.S. role in a renewed search for peace.

The most visible way for the administration to demonstrate a new stance toward peace will be to develop a new policy on aid to Israel. Although a recent memorandum of understanding signed by Israeli Ambassador David Ivry and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Edward Walker will gradually end economic assistance by the year 2008, half of the savings will be converted into increased military aid to Israel. This transformation of economic aid into military aid under the guise of reducing assistance—a Clinton program to which the Bush administration seems to have given its blessings—illustrates how difficult it can be to track U.S. aid to Israel. The aid package is squirreled away in numerous government accounts, especially in the Department of Defense. There are, for example, supposedly “joint” military development projects, like the canceled Lavi attack fighter, the Arrow anti-missile project or the Merkava tank, which the U.S. military has no plans to adopt for its own use.

Estimates of the size of the entire Israeli aid package range as high as $5.5 billion annually. The total is obscured by accounting gimmicks and special arrangements. There are loan guarantees that effectively amount to grants. (Between 1994 and 1998, according to the Congressional Research Service, repayment of $29 billion in U.S. loans to Israel was waived.) There are subsidies for “refugee resettlement.” Moreover, Israel receives early and full disbursement of its aid, on which it can then earn interest, instead of receiving it in installments as other countries do. Finally, unlike all other recipient countries, Israel does not have to account for how it uses aid money.

In the seven years that have passed since Oslo, whenever there were new developments in the peace process—whether a step forward or a step backward—the Israeli government, abetted by members of Congress, sought to increase aid. (At the same time, Congress repeatedly found reasons to hold back aid designated for the Palestinians.) The first lesson of the failed Oslo process should be, “Just say no” to the pleas of Israel and her friends for more and more aid.

It is time for the U.S. to stop funding the Israeli war against the Palestinians. No one can condone terrorist attacks against Israelis. But neither should we condone or fund the Israeli war on the Palestinians. The helicopter gun ships used to fire on Palestinian civilians and their neighborhoods are part of the arsenal provided Israel by U.S. aid. Merkava tanks were used to shell Palestinian towns, including the Christian centers of Beit Jala and Beit Sahour (see America, 2/12). U.S.-made ammunition also rained down on Palestinian neighborhoods. A reasonable place to begin would be the suspension of the sale of Apache and Blackhawk helicopters announced last October.

Taking a new look at the problem of peace means seeing it once again as a regional question. The Middle East is marked by growing populations, stagnant economies and authoritarian regimes. Regional investment will be insurance against an expensive, potentially destructive and counterproductive strategy of military containment. Any settlement of the refugee question, for example, whether it be return, resettlement or compensation, will require hefty financial support from the international community and especially the U.S. Undoubtedly water will be the most contentious problem in this arid region in the future. International investment and assistance, as envisaged by the Madrid conference, will be required to meet the needs of thirsty populations.

Finally, once corruption can be uprooted and accountable governance insured by the Palestinian Authority—no mean task, to be sure—socioeconomic development for the Palestinians will be a far more reliable source of security for Israelis than more weapons for their already overflowing arsenals. Refugees, water and development: these are the places where U.S. aid will produce real dividends for peace.

Comments

Donald J. Moore, S.J. | 1/22/2007 - 4:04pm
Your editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5) provides a beacon of hope for the many who have raised protests in this Holy Land against the Israeli occupation, protests that rarely surface in Western media. These protests have come from Israelis and Palestinians, from Jews, Muslims and Christians, and they deserve a hearing.

Israel Shamir, a Russian Israeli journalist, has pointed out that these are the “darkest days” for the people of Israel, because the worldwide silence of Jews indicates that the country’s policies are now rapidly undermining “the long-term achievement of Jews in the struggle for democracy, human rights and equality.”

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, has continuously appealed during these six months for justice and understanding. From the opening weeks of the intifada he pointed out that the Palestinian revolt should not be considered simply a public disorder that has to be quelled and punished. The issue that must be faced is that a people who have been kept hostage are struggling for their freedom. It is a struggle that must be carried out with love, not with hatred and vengeance. In his Lenten message he appealed to both Palestinian and Israeli to see God in one another. He called upon Israelis to see in Palestinians not the image of terrorists, of those who want to hate and kill, but rather the image of the poor and oppressed who are struggling for their liberty, their dignity and a right to the land. He called upon Palestinians to see in Israelis, who withhold liberty in the name of security, carriers of the image of God whom we approach with love, not with anger, and whom we ask with the full force of the Spirit to put an end to oppression and occupation.

In his long and distinguished career, Elie Wiesel has often mentioned that the vocation of the Jew is “to teach the world how to be human.” I fear that the policies of the State of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian people are a betrayal of this noble and ancient heritage of our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Vincent Malham, F.S.C. | 1/22/2007 - 3:56pm
I read with great interest your editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). It is not clear that such enormous amounts of aid to Israel benefit the security of anyone in the area—Palestinians or Israelis. A just and honorable peace is the only real security. I find myself thinking that the investment of the $5.5 billion referred to in your editorial in the Palestinian Territories for infrastructure development, economic development, social services and education would be a remarkable step toward peace, stability and safety for all. When there is real hope that one can live free of occupation, with a decent job and a reasonable life for one’s family, there is a strong basis for peace.

I have read polls demonstrating that the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis support a peace with justice. The situation here cries out for an honorable solution. The energy for peace is here. I see it every day in the faculty, staff and students of Bethlehem University. But I also see the extreme frustration that results from endless peace talks while the economy declines, freedom of movement is restricted, and unemployment and underemployment increase. The status quo continues the suffering of Palestinians, whose standard of living is about one-tenth that of Israelis. No one denies that Palestinian society faces problems as it struggles toward statehood. Some of the problems are caused by the restrictions the years of occupation placed on the freedom of Palestinians to organize themselves and their lives.

