Posted on August 04, 1997 in Washington Watch
Congress, reflecting the mood of U.S. public opinion, is usually not inclined to grant foreign aid. To secure foreign aid requests for new recipients, the Administration must usually wage an intense campaign to convince Members of Congress of their value to U.S. interests and foreign policy objectives.
This is not the case with foreign aid to Israel, which receives the single largest amount of such aid grants.
While the amounts themselves are significant, especially for a country as rich as Israel, the conditions under which Congress awards aid to Israel are even more interesting. Oftentimes Congress goes above and beyond the Administration’s request for Israel and makes special provisions that are excessive and not known by most Americans. Two examples follow:
Foreign Operations FY98 Appropriations Bill (H.R. 2159)
The Foreign Operations Appropriations for FY ‘98 provides over $3 billion in aid to Israel; $1.8 billion through the Military Financing Program (MFP) and $1.2 billion through the Economic Support Fund (ESP) plus an additional $80 million for refugees from the former Soviet Union. At the same time, it provides $75 million for the Palestinian Authority.
According to a special provision in this year’s legislation, $1.2 billion from the Economic Support Fund are to be “provided to Israel as a cash grant within 30 days of the signing of this act” (emphasis added) rather than held by the U.S. until formal proposals are tendered requesting specific dollar amounts.
This is contrary to U.S. practice with every other recipient nation. It places Israel in a unique position and, in fact, increases the amount of aid Israel receives as it is allowed to invest said “cash grant” until needed and collect the interest thereon. Additionally, since the aid is given up front in the form of a cash grant, there are no AID or GAO accounting procedures required. The Israeli aid program is the only one exempted from any such oversight.
Typically, recipients of MFP grants are required to use the funds for the purchase of American goods from U.S. companies; Israel is the only exception allowed to this rule.
Here, once again, Congress’ one-sided excesses are clearly apparent.
Of the $1.8 billion, $475 million “shall be available for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and defense services” (emphasis added), relieving Israel of the requirement that the funds received be used for the purchase of American goods and depriving American companies of the benefits of these prospective sales. In effect, Congress is providing a subsidy to the Israeli arms industry.
If these exceptions for Israel weren’t one-sided enough, the 105th Congress creates even greater imbalance by seeking to impose new conditions and restrictions on the disbursement of any U.S. aid to the Palestinians. Congressman Jim Saxton’s (R-NJ) amendment to H.R. 2159 states that “the PLO should do far more to demonstrate an irrevocable denunciation of terrorism,” before receiving any future U.S. aid.
Among the more excessive requirements enumerated in the Saxton Amendment are that “the PLO cease all anti-Israel rhetoric which potentially undermines the peace process” essentially requiring that the Palestinian Authority suspend free speech. At the same time, the amendment calls on the Palestinian Authority to “respect civil liberties, human rights, and democratic norms as applied equally to all persons regardless of ethnic, religious, or national origin.”
Such requirements strain credibility because they are so blatantly one-sided and contradictory: on the one hand, the Palestinian Authority is told to restrain free speech while, on the other hand, it is required to respect civil liberties.
Even more outrageous are the extensive permutations that any potential aid to the Palestinians must go through even after all the aforementioned requirements have been met. The language of the Saxton Amendment states that “funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be obligated for assistance to the PLO or the Palestinian Authority only for the period beginning 3 months after the date of the enactment of this Act and for 6 months thereafter,” and only if a number of very specific conditions are met.
These conditions amount to nothing less than congressional micro-management of U.S. grants to the Palestinians. In addition to various conditions imposed on the Palestinian Authority, the Saxton Amendment if passed greatly encumbers the Administration with numerous monitoring and reporting requirements.
For three decades now, U.S., international, and even Israeli human rights organizations have called on the government of Israel to honor both U.N. and international law regarding the Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
These respected human rights groups have reported (and continue to report on) extensive wide-ranging Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian rights through such practices as:
Â· use of excessive force to quell disturbances
Â· torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners
Â· administrative detention without charges or trial
Â· collective punishment of innocent civilians
After turning a blind eye to Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights for thirty years, Congress has now discovered the value of Palestinian human rights. This is important, but it will only be meaningful if it is applied to Israel as well as to the Palestinian National Authority.
Additional Aid Given to Israel
In addition to the normal aid requests of $3.1 billion, Congress has found ways to pile on extra benefits for Israel by attaching amendments to the budgets of the other departmental budgets of the federal government. There are sometimes Israeli add-ons in the Commerce Department budget (to support U.S.-Israeli hi-tech cooperation) and to the Agriculture Department budget (to support Israel’s agricultural and water-use project). Nowhere are there add-ons more pronounced than in the Pentagon’s budget.
(The following report was compiled by Sean Twing, a reporter and editor for The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.)
Â· The House recently passed H.R. 1119, the Defense Department Authorization Bill for fiscal year 1998, with an additional $81 million added for the purchase of Israeli produced or co-produced defense products that the Pentagon did not ask for, broken down as follows:
—$39 million for Israeli-produced missiles. These missiles were not requested by the Pentagon.
—$20 million for reactive armor tiles to retrofit Armored Personnel Carriers. This money was part of an additional $53 million added to the program beyond that requested by the Pentagon.
—$22 million to outfit U.S. Air Reserve and Air National Guard F-16s with Israel’s Litening navigation and targeting pod. This money, again not requested by the Pentagon, is particularly irksome because there is a superior American-produced system that fulfills the same functions as Litening.
Â· The Senate’s Armed Services Committee also added $65 million more to the Defense
Authorization Act in addition to money already added by the House. This additional funding breaks down as follows:
—$15 million for Israel’s Arrow anti-tactical ballistic missile (similar in function to the Patriot missile of Gulf War fame), in addition to the $38.7 million already requested by the Pentagon for the Arrow program. Since the Arrow’s inception in 1988, the U.S. has funded in excess of $650 million for the missile that Pentagon officials repeatedly have said they have no intention of buying because it does not meet U.S. operational requirements.
—$45 million for the Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL), in addition to the $16.5 million originally requested by the Pentagon.
—$5 million extra for the Boost Phase Intercept (BPI) program. The Pentagon requested $12.9 million for the program this year. Last year the 104th Congress appropriated $24.3 million for BPI research, even though the Pentagon asked for only $9.3 million for BPI.
It is important to point out that these extra funding provisions are in addition to Israel’s annual $3 billion aid package from the United States, and in addition to money for Israeli products and joint U.S.-Israeli projects already funded by the Pentagon.
If the legislation passes as it has been marked-up by the House and Senate, the 105th Congress will add $146 million to the Pentagon’s budget, in addition to $68.1 million already requested by the Pentagon. Therefore, U.S. taxpayers will contribute an additional $214.1 million to Israel in indirect foreign aid.
These extraordinary exceptions and benefits given to Israel require explanation. Why is Congress so inclined to give such excessive and one-sided benefits to Israel while at the same time pursuing what appears to be a vendetta against the Arabs? This is the question I will examine next week.
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