George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
October 21, 2011 - 12:00am

As Israeli staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was held captive for more than five years by Palestinian fighters in Gaza, was heading back to Israel via Egypt, he expressed hope that his safe return home would pave the way for peace in the Middle East.
In a jarring interview on Egyptian television, he declared: “I really hope that this deal advances peace and not more military conflicts and wars between Israel and the Palestinians.”

As part of the deal, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are to be released from Israeli prisons; about 500 were already set free in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

His brief comments on Egyptian television served to turn the spotlight on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, surprisingly, managed to win the support of his right-wing team in signing the deal with Hamas. After all, Israel and many Western powers, including the United States, have always maintained that the Palestinian movement, now in full control of the Gaza Strip, is a terrorist organisation which all have shortsightedly shunned.

What has been puzzling about the deal the right-wing Israeli prime minister worked out with Hamas is that it could have been reached years ago. The United States, too, could have helped pave the way. Even Germany has reportedly been instrumental in convincing Israel to come to terms with Hamas, although it was Egypt that managed to seal the agreement. The Western power that could have been instrumental in securing a much earlier release of the Israeli military officer, even settling the whole Arab-Israeli conflict, is the United States, which nowadays (election time) seems to be bending backwards to appease the influential Zionist lobby.

A prominent Washington Post columnist, Walter Pincus, wrote last Tuesday that considering the economic woes the US is facing, the question for the Obama administration, Congress and, the American people is whether “it is time to examine the funding the United States provides to Israel” - question that is bound to upset the applecart.

Pincus proceeded to expose, in an unprecedented manner, the extent of US-Israeli relationship. He began by noting that Israel, because of the recent demonstrations against the high cost of living, has “approved cutting more than $850 million, or about 5 per cent, from its roughly $16 billion defence budget in each of the next two years”.

He continued: “If Israel can reduce its defence spending because of its domestic economic problems, should the United States - which must cut military costs because of its major budget deficit - consider reducing its aid to Israel?”

He recalled that in March 2003, days after the US invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush requested the approval of $4.7 billion in military assistance for more than 20 countries “that had contributed to the conflict or the broader fight against terrorism”. He added that a major share of the money, $1 billion, went to Israel, which in fact had a minor role in any of these conflicts.

Pincus added that this amount was “on top of the $2.7 billion regular fiscal year 2003 assistance and $9 billion in economic loans guaranteed by the US government over the next three years”.

He went on to say that in 2007, the Bush administration “worked out an agreement to raise the annual military aid grant, which had grown to $2.5 billion, incrementally over the next 10 years. This year it has reached just over $3 billion”.

Even more surprising has been his revelation that “Israel’s $3 billion is put almost immediately into an interest-bearing account” and the accrued interest is used by Israel “to pay down debt from earlier Israeli non-guaranteed loans from the United States”.

Another “bizarre formula that has become an element of US-Israel miliary aid [is] the so-called qualitative military edge (QME)”, said Pincus, which has been “enshrined” in congressional legislation. It is now a required certification that any proposed arms sale to any other country in the Middle East, mainly Arab, “will not adversely affect Israel’s qualitative military edge over military threats to Israel”.

Pincus divulged another military programme that allows the United States to store arms and equipment on Israeli bases for use in wartime.

“In the 1990s, the arrangement was expanded to allow Israel to use the weapons, but only with US permission [and] during the 2006 war against Hizbollah in Lebanon, the United States gave permission for Israel to use the stored cluster artillery shells to counter rocket attacks.”

The rockets struck civilian rather than military areas, touching off international complains.

Since the mid-1990s, Pincus continued, the United States and Israel have been “co-developing missile defence systems designed to meet threats from short-range rockets as well longer-range ballistic missiles”.

All this may have contributed to Netanyahu’s dilly dallying vis-à-vis the peace process. This time around, in dealing with the Palestinians, militants or not, he seems to have acquired the role of the Roman general, Brutus, knifing the Palestinians and Americans in the back while negotiating for the release of Shalit. He is about to settle thousands more Jews in a strategic part of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hoped would become their capital.

If the Israeli prime minister succeeds in this usurpation, it will be up to President Barack Obama to cripple the project. He has all the power to do that, thanks to Pincus’ exposure.


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