US Aid to Israel is Out of Hand

American and Israeli diplomats have recently revived discussions over our potential financial support of Israel’s August withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Last summer, Israel sought $2 billion, but suspended its request following the Katrina disaster. With popular and congressional attention to New Orleans now dissipating, Israel is again asking American taxpayers for help, although it has scaled back to $1.2 billion in light of popular sentiment and signals from Congress. This amount is supplemental to Israel’s share of our regular foreign aid that has run $3 billion to $4 billion annually for decades.

Our officials have not publicly responded to the Israel request. When they do, their answer should be a polite but firm “No”. It is reason enough to deny Israel’s request that its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are illegal. The U.N. Security Council has held so, as has the International Court of Justice. As part of its non-binding but authoritative judgment on Israel’s wall, the International Court of Justice concluded last year that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories violate international law. While the dollars Israel now seeks would fund housing and infrastructure for new communities in Israel for the settlers, paying for these, in effect, compensates Israel for giving back its illegal settlements. Some 94 percent of Americans polled by CNN in July opposed the Israeli request, even before Katrina and heightened public awareness of our own acute domestic needs.

Still, there are times when principle must surrender to pragmatism. $1.2 billion would be a bargain were it to yield momentum toward a genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Every indication, unfortunately, is to the contrary. Since the decolonization of the Gaza Strip, Israel has only intensified its colonization of the West Bank, including Jerusalem.

There, 430,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements built on land seized from Palestinians — and they are expanding every day. A city holy to three great religions is being transformed into the exclusive capital of one group — Jews. Meanwhile Palestinian Christian and Muslim families are slowly squeezed out of neighborhoods they have inhabited peacefully for decades if not centuries. A European Union study released last week determined that Israeli policies toward Jerusalem are not motivated by security, but by demographics, violating international law and Israel’s obligations under the Roadmap to Peace.

Israel touted the Gaza disengagement as a step forward. Yet in October 2004, Dov Weisglass, advisor and close confidant of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, admitted in an interview in Israel that withdrawal was a way to avoid peace negotiations with Palestinians, consolidate control over the West Bank, and foil the creation of a Palestinian state. No such pronouncements are necessary, however, to the Palestinians. They witness Israel’s continuing relentless seizures of Palestinian lands, demolition of Palestinian homes, construction of the separation wall, and expansion of Jewish-only settlements. Palestinian Christians and Muslims are rendered homeless, stripped of their property, and deprived of any semblance of equal rights with their Jewish counterparts.

Historically, politicians of both major American parties have been extremely generous to Israel, a country with a per capita income equal to some in Europe. Its annual $3 billion to 4 billion often exceeds a third of our total foreign aid — more than all of sub-Saharan Africa combined. Will our leaders, this time, honor the apparent sentiments of the majority of Americans, or pursue the electoral benefits that seemingly generate their knee-jerk support of Israel?

As American taxpayers, we must assert ourselves. Our one-sided support of Israel is a key reason for global enmity against us. When we aid and abet Israel’s continuing take over of Palestinian lands, we only deepen our culpability, and frustrate our ambition to restore American credibility in a crucial region of the world.

Fostering a genuine Middle East peace — one based on justice and equal rights for Jews, Christians and Muslims throughout the Holy Land — would greatly advance our national interests. Such a resolution may cost well more than $1.2 billion, but will be worth every penny. We should save our hard-earned tax dollars to support that peace, not the entrenchment of Israeli colonialism, and the future of conflict and violence it guarantees.

GEORGE BISHARAT teaches at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. He specializes in the Middle East. He can be reached: