In pledging to trim ineffective spending, President Obama declared that "there will be no sacred cows and no pet projects. All across America, families are making hard choices, and it's time their government did the same."
By asking earlier this month for $2.775 billion in military aid to Israel in his FY2010 budget request, it would seem that on this important policy issue President Obama's commitment is more rhetorical than substantive. Since 1949, according to the Congressional Research Service, the United States has provided to Israel more than $100 billion in military and economic assistance. In 2007, the United States and Israel signed an agreement for $30 billion in additional military aid through FY2018.
Yet the provision of U.S. weapons to Israel at taxpayer expense has done nothing to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to achieving a just and lasting peace. Rather, these weapons have had the exact opposite effect, as documented recently by Amnesty International, which pointed to U.S. weapons as a prime factor "fueling" the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, during the Bush Administration, Israel killed more than 3,000 innocent Palestinian civilians, including more than 1,000 children. During its December 2008-January 2009 war on the occupied Gaza Strip alone, Israel killed nearly 1,200 non-combatants.
On average, for each day that President Bush sat in the Oval Office, Israel killed one Palestinian civilian, often with U.S. weapons. Before Congress appropriates any additional military aid to Israel, it should insist upon President Obama providing a comprehensive and transparent review of the effects U.S. weapons transfers to Israel have on Palestinian civilians. The Arms Export Control Act limits the use of U.S. weapons given to a foreign country to "internal security" and "legitimate self-defense."
If, after reviewing the impact of Israel's misuse of U.S. weapons, the President and Congress cannot find the political will to sanction Israel for its violations of the Arms Export Control Act and prohibit future arms transfers as is required by law, then there are still steps that the U.S. government should take to ensure that any future transfers are not used to commit human rights abuses but instead to promote U.S. policy goals. For example, previous U.S. loan guarantees to Israel have stipulated that funds cannot be used to support Israeli activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel in the same way would prevent these weapons from being used to kill innocent Palestinian civilians.
As President Obama has stated, "We can't sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars, on programs that have outlived their usefulness or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists or interest groups. We simply can't afford it." In regard to U.S. aid to Israel, this is true as much from a budgetary standpoint as it is from a moral one.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press but was reprinted with permission from the author.