Okay, here's your quiz of the day: What country, according to the Congressional Research Service, has been the "largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II," to the tune of $124.3 billion, and most of it military in nature? Great Britain, Germany, Japan, the Philippines? The answer: none of the above. The correct response is Israel. In the midst of an election campaign in which almost nothing can't be brawled about, military aid to Israel might be the only nonpartisan issue left. After all, President Obama, who hasn't exactly had a chummy relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ascendant Israeli right, recently agreed to a deal that, even compared to the present stratospheric levels of military aid to Israel, the White House has termed "the largest single pledge of military assistance in U.S. history." You're talking about a 10-year deal (2019-2028) for this country's most advanced weaponry (and a lot of less advanced but no less destructive stuff as well) adding up to $38 billion, or about 27% higher than the previous aid package -- though Netanyahu originally asked for $45 billion, which represents chutzpah of a major sort).
This was undoubtedly the Obama administration's way of throwing a sop (and quite a sop it is) to the Israeli prime minister in return for the Iran nuclear deal, which he so fervently opposed, and to congressional Republicans who also failed to block that deal (and many of whom are now relatively quiet but eager to pony up yet more military aid for the Israelis). In fact, in an era in which hardly a move the U.S. has made across the Greater Middle East hasn't come a cropper, resulting in collapsing states and spreading terror movements, you could say that Washington has had just one genuine success. As befits the reigning arms trader on the planet, it has poured staggering amounts of weaponry into that embroiled region. Only recently, for instance, we learned from a study by arms expert William Hartung that, since 2009, the Obama administration has offered the Saudis $115 billion worth of arms and advanced weapons systems in 42 separate deals -- a record even for the Saudi-U.S. relationship -- and don't forget similar, if somewhat smaller scale sales, often of advanced weaponry, to Kuwait, Qatar, and other countries in the region.
It's quite a record. (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!) Now, TomDispatch regular Sandy Tolan, author of Children of the Stone, puts that future $38 billion worth of weaponry for Israel in the context of the larger Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" in order to suggest just how bankrupt Washington's policies in the Middle East actually are. Tom
Throwing in the Towel
What the Bankruptcy of White House Policy Means for the Israelis and Palestinians
By Sandy Tolan
Washington has finally thrown in the towel on its long, tortured efforts to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You won't find any acknowledgement of this in the official record. Formally, the U.S. still supports a two-state solution to the conflict. But the Obama administration's recent 10-year, $38-billion pledge to renew Israel's arsenal of weaponry, while still ostensibly pursuing "peace," makes clear just how bankrupt that policy is.
For two decades, Israeli leaders and their neoconservative backers in this country, hell-bent on building and expanding settlements on Palestinian land, have worked to undermine America's stated efforts -- and paid no price. Now, with that record weapons package, the U.S. has made it all too clear that they won't have to. Ever.
The military alliance between the United States and Israel has long been at odds with the stated intentions of successive administrations in Washington to foster peace in the Holy Land. One White House after another has preferred the "solution" of having it both ways: supporting a two-state solution while richly rewarding, with lethal weaponry, an incorrigible client state that was working as fast as it could to undermine just such a solution.
This ongoing duality seemed at its most surreal in the last few weeks. First, President Obama announced the new military deal, with its promised delivery of fighter jets and other hardware, citing the "unshakable" American military alliance with Israel. The following week, at the United Nations, he declared, "Israel must recognize that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land." Next, he flew to Israel for the funeral of Shimon Peres, and in a tribute to the Nobel Prize-winning former Israeli president, spoke of a man who grasped that "the Jewish people weren't born to rule another people" and brought up the "unfinished business" of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Peres is remembered quite differently by Palestinians as an early pioneer of settlement building and the author of the brutal Operation Grapes of Wrath assaults on Lebanon in 1996.) Not long after the funeral, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly approved a new settlement deep in the West Bank, prompting the State Department to "strongly condemn" the action as "deeply troubling."
Such scolding words, however, shrivel into nothingness in the face of a single number: 38 billion. With its latest promise of military aid, the United States has essentially sanctioned Israel's impunity, its endless colonization of Palestinian land, its military occupation of the West Bank, and its periodic attacks by F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters using Hellfire missiles on the civilians of Gaza.
Yes, Hamas's crude and occasionally deadly rockets sometimes help provoke Israeli fire, and human rights investigations have found that both sides have committed war crimes. But Israel's explosive power in the 2014 Gaza war, fueled in large part by American military aid and political support, exceeded that of Hamas by an estimated 1,500-to-1. By one estimate, all of Hamas's rockets, measured in explosive power, were equal to 12 of the one-ton bombs Israel dropped on Gaza. And it loosed hundreds of those, and fired tens of thousands of shells, rockets and mortars. In the process, nearly 250 times more Palestinian civilians died than civilians in Israel.
Now, with Gaza severed from the West Bank, and Palestinians facing new waves of settlers amid a half-century-long military occupation, the U.S. has chosen not to apply pressure to its out-of-control ally, but instead to resupply its armed forces in a massive way. This means that we've finally arrived at something of a historic (if hardly noticed) moment. After all these decades, the two-state solution, critically flawed as it was, should now officially be declared dead -- and consider the United States an accomplice in its murder. In other words, the Obama administration has handed Israel's leaders and the neoconservatives who have long championed this path the victory they've sought for more than two decades.
The Chaos Kids
Twenty years ago, the pro-Israel hard right in America designed the core strategy that helped lead to this American capitulation. In 1996, a task force led by neocons Richard Perle (future chairman of the Defense Policy Board), David Wurmser (future senior Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney), Douglas Feith (future undersecretary of defense), and others issued a policy paper aimed at incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" advocated that Israel walk away from its embrace of the Oslo peace process and Oslo's focus on territorial concessions. The paper's essential ingredients included weakening Israel's neighbors via regime change in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and "roll back" in Syria and Iran. The authors' recommendations turned out to be anything but a wish list, given that a number of them would soon hold influential positions in the administration of George W. Bush.
As journalist Jim Lobe wrote in 2007:
"[T]he task force, which was chaired by Perle, argued that regime change in Iraq -- of which Feith was among the most ardent advocates within the Pentagon -- would enable Israel and the U.S. to decisively shift the balance of power in the region so that Israel could make a 'clean break' from the Oslo process (or any framework that would require it to give up 'land for peace') and, in so doing, 'secure the realm' against Palestinian territorial claims."