U.S. Assistance and the Israel/Palestine Conflict
Palestinian Issue Riddles Bush’s 2005 Budget
“The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
- Article II, Sec. 3, U.S. Constitution
In his January 20, 2004 State of the Union speech President Bush was criticized for not even mentioning the plight of the Palestinians. President Bush completely ignored the blatant Israeli policy of human rights violations that the Israel military occupation has sustained against the Palestinians for decades now. Furthermore, he surprisingly dropped from his speech any mention of how he envisions to constructively involve the US toward a just solution to this conflict. One can only assume that President Bush views that addressing the violence-riddled, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is neither “necessary” nor “expedient.”
The same cannot be said for his proposed $2.4 trillion Budget of the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2005, which was transmitted to Congress on February 2, 2004 and covers the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2004. The budget is planned to be brought to the floor of both the House and Senate between July 1 and September 30 and is riddled with references to the Palestinian issue.
The references to Palestinians in the budget are many and repetitive. Not only has the Bush Administration failed in realistically engaging the issue toward a peaceful resolution, but, viewed through the proposed budget, President Bush has totally adopted the state line of Israel on almost every account. Bottom line, the Israeli military campaign against Palestinians will continue and the US taxpayer is knowingly, or otherwise, footing the bill.
With so many recently failed US-sponsored efforts to jumpstart the peace process – Mitchell Report, Tenant Plan, Roadmap – not to mention the dozen other past initiatives that have been consigned to the trash bins of history, one can understand why the Palestinian issue is on President Bush’s mind. President Bush may prefer to remain silent on Palestine in public statements, such as the State of the Union speech, but he has definitely taken sides – or should I say more accurately, continues to follow the historically failed path of US policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This failed US policy is what has brought us to where we are today.
President Bush’s proposed budget comprises of a four-volume set of documents1:
The first document that states the budget message and priorities of the President fails to mention Palestine. This is the part of the budget that is most often read and referred to. The only document that delves into the Palestinian issue is the most detailed volume of them all, the Appendix. The Appendix is where the Appropriations Committee takes its detailed direction and, as can be read, the US has no intention, budget-wise at least, of moving out of the current Palestinian-Israeli stalemate. Just the opposite, the proposed budget represents a non-policy by reverting any serious spending to two persons only, the President and the Secretary of State. In essence, the US policy toward the Palestinians will be defined by the lobbying group that can convince these two men, alone. And when either is convinced, they will need to jump through hoops to allow funds to be used to support the Palestinians, and even then, their decision to assist will only be for a limited period of time and will automatically expire.
Department of State
The two parts of the Appendix part of the budget that Palestinians are referenced in are the Department of State and International Assistance Programs chapters. In the Department of State chapter there are only two items, both interesting. The first, under subtitle, “Migration and Refugee Assistance,” proposes $731,000,000 to be spent to meet refugee and migration needs worldwide. Interestingly, in explaining one of the programs, Overseas Assistance, it is written,
“This program addresses the protection and assistance needs of refugees, migrants and conflict victims worldwide. Funds are used primarily to support the programs of international organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the International Organization for Migration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as nongovernmental organizations. When possible, funds are used to resolve refugee situations through repatriation or local integration.”
One could infer from this support that the US provides explicit support to the Palestinians that were made refugees in 1948 when Israel was created causing nearly one million Palestinians to be made homeless. The mentioned international organization, The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), explains its origins as follows,
“Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was established by United Nations General Assembly resolution 302 (IV) of 8 December 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees. The Agency began operations on 1 May 1950. In the absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem, the General Assembly has repeatedly renewed UNRWA’s mandate, most recently extending it until 30 June 2005.” (http://www.un.org/unrwa/overview/)
Ironically, in this same budget section it states,
“That not less than $50,000,000 of the funds made available under this heading shall be made available for refugees from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and other refugees resettling in Israel.”
and the mechanism to disburse these fifty million dollars is stated as follows,
“Humanitarian Migrants to Israel – These funds provide a grant to the United Israel Appeal to assist Jewish humanitarian migrants resettling in Israel.”
This is rather disturbing. Whereas the entire world’s refugees are supported in the US budget by way of international organizations, the Jewish-only migrants settling in Israel are provided for by funds allocated to The United Israel Appeal, which is an arm of the United Jewish Communities and is a US registered tax-deductible organization. If the US is so interested in settling refugees in Israel, these funds would be better spent by finding creative ways to get Israel to absorb the native Palestinian refugees that were made homeless when Israel was created and who have been sentenced to the horrid life of refugees ever since. Additionally, supporting the return home of Palestinian refuges would remove one of the stubborn obstacles to a lasting peace between the two sides.
