NEW YORK - First, let's get this straight: no nation enjoys a "right to exist." Countries are created by people killing other people who used to live in a place; countries continue to exist as long as their citizens are willing to kill other people to keep them the hell out. Thus, the U.S. exists.
And so does Israel.
Arab countries' newfound willingness to acknowledge the fact of Israel's existence in exchange for steps towards a Palestinian state is nice but ultimately inconsequential. Israel is, period. Who cares whether or not it has the right to exist? Rand McNally doesn't determine nationhood. Force does.
As long as the United States continues to pour in $3 billion a year in aid-more than the total for all other nations combined-Israel will continue to thrive. (By comparison, war-torn Afghanistan is only slated to get $300 million next year.) As for the willingness to kill other guys to keep them out...well, that's the trouble.
Right-wing extremist Ariel Sharon has unleashed a horrific onslaught upon Gaza and the West Bank that has left all but the most hardened pro-Israel hawks disgusted. An April 17th Pew Research Center poll shows public support for Israel down to 42 percent in the wake of Sharon's latest incursion.
Sharon's shock troops are using the same tactics-reprisal assassinations, torture, demolitions and mass arrests-that most Israelis' parents and grandparents witnessed as victims of the Third Reich. And we're subsidizing it all.
Strategy and Geopolitics
"Israel, like any country in the world, has the right to defend itself against the cruel terror perpetrated against it from centers of terror located only several kilometers from its population centers," Sharon said April 7th. But with five Palestinians dying for every murdered Israeli, the self-defense argument is falling on increasingly deaf American ears. It's not working, either-the more Sharon retaliates, the more dead Israelis he has to retaliate for.
Sharon's excessive use of force is causing an increasing number of Americans to wonder whether it's time to cut off aid and let both sides slog it out.
It is hard to tell, from a realpolitik standpoint, why we spend so much money on such a sandy waste. "Israel...is a good friend of the United States-one of the best friends we will ever have," House majority leader Dick Armey reiterated April 15th. Yet Israel neither possesses natural resources nor geographically separates us from those of another country. Because of its status as a Jewish state, it almost never contributes troops to American-led military operations, many of which take place in Muslim nations these days. Love it or hate it, U.S. support for Israel is pretty much a one-way deal.
Israel's 5.7 million people live on a plot of sun-bleached rocks the size of New Jersey. Our unconditional support for this tiny country offends hundreds of millions of Muslims spanning the globe from Saudi Arabia to the Philippines, whose countries possess the vast majority of the globe's energy resources. The U.S.-Israeli alliance also provides endless fodder to radical Islamists currently planning the next 9-11. In short, Israel is arguably the greatest single geopolitical liability to the security and economy of the United States.
Our Moral Obligation
Doing good, however, doesn't always mean doing well. The Truman Administration was primarily responsible for the 1948 U.N. mandate that created a fledgling Israel surrounded by hostile enemies. Both the legacy of the Holocaust and the continuing poison of anti-Semitism requires a state where the world's Jews can go to feel safe. To hell with all that Arab oil-don't we have a moral obligation to support the only working democracy in the Middle East in the face of incessant terrorist attacks?
We do owe Israel our support, but not $3 billion a year. U.S. backing began with Israel's creation, lasted through several wars and continued through more than a half-century of generous gifts of cash and state-of-the-art military hardware. As a result, Israel is-unlike its neighbors-a modern, technologically-advanced First World country with European-class infrastructure. If U.S. financial assistance were to end the second you read this, the Israeli army and air force would nevertheless remain the region's best-armed and best-trained for many years to come.
Let the Bird Leave the Nest
That outsized military and economic advantage ensures that the current war-that-won't-speak-its-name between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would continue for the foreseeable future. American-made fighter jets and helicopter gunships would continue to rain death on the West Bank; born-to-lose Arab teens would still blow themselves up in Israeli markets. Nothing much would change, but at least the U.S. would no longer be intimately implicated in the carnage-and we'd save a huge amount of money in the bargain.
Anyone who has visited the Middle East can't help but be impressed by the energy, intelligence and resolve of the Israeli people. An end to American subsidies would force them to deal with such long-standing structural problems as high unemployment, systemic constitutional tensions and demographic trends that threaten to turn their country into a Jewish state with a Jewish minority.
Independence from Washington doesn't have to lead to Arafat's fantasy of pushing Israel into the sea. A cut in U.S. subsidies could be phased out gradually, perhaps over the next ten years. More importantly, the U.S. should sign a mutual defense treaty committing to come to Israel's aid in the event of an invasion. Independence shouldn't equal abandonment, and support shouldn't equal international welfare.
Ted Rall's new book, a graphic travelogue about his recent coverage of the Afghan war titled "To Afghanistan and Back," hits stores this week. Ordering and review-copy information are available at nbmpub.com