Brokers of Deceit: Massive US Aid to Israel has Enabled a Colonial Project

(By Chase Madar via Tomdispatch)

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid — nearly all of it military since 2008 — has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming.  In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel — for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse — who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

Military Aid to Israel

Arming and bankrolling a wealthy nation acting in this way may, on its face, seem like terrible policy. Yet American aid has been flowing to Israel in ever greater quantities. Over the past 60 years, in fact, Israel has absorbed close to a quarter-trillion dollars in such aid. Last year alone, Washington sent some $3.1 billion in military aid, supplemented by allocations for collaborative military research and joint training exercises.

Overall, the United States covers nearly one quarter of Israel’s defense budget — from tear gas canisters to F-16 fighter jets. In their 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84 “dumb bombs,” Paveway II and JDAM guided “smart bombs,” AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 “bunker defeat” munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous munitions — all supplied as American foreign aid. (Uniquely among Washington’s aid recipients, Israel is also permitted to spend 25% of the military funding from Washington on weapons made by its own weapons industry.)

Why is Washington doing this? The most common answer is the simplest: Israel is Washington’s “ally.” But the United States has dozens of allies around the world, none of which are subsidized in anything like this fashion by American taxpayer dollars. As there is no formal treaty alliance between the two nations and given the lopsided nature of the costs and benefits of this relationship, a far more accurate term for Israel’s tie to Washington might be “client state.” 

And not a particularly loyal client either. If massive military aid is supposed to give Washington leverage over Israel (as it normally does in client-state relationships), it is difficult to detect. In case you hadn’t noticed, rare is the American diplomatic visit to Israel that is not greeted with an in-your-face announcement of intensified colonization of Palestinian territory, euphemistically called “settlement expansion.”

Washington also provides aid to Palestine totaling, on average, $875 million annually in Obama’s first term (more than double what George W.  Bush gave in his second term). That’s a little more than a quarter of what Israel gets.  Much of it goes to projects of dubious net value like the development of irrigation networks at a moment when the Israelis are destroying Palestinian cisterns and wells elsewhere in the West Bank. Another significant part of that funding goes toward training the Palestinian security forces. Known as “Dayton forces” (after the American general, Keith Dayton, who led their training from 2005 to 2010), these troops have a grim human rights record that includes acts of torture, as Dayton himself has admitted. One former Dayton deputy, an American colonel, described these security forces to al-Jazeera as an outsourced “third Israeli security arm.” According to Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, American aid to Palestine serves mainly to entrench the Israeli occupation.

A Dishonest Broker

Nothing is equal when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip — and the numbers say it all. To offer just one example, the death toll from Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on the Gaza Strip, was 1,385 Palestinians (the majority of them civilians) and 13 Israelis, three of them civilians.

And yet mainstream opinion in the U.S. insists on seeing the two parties as essentially equal. Harold Koh, former dean of the Yale Law School and until recently the top lawyer at the State Department, has been typical in comparing Washington’s role to “adult supervision” of “a playground populated by warring switchblade gangs.” It was a particularly odd choice of metaphors, given that one side is equipped with small arms and rockets of varying sophistication, the other with nuclear weapons and a state-of-the-art modern military subsidized by the world’s only superpower.

Washington’s active role in all of this is not lost on anyone on the world stage — except Americans, who have declared themselves to be the even-handed arbiters of a conflict involving endless failed efforts at brokering a “peace process.” Globally, fewer and fewer observers believe in this fiction of Washington as a benevolent bystander rather than a participant heavily implicated in a humanitarian crisis. In 2012, the widely respected International Crisis Group described the “peace process” as “a collective addiction that serves all manner of needs, reaching an agreement no longer being the main one.”

The contradiction between military and diplomatic support for one party in the conflict and the pretense of neutrality cannot be explained away. “Looked at objectively, it can be argued that American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East have, if anything, made achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis more difficult,” writes Rashid Khalidi, a historian at Columbia University, and author of Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

Evasive Silence

American policy elites are unable or unwilling to talk about Washington’s destructive role in this situation. There is plenty of discussion about a one-state versus a two-state solution, constant disapproval of Palestinian violence, occasional mild criticism (“not helpful”) of the Israeli settlements, and lately, a lively debate about the global boycott, divestment, and sanction movement (BDS) led by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel into a “just and lasting” peace. But when it comes to what Americans are most responsible for — all that lavish military aid and diplomatic cover for one side only — what you get is either euphemism or an evasive silence.

