By Ramzy Baroud
On Dec. 21, the US Congress passed the COVID-19 relief package as part of a larger $2.3 trillion bill intended to cover spending for the rest of the fiscal year. As usual, US representatives allocated a vast sum of money to Israel.
While unemployment and poverty levels in the US are skyrocketing as a result of repeated lockdowns, Washington found it essential to provide Israel with $3.3 billion in “security assistance” and $500 million for US-Israel missile defense cooperation.
Although a meagre $600 payment to help struggling American families was the subject of several months of intense debate, there was little discussion among US politicians over the large funds handed out to Israel, for which there are no returns.
Support for Israel is considered a bipartisan priority and for decades has been perceived as the most stable item on the US foreign policy agenda. The mere questioning of how Israel uses the funds — whether military aid is being actively used to sustain its illegal occupation of Palestine, finance Jewish settlements, fund annexation of Palestinian land or violate Palestinian human rights — is a major taboo.
One of the few members of Congress to demand that assistance to Israel be conditional on the latter’s respect for human rights is Bernie Sanders, the Democratic senator who has twice sought presidential nomination for the party. “We cannot give (aid) carte blanche to the Israeli government — we have the right to demand respect for human rights and democracy,” Sanders said in October 2019.
His Democratic rival Joe Biden, now president-elect, quickly countered. “The idea that I’d withdraw military aid, as others have suggested, from Israel is bizarre,” he said.
It is no secret that Israel has been the world’s leading recipient of US aid since the Second World War. According to the US Congressional Research Service, Israel has received $146 billion of US taxpayers’ money as of November 2020.
From 1971 until 2007, the bulk of these funds proved fundamental in helping Israel establish a strong economic base. Since then, most of the money has been allotted for military purposes, including the security of Israel’s illegal Jewish settlement enterprise.
Despite the US financial crisis of 2008, money continued to be channeled to Israel, whose economy survived the global recession largely unscathed.
In 2016, the US promised even more aid. The Obama administration, often mistakenly seen as hostile to Israel, increased US funding by a significant margin. In a 10-year memorandum of understanding, Washington and Tel Aviv reached a deal whereby the US agreed to give Israel $38 billion in military aid covering the financial years 2019-2028. This is a whopping $8 billion increase compared with the previous 10-year agreement, which ended at the end of 2018.
The new US funds fall into two categories: $33 billion in foreign military grants and an additional $5 billion in missile defense.
US generosity has long been attributed to the unmatched influence of pro-Israeli groups, lead among them the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. However, little lobbying has been required by these groups in the past four years as powerful agents within the administration itself became Israel’s top advocates.
Aside from the seemingly endless “political freebies” that the Trump administration has given Israel in recent years, it is now considering ways to accelerate the timetable of delivering the remainder of US funds as determined by the last agreement, which currently stands at $26.4 billion. According to official congressional documents, the US also may approve additional sales of the F-35 fighter jet, and accelerate delivery of KC-46A refueling and transport aircraft.
These are not the only funds and perks Israel receives. Much more goes unreported since it is channeled indirectly or simply promoted under the flexible title of “cooperation.”
For example, between 1973 and 1991, $460 million of US funds was allocated to resettling Jews in Israel. Many of these new immigrants are now the very Israeli militants who occupy the West Bank illegal settlements. In this case, the money was paid to a private charity, the United Israel Appeal, which passes it on to the Jewish Agency. The latter has played a central role in the founding of Israel on top of the ruins of Palestinian towns and villages in 1948.
Under the guise of charitable donations, tens of millions of dollars are regularly sent to Israel in the form of “tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” according to The New York Times. Much of the money, falsely promoted as donations for educational and religious purposes, often finds its way to funding and buying housing for illegal settlers, “as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure (illegal Jewish) outposts deep in occupied (Palestinian) areas.”
Quite often, US money ends up in the Israeli government coffers under false pretenses. For example, the latest stimulus package includes $50 million to fund the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Funds, supposedly to provide investments in “people-to-people exchanges and economic cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of supporting a negotiated and sustainable two-state solution.”
Actually, such money serves no particular purpose, since Washington and Tel Aviv endeavor to ensure the demise of a negotiated peace agreement and work hand-in-hand to kill the now-defunct two-state solution.
The list is endless, though most of this money is not included in the official US aid packages to Israel and, therefore, receives little scrutiny, let alone media coverage.
As of February 2019, the US has withheld all funds to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in addition to cutting aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees, the last lifeline providing basic education and health services to millions of displaced people.
Judging by its legacy of support for the Israeli military machine and the colonial expansion in the West Bank, Washington insists on serving as Israel’s main benefactor, if not direct partner, while shunning Palestinians altogether. Expecting the US to play a constructive role in achieving a just peace in Palestine shows not only indefensible naivety but also wilful ignorance.