A major section of this journal and the next is devoted to U.S. economic assistance to the Middle East. With energy resources beneath its surface and the state of Israel on top, the stability of the region is of vital interest to the United States, and aid is suppose a to enhance it. America's oil-producing allies do not need economic help (military, yes, and they pay for it), but America's most domestically influential ally has required a great deaf. In fact, the rationale for most U.S. aid to the Middle East has been linked to the peace process, begun at Camp David and continued by the Oslo agreements.
Israel, with a per capita income higher than Britain's, receives $1.8 billion of U.S. aid annually as a grant. Egypt, primarily as a reward for making and keeping the peace with Israel, receives $1.2 billion with many strings attached. The combined amount is approximately 40 percent of the $7.3 billion the United States grants worldwide. This 0.1 percent of GDP is not generous-France spends 0.55 percent, Germany 0.31 percent, Japan 0.28 percent. And because the U.S. budget deficit is now much lower than that of these other countries, the (lack of) burden is even more disproportionate.
According to opinion polls, Americans think the aid slice of the budget fie is much larger than it actually is, perhaps due to the increasing isolationism o political rhetoric. Taxpayers are less and less willing to compete for hearts and minds abroad now that the Cold War is over. As with the welfare program, there is a trend toward triage, helping the viable and abandoning the hopeless. While the neighborhood around Israel will not be abandoned, real development still remains potential.
Our special focus on economic assistance to the Middle East was the brainchild of two renowned scholars in the field, Sara Roy of Harvard and Denis Sullivan of Northeastern University, who wrote articles of their own and invited seven other specialists to join the effort. Part One involves the former confrontation states of Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria, along with the West Bank/Gaza. Writers in the next issue will deal with the cases of Morocco and Somalia as well as broader policy questions and future possibilities. At a time when the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is being slashed and programs gutted, it 1s worthwhile to try to measure the effectiveness of Middle East assistance. The articles that follow, by Roy and Sullivan, Abla Amawi, Fred Lawson and Stephen Zunes, illuminate the politics of competing goals and agendas as well as possibilities for constructive change.
To bring relevant official views to the discussion, the Council held a half-day conference on Capitol Hill last February involving USAID administrator J. Brian Atwood and Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) of the House International Relations Committee along with ANERA (Americans for Near East Refugee Aid) president Peter Gubser and Sara Roy (see proceedings, p. 1). The government spokesmen were responsive to both the questions from the audience and the critiques of the other panelists. Mr. Atwood generously conceded that, had he been on the outside, his analysis would have been as unsparing as Dr. Roy's.
All the participants agreed that the "realities" of getting foreign-aid appropriations through Congress now are daunting. Considering that the most polit1cally relevant domestic constituency for foreign policy in general and foreign aid in particular is the lobby for Israel, it is small wonder that U.S. economic assistance for Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians is designed, to a large extent, to fit an Israeli agenda. In fact, the $10 million that the United States pledged in 1995 to the Palestinian Authority is being withheld by a powerful congressional friend of some American supporters of the Israeli right, U.S. Representative Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. His power increased with the election of a likeminded government in Israel last May (see Denoeux/Fox in this issue).
Until the Israeli right came to power, the agenda being followed by Washington and Jerusalem was the peace process. But the narrowly elected prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has 1mpliecl in his statements during the summer that Israel might renege even on the forms of its Oslo commitments, such as the evacuation of troops from Hebron. Recently, however, the prime minister has been told by Jordan and Egypt, as well as the United States, that there is only one way forward. Netanyahu has just shaken hands with Yasser Arafat, an indication that Israel will at least go through the motions of negotiating. If real content follows, it will be due to pressure from the United States.
The Clinton administration thought it would have Shimon Peres to lead the way, but this was not the only American miscalculation. The gross asymmetry of power following the defeat of Iraq was supposed to facilitate peace. Israel was more secure and could afford to compromise. On the other side, many thought the Oslo agreement would not work because it was so unfair to Palestinian aspirations. But, judging from the Israeli election results of May 1996, the peace failed because it was not unfair enough to the Palestinians. Many Israeli voters, not only because they were infuriated over terrorism but because they were tempted by PLO weakness, rejected Peres and his vision of the future. What-ifs were rife after his defeat. If the Palestinians had had more to lose and if they had not been deprived of all dignity, would they have tried harder to control the spoilers on their side? Then there might have been less terrorism and Peres might not have overreacted by bombing Lebanon. The Palestinians had given up on a just peace, but what they got hardly met minimum standards of honor-and that was when a relatively sympathetic Israeli government held power.
Israel's electoral U-turn cannot tum back the clock. Its role as an American aircraft carrier or garrison outpost is obsolete absent the Soviet threat. Israel as the engine of a productive regional. economy is what would serve U.S. interests now. Prime Minister Netanyahu claims to want to develop a modem, privatized, "Thatcherite" economy. But he may have missed an essential. detail: Israel's entry into the region's markets depends on an exchange of land for peace with the Palestinians. Arab countries such as Egypt, Qatar and Morocco have indicated that their economic cooperation with Israel is linked to the peace process. Even in Jordan, where relations with Israel are warmest, there is a raw nerve of anti-Israeli resentment running through the body politic that vibrates with every economic crisis, as was apparent during the bread riots of August.
Israeli prosperity is tied to Netanyahu's other stated goal, security, but neither objective has been advanced by his treatment of the Palestinians. The new prime minister seems slow to realize that his millennial dreams depend on an honorable as well as a comprehensive peace. Only this outcome will receive the full backing of virtually every Arab and Muslim country and be guaranteed by American will. About half the Israeli electorate apparently knows, as did Rabin and Peres, that their country is interdependent with the Arabs and that there can be no peace without the Palestinians. Or without the full participation of the United States. And it will be difficult for any leader in Washington to stand behind the schemes of the Israeli right. They simply do not further the post-Cold-War U.S. national interest. With hostility toward the United States growing all over the region, even in relatively friendly places, there is everything to lose in letting Israel abandon its peace commitments-after November 5, that is.