In general, the American media tends to treat our arming of Israel as part of the natural order of the universe, as beyond question as the force of gravity. Even the “quality” media shies away from any discussion of Washington’s real role in fueling the Israel-Palestine conflict. Last month, for instance, the New York Times ran an article about a prospective “post-American” Middle East without any mention of Washington’s aid to Israel, or for that matter to Egypt, or the Fifth Fleet parked in Bahrain.

You might think that the progressive hosts of MSNBC’s news programs would be all over the story of what American taxpayers are subsidizing, but the topic barely flickers across the chat shows of Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and others. Given this across-the-board selective reticence, American coverage of Israel and Palestine, and particularly of American military aid to Israel, resembles the Agatha Christie novel in which the first-person narrator, observing and commenting on the action in calm semi-detachment, turns out to be the murderer.

Strategic Self-Interest and Unconditional Military Aid

On the activist front, American military patronage of Israel is not much discussed either, in large part because the aid package is so deeply entrenched that no attempt to cut it back could succeed in the near future. Hence, the global BDS campaign has focused on smaller, more achievable targets, though as Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, an advocacy group, told me, the BDS movement does envision an end to Washington’s military transfers in the long term. This makes tactical sense, and both the Jerusalem Fund and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are engaged in ongoing campaigns to inform the public about American military aid to Israel.

Less understandable are the lobbying groups that advertise themselves as “pro-peace,” champions of “dialogue” and “conversation,” but share the same bottom line on military aid for Israel as their overtly hawkish counterparts. For instance, J Street (“pro-Israel and pro-peace”), a Washington-based nonprofit which bills itself as a moderate alternative to the powerhouse lobbying outfit, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), supports both “robust” military aid and any supplemental disbursements on offer from Washington to the Israeli Defense Forces.  Americans for Peace Now similarly takes the position that Washington should provide “robust assistance” to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” At the risk of sounding literal-minded, any group plumping for enormous military aid packages to a country acting as Israel has is emphatically not “pro-peace.” It’s almost as if the Central America solidarity groups from the 1980s had demanded peace, while lobbying Washington to keep funding the Contras and the Salvadoran military.

Outside the various factions of the Israel lobby, the landscape is just as flat. The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank close to the Democratic Party, regularly issues pious statements about new hopes for the “peace process” — with never a mention of how our unconditional flow of advanced weaponry might be a disincentive to any just resolution of the situation.

There is, by the way, a similar dynamic at work when it comes to Washington’s second biggest recipient of foreign aid, Egypt. Washington’s expenditure of more than $60 billion over the past 30 years ensured both peace with Israel and Cold War loyalty, while propping up an authoritarian government with a ghastly human rights record. As the post-Mubarak military restores its grip on Egypt, official Washington is currently at work finding ways to keep the military aid flowing despite a congressional ban on arming regimes that overthrow elected governments. There is, however, at least some mainstream public debate in the U.S. about ending aid to the Egyptian generals who have violently reclaimed power. Investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has even drafted a handy “explainer” about U.S. military aid to Egypt — though they have not tried to explain aid to Israel.

Silence about U.S.-Israel relations is, to a large degree, hardwired into Beltway culture. As George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Washington Post, “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel.”

This is regrettable, as Washington’s politically invisible military aid to Israel is not just an impediment to lasting peace, but also a strategic and security liability. As General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2010, the failure to reach a lasting resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians makes Washington’s other foreign policy objectives in the region more difficult to achieve. It also, he pointed out, foments anti-American hatred and fuels al-Qaeda and other violent groups.  Petraeus’s successor at CENTCOM, General James Mattis, echoed this list of liabilities in a public dialogue with Wolf Blitzer last July:

“I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that [alienates] all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”

Don’t believe the generals? Ask a terrorist. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks now imprisoned at Guantanamo, told interrogators that he was motivated to attack the United States in large part because of Washington’s leading role in assisting Israel’s repeated invasions of Lebanon and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.

