The Biden administration is returning to professional diplomacy in its conduct around the world. That means also using aid as a component of an entire diplomatic arsenal to implement policy, not as an altruistic charity, but as a tool for advancing American values and interests. However, with regards to the military aid to Israel there are unjustified expectations the US will apply different standards.
As is well known, the Biden administration recently renewed US aid to the Palestinians, which the Trump administration has harmfully stopped in order to punish the Palestinians Authority for refusing to relinquish its legitimate demands and adapt to Trump’s “modestly” named and ultimately futile “Deal of the Century.” The US State Department has announced the resumption of the critical and life-saving activity of USAID to the Palestinian Authority (which is also very beneficial to Israel’s security), support for Palestinian hospitals and funding for the Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) which provides education and health to millions of Palestinians.
Pro-Israel activists in the United States and Israel have called on the Biden administration to condition the renewal of funding to serve as a lever to prevent incitement and support for terrorism in Palestinian society. These are legitimate demands, but largely redundant because that is exactly the Biden administration’s intention. The Administration announced that it would promote reforms at UNRWA in parallel with the renewal of funding.
The cessation of funding by the Trump Administration created an intolerable and dangerous humanitarian crisis, and must now be renewed, but there is no doubt that in the long run reform is needed to address the needs of refugees.
UNRWA indeed perpetuates Palestinian’s status as refugees in a victimhood mentality and does not conform to a two-state vision. The US administration should and probably will create in the long run a situation in which powers and funding will be gradually transferred from UNRWA to the Palestinian Authority and empower its state-building efforts. Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad began the process of taking responsibility for the needs of Palestinians in the refugee camps, but this process was halted for political reasons.
The administration uses aid to promote American goals in many arenas. A notable example is the renewal of aid to the World Health Organization, which the Trump administration had stopped, a move that is already bearing fruit in terms of international coordination in the war against COVID 19.
Regarding aid to Saudi Arabia, the administration announced a re-evaluation when it realized that American aid perpetuated the humanitarian tragedy in Yemen. This change in American policy has already led to Saudi moves to end the futile civil war, which has degraded life in Yemen into an unimaginable abyss. Another example is the approval of the F-35 fighter jet deal with the United Arab Emirates, proposed by the Trump Administration. Before approval, the Biden administration made clear that it would review and examine the UAE’s compliance with human rights standards before moving forward.
However, when it comes to military aid to Israel, there is an expectation in Israel that the Americans will take a different approach – that they will simply transfer the $3.8 billion in annual military assistance and refrain from any oversight into the way it is used. This is a very problematic expectation and not just because of the double standard in relation to American conduct vis-à-vis other recipients of US aid.
Recently a bill was introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) calling for oversight, monitoring and reporting by the US State Department to ensure that security assistance to Israel is not used for purposes that run counter to US values and interests. The kneejerk reaction of “pro-Israel” organizations was very negative even though the bill doesn’t call for cuts or limits to the military aid to Israel but rather to conduct the program in alignment with the common standards of aid to other countries.
It is time for Israel’s leaders to ask, why would the US, which has returned to its traditional position of seeing the occupation of the Palestinian territories and the de facto annexation taking place in the “territories” as illegal, immoral and detrimental to US targets in the region, agree to fund it? Why will aid designed to promote the security of the State of Israel be used for activities that harm their vision of Israel’s security and its future continue to be tolerated by the US?
The United States supports the Israel Defense Forces with billions of US taxpayer dollars in the belief that Israel’s security is an important value and strategic goal for the United States. But the same IDF is also the sovereign of the occupied territories and therefore weapons and other means provided by the United States are used by the IDF in actions of demolishing Palestinian homes, defending violent activity of the so-called hill youth, etc. Why do we expect the American people to sit idly by not to resent such use of aid funds?
American aid is indeed an important and welcome component of a whole system of strategic cooperation between Israel and the United States, designed to ensure that Israel can defend its security on its own and maintain the qualitative military edge between it and all its enemies (QME). Yet, how is Israel’s security served by the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C and backing the violence of extremist settlers?
There are voices in the United States calling for reduction or conditioning security aid to Israel. Such an intention should be opposed because it harms our security and relations between Israel and the US, but there is certainly justification for the US to ensure that aid supports Israel’s security and not the occupation and unjustified actions against Palestinians. It would be a tragedy if the occupation policies in the territories would also harm Israel’s most important security asset – our relations with the United States.