U.S. Aid’s Tie to Israeli/Palestinian Peace Process

by on April 22, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Map At the San Francisco Commonwealth Club earlier this month, I attended a heated debate on whether U.S. aid should be tied to the Israel peace process.

Subject to congressional approval, the U.S. would pledge $27 billion in security assistance to Israel over the next decade. The discussion was whether this investment was in support of peace and whether it is a good investment for America.

Panelists included:
Dr. Stephen Zunes, Professor, University of San Francisco; Chair, Middle Eastern Studies
Alison Weir, Founder, If Americans Knew
Dr. Mitchell Ba/2008Author Myths and Facts
Dr. Uri Bar Joseph, a visiting professor of Israel Studies at SFSU
Jonathan Adelman, Author, The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State

Alison Weir was adamant about getting her point across that we only hear one side of the argument through the American media and suggested history as many of us know it isn’t entirely accurate. She argued that Israel has received more in U.S. tax money than any other country on earth and that Jordan and Palestine gets 1/20 to 1/23 of that.

She says, “Over half of our tax money abroad goes to a country the size of New Jersey.” And then she proceeded to go on and on about how Israel’s evil ways. How they tend to attack first, and then throws death stats out: Israelis have killed 982 Palestinians and 119 Israeli children.

While she ‘could have shown us’ a fair opposing perspective, she failed to deliver. Commitment to being right was too strong as it was for Dr. Mitchell Bard on the other side.

What I found frustrating was that each side seemed to have their own set of stats, which conflicted with every stat on the other side, and that instead of presenting fair arguments, it all just felt far too personal. The problem is that its not just a political or economic issue – it IS personal. It’s about land that both sides want and need to call home. Your home is about as personal as it gets.

Dr. Mitchell Bard probably had the strongest opposing view of the panelists who were in favor of continued aid. “Israelis hunger for peace,” he asserts. “How do we achieve peace in the Middle East when the Israelis gave up land in Gaza and Lebanon and terrorism continues? Israel must be able to defend itself and its land. Israel has traded land but where is the peace?”

There was tremendous polarity among the speakers, which in many cases made it counterproductive. In some ways, I wished they merely had each panelist make a 5 minutes opening remark and then move to the floor so we could engage with them and have a productive discussion about the issues at hand.

The topic is clearly a highly-inflamed one. I’m simultaneously reading The Lemon Tree and The Israelis, both of which are fabulous reads. After the read, you end up empathizing for both sides and end up in conflict.

And yet if you’re not Jewish, ask yourself the question: how far would you go to protect your homeland if you didn’t have one? If you had lost a couple of generations because of your religion, your family name?

After the event, I met a number of interesting people with views on both sides. An American Jewish lawyer who was pro-Israel had concerns that continued aid for weapons would only lead to more violence, never allowing a chance for peace. Other American Jews took different sides — it was really all over the map.

Another woman in her who was roughly 70 simply wanted to tell her story of how she led American students to Israel in the early seventies. How her Israeli husband still lives there and what it is like to spend half her time there and half of it in Silicon Valley. After walking down Market Street with her for nearly an hour, I wanted to hear her entire life story as well as her husband’s lengthy tale. I later got this lengthy tale which I’ll write about later.

It’s such a complex issue that its painful to go back and forth between so many scenarios. Israeli Uri Bar Joseph seemed to be the calmest of the panelists posing a solution that sits somewhere in between, a view that seemed reasonable and ‘kind.’

He felt that the money could be more wisely spent if we diverted some of it to rebuilding Palestine and Syria. He reminds us that 60% of both Israelis and Palestinians agree on some form of peace plan from the 2000 agreement. His approach of a quieter solitude rather than an angry “you’re wrong, I’m right” approach left me feeling more optimistic. There must be a solution to ending this conflict if both sides want to live side by side.

And on the business side, the world is very different. My world. See a March SJ Mercury News article about the growth of Silicon Valley Israel ties.

As the article points out, “tech history buffs may recognize the land where Jesus was born as also the birthplace of Intel’s Pentium chip and AOL’s ICQ instant-messaging service. As technology transforms the 21st century, the relationship between the valley and Israel is intensifying, creating a rich two-way flow of highly skilled workers, intellectual property, finance and commerce.”