Another interesting budget item related to Israel is the following explicit note that US’s funds that are to be contributed to the International Red Cross will only be made available if the Secretary of State determines that the Magen David Adom Society of Israel, an Israeli relief agency that is equivalent to the American Red Cross, be admitted as a full member to the Red Cross. The budget states,
“That funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for a headquarters contribution to the International Committee of the Red Cross only if the Secretary of State determines (and so reports to the appropriate committees of Congress) that the Magen David Adom Society of Israel is not being denied participation in the activities of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.”
Regardless of the strange reasons why the Magen David Adom Society of Israel has not yet been admitted to the Red Cross as a full member, I find it appalling that US support for the entire Red Cross worldwide is being held hostage due to an individual country dispute. If the Red Cross, or any other international agency for that matter, is truly independent, then it is they, and they alone, that should decide how to operate, without the US using its superpower contributions as political leverage.
The second Palestinian reference in the Department of State chapter is rather odd and is one that is repeated elsewhere in the budget as well. It states,
“None of the funds made available in this Act may be used by the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to provide equipment, technical support, consulting services, or any other form of assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.”
Another interesting note on the last page of the Department of State chapter is this unfortunate recognition that all of Jerusalem is part and parcel of Israel. The budget states, “For the purposes of registration of birth, certification of nationality, or issuance of a passport of a United States citizen born in the city of Jerusalem, the Secretary of State shall, upon request of the citizen, record the place of birth as Israel.”
I’m not sure what this has to do with the US Budget, but despite international recognition that all of East Jerusalem is illegally-held, Israeli-occupied territory it would have been prudent to qualify this statement to West Jerusalem only. These hidden facts on the ground only serve to promulgate the conflict by the supposed neutral US mediator.
International Assistance Programs
The second chapter in the Budget that references Palestinians is the International Assistance Programs chapter. It is here that handcuffs are put on the Administration in their support to the Palestinian cause.
This section, just like the Department of State chapter, starts off on a positive note. It allocates $1,000,000 to “be used to further legal reforms in the West Bank and Gaza, including judicial training on commercial disputes and ethics.” Although the amount is minuscule compared to the task at hand, it does give a positive indication on the need for law and order to replace the legal mayhem that the Israeli occupation has created over the years.
The next section of interest is titled, “LIMITATION ON ASSISTANCE FOR THE PLO FOR THE WEST BANK AND GAZA.” It states,
“None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be obligated for assistance for the Palestine Liberation Organization for the West Bank and Gaza unless the President has exercised the authority under section 604(a) of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act of 1995 (title VI of Public Law 104-107) or any other legislation to suspend or make inapplicable section 307 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and that suspension is still in effect: Provided, That if the President fails to make the certification under section 604(b)(2) of the Middle East Peace Facilitation Act of 1995 or to suspend the prohibition under other legislation, funds appropriated by this Act may not be obligated for assistance for the Palestine Liberation Organization for the West Bank and Gaza.”
It is here that the President of the United States self-imposes a requirement on himself to suspend the status quo, a status quo that prefers not to make assistance available to the Palestinians. Again, a US policy of non-assistance has become the norm and any real action to provide assistance to the Palestinians requires specific additional steps by US decision makers.
Next is another reference to the extremely sensitive issue of Jerusalem. Whereas the US Administration has continuously preached to the Palestinians that the parties of the conflict must resolve the issues together through negotiations, the US budget makes no doubt that it has already decided on the fate of the issue of Jerusalem, an issue the UN and historic US policy have stated as an issue of dispute ever since Israel illegally occupied the eastern part of the city in 1967. In the section titled, “RESTRICTIONS CONCERNING THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY,” is states,
“None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be obligated or expended to create in any part of Jerusalem a new office of any department or agency of the United States Government for the purpose of conducting official United States Government business with the Palestinian Authority over Gaza and Jericho or any successor Palestinian governing entity provided for in the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles: Provided, That this restriction shall not apply to the acquisition of additional space for the existing Consulate General in Jerusalem: Provided further, That meetings between officers and employees of the United States and officials of the Palestinian Authority, or any successor Palestinian governing entity provided for in the Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, for the purpose of conducting official United States Government business with such authority should continue to take place in locations other than Jerusalem. As has been true in the past, officers and employees of the United States Government may continue to meet in Jerusalem on other subjects with Palestinians (including those who now occupy positions in the Palestinian Authority), have social contacts, and have incidental discussions.”
So one is to understand from this that a US official cannot call for a meeting of substance with an official of the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem, but can meet over dinner in Jerusalem with this same Palestinian official to discuss the US’s latest visit to planet Mars, for example.