The Israel lobby wheels out a battery of arguments in favor of arming and funding Israel, including the assertion that a step back from such aid for Israel would signify a “retreat” into “isolationism.” But would the United States, a global hegemon busily engaged in nearly every aspect world affairs, be “isolated” if it ceased giving lavish military aid to Israel? Was the United States “isolated” before 1967 when it expanded that aid in a major way? These questions answer themselves.

Sometimes the mere act of pointing out the degree of U.S. aid to Israel provokes accusations of having a special antipathy for Israel. This may work as emotional blackmail, but if someone proposed that Washington start shipping Armenia $3.1 billion worth of armaments annually so that it could begin the conquest of its ancestral province of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighboring Azerbaijan, the plan would be considered ludicrous — and not because of a visceral dislike for Armenians. Yet somehow the assumption that Washington is required to generously arm the Israeli military has become deeply institutionalized in this country.

Fake Peace Process, Real War Process

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is leading a push for a renewed round of the interminable American-led peace process in the region that has been underway since the mid-1970s.  It’s hardly a bold prediction to suggest that this round, too, will fail. The Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Ya’alon, has already publicly mocked Kerry in his quest for peace as “obsessive and messianic” and added that the newly proposed framework for this round of negotiations is “not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Other Israeli high officials blasted Kerry for his mere mention of the potential negative consequences to Israel of a global boycott if peace is not achieved.

But why shouldn’t Ya’alon and other Israeli officials tee off on the hapless Kerry? After all, the defense minister knows that Washington will wield no stick and that bushels of carrots are in the offing, whether Israel rolls back or redoubles its land seizures and colonization efforts. President Obama has boasted that the U.S. has never given so much military aid to Israel as under his presidency. On January 29th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to upgrade Israel’s status to “major strategic partner.” With Congress and the president guaranteeing that unprecedented levels of military aid will continue to flow, Israel has no real incentive to change its behavior.

Usually such diplomatic impasses are blamed on the Palestinians, but given how little is left to squeeze out of them, doing so this time will test the creativity of official Washington. Whatever happens, in the post-mortems to come there will be no discussion in Washington about the role its own policies played in undermining a just and lasting agreement.

How much longer will this silence last? The arming and bankrolling of a wealthy nation committing ethnic cleansing has something to offend conservatives, progressives, and just about every other political grouping in America. After all, how often in foreign policy does strategic self-interest align so neatly with human rights and common decency?

Intelligent people can and do disagree about a one-state versus a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. People of goodwill disagree about the global BDS campaign. But it is hard to imagine what kind of progress can ever be made toward a just and lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine until Washington quits arming one side to the teeth.

“If it weren’t for U.S. support for Israel, this conflict would have been resolved a long time ago,” says Josh Ruebner.  Will we Americans ever acknowledge our government’s active role in destroying the chances for a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel?

Chase Madar (@ChMadar) is a lawyer in New York, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of The Passion of [Chelsea] Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook or Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars — The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Chase Madar

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20 Responses

  1. So much for the cartoon of peace talks. On to the main show: the international courts. Clearly, the US does not have the moral clarity to stop serial abuse; it will require a higher authority to enforce the idea that what gives government its legitimacy is accountability. Do principles of justice apply to all governments alike? So far, the US and Israel say “no.” At some point the world community will insist.

    • With all respect you’ve got it wrong, Mr. Dillard. Israel said “no”. And that was all that mattered, advantage having been taken of weaknesses in our political system. The U.S. did pretty much whatever Israel said–until recently anyway.

      If this President doesn’t follow-through he will have been a failure unredeemed by successes such as health care, and the nation will continue to suffer mightily for it. It’s do or die for him. And for the rest of us too. The Lobby is the enemy. We must go straight at it. We must first cure ourselves. And I seriously doubt than many Europeans will differ here.

      Resist the tendency to lump Israel and the U.S. together. They represent very different pathologies.

      Why shift it to a court system which is not even an arm of government and can’t enforce its decrees? We as a nation owe it to ourselves to impose our interests upon the Lobby and thus the Israelis. You might as well turn it over to the Vatican and expect something decisive. But any American President can do it.

  2. Leslie G.

    Last year DC sent $3.1 billion in military aid, supplemented by $ for military research & joint training exercises. h/t

  3. It’s a nitpick but Armenia (or Armenians) already control Nogorno-Karabagh. The people we would have to supply weapons to in order to reconquer it would be the Azeris, not the Armenians.

  4. The author managed to write an entire piece about American foreign aid to Israel, even asking the reason for that aid, without mentioning the Camp David Accords.

    That is not a good sign.

    • Of course, if your thesis is that American involvement in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors can only be destructive, you probably don’t want to bring up the Camp David Accords.

      • Yeah, the Camp David Accords have really done so much for peace ‘n love in the Mideast, haven’t they? link to Really showed off how effective our Power-Projectors-In-Chief have been and are. Got any examples of actual goodness and light that have resulted from US involvement (don’t call it “American involvement,” that “America” is a fading myth behind the reality of the US empire) in the Mideast, or elsewhere? Except maybe in terms, as others put it, of “serving US unspecified interests?” Your thesis-cum-cheerleading seems less tenable than the other one you want to force-frame into this discussion.

      • By all means, though, I invite you to educate us about the positive contributions the Egyptian military made towards Palestinian self-determination during the period before the Camp David Accords. It must have been massive, if it outweighs the end of actual, open warfare between Egypt and Israel when weighing the consequences of Camp David.

      • “A separate peace that neutralized the Egyptian military and allowed crushing of Palestinians?”

        No question mark required. That is exactly what it did!

    • Barack walked on Camp David, the whole process has been flawed since the Oslo sell-out.

      • ha, ha..sorry, Freudian slip: that should be Barak, as in Ehud, not the Obama one (but the same principle applies to both, anyway)

  5. Thomas Friedman, one of the most influential Middle East experts on U.S. foreign policy and a Council on Foreign Relations member, had stated as far back as the 1980s in his book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” , that the Likud Party strategy was to maintain the status quo of IDF occupation of the West Bank indefinitely, thus denying Palestinians therein basic democratic rights, and simultaneously perpetuating Israeli hegemony over the region.

    The Oscar-nominated film “The Gatekeepers” consisted of interviews of the living former directors of the of the Israeli Shin Bet internal security organization, a who critized the Israeli government for bad faith in attempting to subvert the peace process for political motives.

    The majority of Israelis polled want an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. Most moderate to liberal Israeli elected leaders want a final status agreement of some sort that allows for Palestinian statehood.

    The failure of the U.S. to use its foreign aid resources as a bargaining chip to induce Israel to finalize a final status agreement with the Palestinians is a key reason for ongoing conflict in the region since the First Intifada flared up in 1987.

    The fact the European Union is supporting sanctions on Israel has been a positive step.

  6. With American control of the Middle East waning and as Israel is becoming evermore arrogant and demanding I wonder when it will all end. But these situations do always come to an end.

    I remember when people were predicting the collapse of the USSR. They had been making such predictions for decades so their credibility was low, but then they were proved right. Their timing was just bad. The same thing can be said for Apartheid South Africa. We do live in “interesting” times.

    When will the falling curve of American influence cross the rising curve of Israeli arrogance? That will be an interesting time!

  7. Your premise of foreign aid is misleading, why not call it what it is, corporate welfare. And it turns out that Americans are fine with it and with the colonization of west bank and the moon and the mars, etc.
    The special Israelis at least know that much, exceptional American, not so much.

    • .
      try this perspective on for size:

      the relationship IS “Patron – Client;”
      the money is “Tribute.”
      who’s the Patron, and who’s the Client ?

  8. “a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.”
    And some US states, I think.

  9. I have been reading that the US has been giving Israel 3 billion in military aid per year since the late 1980s. I find it hard to believe that the military aid has not increased along with inflation. This is one reason that I think that the real amount of US military aid to Israel is even higher. Many people think that the US aggression budget is acrtually higher than what is officially listed as. If the US under repoerts how much it is actually spending on aggression would it not be reasonable to beleive that the US also under reports how much it provides to the Israelis to committ aggression.
    I do not think that it would take a forensic account to prove that the Israelis are lying about how large their defence budget actually is. I really doubt that they could afford to accumulate that amount of military hardware that they have accumulated on only 12 billion dollars a year. Military aquistions are not the only thing that their defence budget has to pay for.
    The whole story is BS BS BS B5 BS BS BS BS BS.

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