As Israel’s primary patron of economic, military and diplomatic support, the United States has a duty and the capacity to help resolve the Palestinian-Israel conflict. It should either comply with its domestic laws and cease military aid to Israel or simply step aside and allow international mechanisms to function without obstruction.
Ending aid will either restrain Israel and facilitate a political resolution or encourage a backlash that induces the global community to intervene. Between 1949 and 2008, the U.S. has provided Israel with 103.6 billion dollars, more than all of the foreign aid it has provided to Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined. Since 2000, it has provided Israel with 3.5 billion dollars worth of F-16s and 77 billion dollars in Apaches. Military aid to foreign states is subject to several US laws including the Arms Export Control Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, and the Leahy Law. Each of these laws conditions the receipt of aid on the furtherance of human rights.
The Department of State annually notes Israel’s systematic abuse of human rights against Palestinians. Congress has nevertheless renewed aid to Israel without scrutiny either by willful ignorance or disregard. In the eyes of our 535 elected representatives, Israel can do no wrong.
This has not always been the case. The Reagan administration halted its cluster munitions sales to Israel between 1982 and 1988 in response to Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate attack on civilians in Beirut. In 1991, the George H.W. Bush administration conditioned its loan guarantees to Israel on the cessation of its settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The United States has ample evidence of Israel’s human rights violations that should trigger these laws today. In its most recent offensive, Israel has dropped over one hundred one-ton bombs, hardly precise and discriminate weaponry, onto the densely populated and besieged Gaza Strip. Human Rights Watch documented Israeli ground forces shooting and killing fleeing Palestinian families in Khuza’a between 23 and 25 July. Amnesty International documented the killing of forty-five civilians in the Occupied West Bank over the past three years.
Cessation of American military aid to Israel will create at least two possibilities in the long run. On the one hand, it can restrain Israel, thereby creating more opportunities for a political resolution to the conflict. On the other hand, it could have the opposite effect and motivate Israel to pursue more maximalist policies, thereby increasing the cost of its transgressions. This will likely induce the international community to effectively intervene à la the South African model.
Short of complying with its own laws, the United States can also step aside and allow international mechanisms to function. The United States has incapacitated the United Nations Security Council by using its veto power to shield Israel from accountability forty times between 1972 and 2011. The only other situation where the United States used its veto power so systematically was to protect colonial and apartheid regimes in South Africa, Rhodesia and Namibia. The United States has similarly undermined the efficacy of the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council and, as we are currently witnessing, the International Criminal Court.
The United States is a central part of the problem in the Palestinian-Israel conflict. To be a part of the solution, it needs to do less, not more.
[This article appeared in the New York Times]