Next is the issue of automatic cancellation of any assistance in the rare case that the US Administration decides to extend its support to the Palestinian Authority. The section titled, “LIMITATION ON ASSISTANCE TO THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY,” states,
“(a) PROHIBITION OF FUNDS.—None of the funds appropriated by this Act to carry out the provisions of chapter 4 of part II of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 may be obligated or expended with respect to providing funds to the Palestinian Authority.
(b) WAIVER.—The prohibition included in subsection (a) shall not apply if the President certifies in writing to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate that waiving such prohibition is important to the national security interests of the United States.
(c) PERIOD OF APPLICATION OF WAIVER.—Any waiver pursuant to subsection (b) shall be effective for no more than a period of 6 months at a time and shall not apply beyond 12 months after the enactment of this Act.
(d) REPORT.—Whenever the waiver authority pursuant to subsection (b) is exercised, the President shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing the steps the Palestinian Authority has taken to arrest terrorists, confiscate weapons and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. The report shall also include a description of how funds will be spent and the accounting procedures in place to ensure that they are properly disbursed.”
Again, the President self-imposes additional efforts required if he chooses to waive the US status quo policy of not supporting the Palestinian Authority. Additionally, if support is provided and a waiver is applied, it will automatically expire and the President will need to make extensive reporting on all of the same items that Israeli Prime Minister Sharon has made his priorities throughout his latest internationally condemned military campaign against the Palestinians. This is a prime example of the tail wagging the dog.
Next is the particularly serious issue of regime change. The section titled, “PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD,” makes no attempt to hide the US policy that Palestinians must change their elected leadership, a leadership that was elected and confirmed by former US President Carter, among other election observers. The section states,
“(a) LIMITATION ON ASSISTANCE.—None of the funds appropriated by this Act may be provided to support a Palestinian state unless the Secretary of State determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that—
(b) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that the newly elected governing entity should enact a constitution assuring the rule of law, an independent judiciary, and respect for human rights for its citizens, and should enact other laws and regulations assuring transparent and accountable governance.
(c) WAIVER.—The President may waive subsection (a) if he determines that it is vital to the national security interests of the United States to do so.
(d) EXEMPTION.—The restriction in subsection (a) shall not apply to assistance intended to help reform the Palestinian Authority and affiliated institutions, or a newly elected governing entity, in order to help meet the requirements of subsection (a), consistent with the provisions of section 552 of this Act (“Limitation on Assistance to the Palestinian Authority”).”
This call for reform change is self-explanatory and requires the Secretary of State to jump through multiple hoops of various congressional committees confirming that regime change has taken place before taking action on the Administration’s very own Roadmap peace plan, which calls for a Palestinian state to be established.
Next, we again find a repeat of the same prohibition that was listed in the Department of State Chapter. A section titled, “PROHIBITION ON ASSISTANCE TO THE PALESTINIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION” repeats that,
“None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to provide equipment, technical support, consulting services, or any other form of assistance to the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation.
As the US pours major funds into creating a Middle East-wide Arabic radio station, called SAWA (Arabic for ‘together’), and a newly launched Arabic speaking satellite channel, called Al-Hura (Arabic for ‘Free’), it is hard to imagine what grudge the US has against the poorly equipped Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which is the one of the few media vehicles the Palestinian Authority has to reach all of its population. How is the Palestinian Authority supposed to implement the US demand to reduce the level of violence if the tools to directly speak to its citizens are tabooed?
The next significant section in the budget related to Palestinians is the section titled, “WEST BANK AND GAZA PROGRAM.” It states,
“(a) OVERSIGHT.—For fiscal year 2004, 30 days prior to the initial obligation of funds for the bilateral West Bank and Gaza Program, the Secretary of State shall certify to the appropriate committees of Congress that procedures have been established to assure the Comptroller General of the United States will have access to appropriate United States financial information in order to review the uses of United States assistance for the Program funded under the heading “Economic Support Fund” for the West Bank and Gaza.
(b) VETTING.—Prior to the obligation of funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support Fund” for assistance for the West Bank and Gaza, the Secretary of State shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that such assistance is not provided to or through any individual or entity that the Secretary knows or has reason to believe advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in, terrorist activity. The Secretary of State shall, as appropriate, establish procedures specifying the steps to be taken in carrying out this subsection.
(2) Of the funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support Fund” that are made available for assistance for the West Bank and Gaza, up to $1,000,000 may be used by the Office of the Inspector General of the United States Agency for International Development for audits, inspections, and other activities in furtherance of the requirements of this subsection. Such funds are in addition to funds otherwise available for such purposes.”
As if all of the above limitations were not enough this section is basically a catch-all clause that creates yet another burden for the administration before being able to support the Palestinians.