Our 2,000 students, with faculty and staff, make tremendous sacrifices to participate in the excellent educational programs of Bethlehem University. Newly barricaded roads, new check points, closures and severe economic hardships present great challenges. Some students travel two hours in each direction every day at a transportation cost that, because of road closures, is higher than the tuition itself. Members of the university community have had their houses destroyed, and their children live in fear of the Israeli tank, rocket and high-caliber machine gun fire on Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

On March 2, 2001, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke at Bethlehem University, encouraging our efforts to live together and to engage in dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He noted that politicians at times attempt, for their own purposes, to promote tensions or disharmony between the two religious groups. Sadly, this negative dimension can also be found in the work of some journalists.

Come and see for yourselves, if you can. Read accounts in the English language Palestinian weekly Jerusalem Times and the English edition of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. (The latter is available on the Internet.) Don’t stereotype us. Don’t accept facile slogans blaming the Palestinians for being under occupation. I hope you and your readers will stay informed about our situation and support us as much as possible in the quest for peace and normal life.

Mary B. Farhat | 1/22/2007 - 4:28pm
I wish to congratulate you on your editorial, “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). It is a reasoned, balanced approach to the problem of security and peace in the Middle East.

Dean Hoge | 1/22/2007 - 4:27pm
Thank you for the editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). I was heartened to read it. This message is needed in American politics, and it is a viewpoint widely felt by my friends. Thanks for the courage to voice it, given our current political climate.

Donald J. Moore, S.J. | 1/22/2007 - 4:04pm
Your editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5) provides a beacon of hope for the many who have raised protests in this Holy Land against the Israeli occupation, protests that rarely surface in Western media. These protests have come from Israelis and Palestinians, from Jews, Muslims and Christians, and they deserve a hearing.

Israel Shamir, a Russian Israeli journalist, has pointed out that these are the “darkest days” for the people of Israel, because the worldwide silence of Jews indicates that the country’s policies are now rapidly undermining “the long-term achievement of Jews in the struggle for democracy, human rights and equality.”

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, has continuously appealed during these six months for justice and understanding. From the opening weeks of the intifada he pointed out that the Palestinian revolt should not be considered simply a public disorder that has to be quelled and punished. The issue that must be faced is that a people who have been kept hostage are struggling for their freedom. It is a struggle that must be carried out with love, not with hatred and vengeance. In his Lenten message he appealed to both Palestinian and Israeli to see God in one another. He called upon Israelis to see in Palestinians not the image of terrorists, of those who want to hate and kill, but rather the image of the poor and oppressed who are struggling for their liberty, their dignity and a right to the land. He called upon Palestinians to see in Israelis, who withhold liberty in the name of security, carriers of the image of God whom we approach with love, not with anger, and whom we ask with the full force of the Spirit to put an end to oppression and occupation.

In his long and distinguished career, Elie Wiesel has often mentioned that the vocation of the Jew is “to teach the world how to be human.” I fear that the policies of the State of Israel vis-à-vis the Palestinian people are a betrayal of this noble and ancient heritage of our Jewish sisters and brothers.

Vincent Malham, F.S.C. | 1/22/2007 - 3:56pm
I read with great interest your editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). It is not clear that such enormous amounts of aid to Israel benefit the security of anyone in the area—Palestinians or Israelis. A just and honorable peace is the only real security. I find myself thinking that the investment of the $5.5 billion referred to in your editorial in the Palestinian Territories for infrastructure development, economic development, social services and education would be a remarkable step toward peace, stability and safety for all. When there is real hope that one can live free of occupation, with a decent job and a reasonable life for one’s family, there is a strong basis for peace.

I have read polls demonstrating that the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis support a peace with justice. The situation here cries out for an honorable solution. The energy for peace is here. I see it every day in the faculty, staff and students of Bethlehem University. But I also see the extreme frustration that results from endless peace talks while the economy declines, freedom of movement is restricted, and unemployment and underemployment increase. The status quo continues the suffering of Palestinians, whose standard of living is about one-tenth that of Israelis. No one denies that Palestinian society faces problems as it struggles toward statehood. Some of the problems are caused by the restrictions the years of occupation placed on the freedom of Palestinians to organize themselves and their lives.

Our 2,000 students, with faculty and staff, make tremendous sacrifices to participate in the excellent educational programs of Bethlehem University. Newly barricaded roads, new check points, closures and severe economic hardships present great challenges. Some students travel two hours in each direction every day at a transportation cost that, because of road closures, is higher than the tuition itself. Members of the university community have had their houses destroyed, and their children live in fear of the Israeli tank, rocket and high-caliber machine gun fire on Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.

On March 2, 2001, Cardinal Francis Arinze, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, spoke at Bethlehem University, encouraging our efforts to live together and to engage in dialogue between Muslims and Christians. He noted that politicians at times attempt, for their own purposes, to promote tensions or disharmony between the two religious groups. Sadly, this negative dimension can also be found in the work of some journalists.

Come and see for yourselves, if you can. Read accounts in the English language Palestinian weekly Jerusalem Times and the English edition of the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. (The latter is available on the Internet.) Don’t stereotype us. Don’t accept facile slogans blaming the Palestinians for being under occupation. I hope you and your readers will stay informed about our situation and support us as much as possible in the quest for peace and normal life.

Mary B. Farhat | 1/22/2007 - 4:28pm
I wish to congratulate you on your editorial, “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). It is a reasoned, balanced approach to the problem of security and peace in the Middle East.

Dean Hoge | 1/22/2007 - 4:27pm
Thank you for the editorial “Saying No to Israel” (3/5). I was heartened to read it. This message is needed in American politics, and it is a viewpoint widely felt by my friends. Thanks for the courage to voice it, given our current political climate.

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