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See also "Don't Just Stand There" - Preconditions for Peace & How to Get Them

American Policy in the Middle East: Getting What You Pay For

The tragedy of September 11 made Americans much more conscious of the Middle East. “Why do they hate us?” and “How can we advance peace in the Middle East?” became common questions. Americans would be surprised in fact, to know how much money the US spends in the Middle East, on what it is spent, and what they are getting for their money.

The $3 billion in aid and loans given to Israel, as well as the aid to Egypt, so frequently highlighted by many, are a drop in the bucket of US spending in the Middle East. According to Professor Fouad Ajami, the maintenance of the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, and the US military presence in Saudi Arabia, costs the US over $50 billion a year. An incredible sum spent to subsidize the richest regimes in the Middle East. These countries themselves contribute practically nothing to their own defense. In fact, it seems that Saudi Arabia has been using its own money to subsidize the extremists in Afghanistan! The US has spent widely in the Gulf, but not well. It has spent money on military solutions, without trying to get at the underlying problems: poverty, social inequality, autocracy and fundamentalism both in the Gulf states and among their neighbors. The spending is designed to achieve narrow, short term goals - to keep the Gulf regimes in power despite threats from their larger and more powerful - and much poorer - neighbors, and to make the Gulf safe for US petroleum interests. Beyond military presence, the US has done nothing to institute social reform, and little to educate for democracy. A policy of this sort must fail in the long run. You cannot keep raising the dyke against the rising sea forever.

US policy regarding Israel and its neighbors is not much different from policy in the Gulf. The US gives over $5 billion in aid and loans to Israel and Egypt annually. Most of it is military aid. It seems all problems can be solved with guns, and if guns fail, one must use larger guns. That is not the way to promote peace or the welfare of the people. Egypt is an abjectly poor country with no active enemies, yet it seems nobody in the US has thought to ask what they intend to do with all the military hardware they are buying with US aid dollars. Military aid should be balanced with support for infrastructure projects, projects for conservation of precious water resources, encouragement of home industries, and projects that promote democracy and human rights.

A good part of US aid is given in the form of dollars that must be spent on US defense procurement through the FMS (Foreign Military Sales) program. In effect, the US is giving “foreign aid” to itself. That aspect of the aid program is actually a giant subsidy to US defense industries, good for the US military - industrial complex, but bad for the aid recipients. Aid dollars should be expendable anywhere in the Middle East. That will build local economies, promote regional economic interdependence and help local economies grow.

Several million Palestinians live in refugee camps supported by the UNRWA. These camps are a permanent source of misery for their inhabitants and a breeding ground for bitterness and terrorism. If only 20% of the sum now spent on military aid could be spent annually on bringing modern sanitation, paved roads, medial care, decent schools, economic development and other basic necessities, Palestinian refugees would be on the road to redeeming themselves instead of forming a vast recruiting army for the different radical groups.

Governments tend to help governments. However, in the Middle East, governments and political leaders are not usually those who are working for peace and democracy. US policy and US aid programs should be directed in part at empowering groups and persons who support peace and democracy, rather than governments and leaders who have other agendas. Of the huge sums expended on aid, only a tiny fraction are earmarked for “people to people” projects, education for peace and joint economic ventures. The money spent on a few tanks and aircraft could, for example, build a network of peace schools in Palestine and Israel, and fund a satellite TV station that brings objective news to the Middle East in native languages. If the US government wants objective coverage of the news, that is a better way to achieve it than trying to “manage” the news on the Al-Jazeera network. Money should be earmarked for specific projects that promote coexistence and better the lives of the disadvantaged. These might include, for example, aid for infrastructure in Arab towns in Israel and aid for women’s education in Palestine.

Support is not just expressed in money. When US leaders meet with generals and political leaders, knowing the records of some of these people, they are giving them publicity, recognition, honor and legitimacy. Hilary Clinton made a very positive move when she mentioned the Hope Flowers school, a school in Bethlehem that promotes coexistence. She also visited the Newe Shalom integrated Arab-Jewish community in Israel, an oasis of peace and tolerance. Too bad that President Clinton himself only met with “important people” such as Yasser Arafat and Bibi Nethanyahu. Another such exceptional example was the appearance of the Seeds of Peace youth at peace treaty ceremonies. These organizations, and many others, should be given publicity and honored by the government, because the example that they could set in pointing the way for their societies is all important.

The US has spent, and is spending, huge sums on military solutions in the Middle East, to further the interests of very narrow sectors in the US power structure. The results have not been good. They have vindicated the Yankee saying, “You get what you pay for.” It seems to many people in the Middle East, as though the US thinks of the Middle East as a big petroleum fruit. The people are the seeds, an inconsequential byproduct. They want to squeeze the juice, and throw away the seeds.

Ami Isseroff,

Rehovoth, Israel

October 28, 2001

What Americans Can do for Peace the Middle East - A Palestinian View


Copyright 2001, by MidEastWeb for Coexistence

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