All of these constraints, limitations and additional required reporting are embedded in President Bush’s 2005 budget while at the same time, President Bush was recently quoted on the new Arabic speaking satellite television station “Al-Hura”, in his first interview to the station, as saying, “Israel should end the suffering of the average Palestinian.” One would expect the President of the worlds only superpower who recognizes the Israeli battering of the Palestinian community to create a policy of supporting the battered party, not creating barriers that prohibit streamlined support.
As for Israel, the budget is much more aggressive. In the section titled, “FOREIGN MILITARY FINANCING PROGRAM,” the proposed budget states,
“For expenses necessary for grants to enable the President to carry out the provisions of section 23 of the Arms Export Control Act, $4,957,500,000: Provided, That of the funds appropriated under this heading, not less than $2,160,000,000 shall be available for grants only for Israel...Provided further, That to the extent that the Government of Israel requests that funds be used for such purposes, grants made available for Israel by this paragraph shall, as agreed by Israel and the United States, be available for advanced weapons systems, of which not less than $568,000,000 shall be available for the procurement in Israel of defense articles and defense services, including research and development.”
Over two billion US taxpayer dollars to be granted to Israel for weapon systems, with over half a billion of which will never even buy a US product or service. Seeing the US policy in numbers allows one to understand why the world, not to mention the Palestinians, does not believe the US is a neutral mediator.
Furthermore, Israel is the only nuclear weapon superpower in the Middle East that refuses to sign on to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Instead of President Bush making Israel’s nuclear disarmament, or at least their signing of the treaty, a prerequisite to US funding, in the section titled, “NONPROLIFERATION, ANTI-TERRORISM, DEMINING AND RELATED PROGRAMS,” the budget clenches its superpower fists again by dictating to the International Atomic Energy Agency to include Israel in its activities or face no funding from the US. The section reads,
For necessary expenses for nonproliferation, anti-terrorism, demining and related programs and activities, $415,200,000...Provided further, That funds appropriated under this heading may be made available for the International Atomic Energy Agency only if the Secretary of State determines (and so reports to the Congress) that Israel is not being denied its right to participate in the activities of that Agency.”
In another odd listing, the budget sets aside ten million dollars to two specific Israeli organizations. It reads,
“PROGRAMS.—Of the funds appropriated under “Economic Support Fund” for Middle East regional programs, up to $5,000,000 may be made available for programs and activities of the Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel, and up to $5,000,000 may be made available for programs and activities of the Center for Human Dignity Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem.”
There is no mention why these specific institutions were selected or what justifies these large amounts of funding.
Lastly, even though this essay is not meant to address Israel’s full presence in the budget, one note in the section titled, “DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE—MILITARY,” that did catch attention is the one that reads,
“Of the amounts appropriated in this Act under the heading “Research, Development, Test and Evaluation, Defense-Wide”, $144,803,000 shall be made available for the Arrow missile defense program: Provided, That of this amount, $80,000,000 shall be available for the purpose of producing Arrow missile components in the United States and Arrow missile components and missiles in Israel to meet Israel’s defense requirements”
Again, US funds are being allocated for weapons that never see US suppliers or service providers and this is in a budget that claims to create jobs, let alone the never-ending preaching in the budget about realizing world peace.
By the way, another item worth noting is that Bush’s budget also contains money to undertake an ambitious program to return Americans to the moon as early as 2015 and eventually send a mission to Mars. The budget earmarks $12 billion for this effort over the next five years. Also, after President’s budget was submitted to congress, the White House acknowledged that it would need up to $50 billion in extra money for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan next year – on top of the $400 billion military budget in Bush’s proposal (Reuters, Feb 5).
It would be fair to assume that the State of Israel wrote her own ticket in Bush’s proposed 2005 budget. US towing of the Israeli state line is not new. Given this reality, the international community and the Palestinian leadership must make a hard decision before it’s too late. Do they each continue to wait for the US to take the side of justice and force their strategic ally, Israel, to end its illegal military occupation of Palestinians or should the international community, and specifically the Palestinian leadership, re-organize themselves in light of the US’s policy of putting the Palestinian people further in the corner of despair? With Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s Apartheid Wall slowly strangulating every Palestinian city time is of essence!
It’s not surprising the average American citizen does not read their country’s budget, they can’t afford to. To purchase a hardcopy of the budget, all four volumes cost $260. Nevertheless, Hope still exists that US lawmakers will revise this budget to properly address the Palestinian issue, which is the core issue facing a lasting peace in the Middle East.
The US should channel its funds to support the implementation of the dozens of UN resolutions calling for an immediate end to the 36+ years of Israeli military occupation. But then again, maybe they will not, for this is an election-year budget.
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IF AMERICANS KNEW