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U.S. should reconsider aid to Israel

[an error occurred while processing this directive] By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 16, 2001


Israel has severed ties with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. As an American citizen and a taxpayer, I want to go on record stating that the United States should reconsider its ties with Israel.

For sure, we should cut off all funds -- as much as $3-billion annually -- to the Jewish state. Much of that money (American taxes) is used in ways, including the procurement of military weaponry, that dehumanize the Palestinian people.

We, as Americans, should be ashamed of ourselves for being partners in a state policy that forces an entire population to exist as a diaspora -- a stateless people scattered about as if they are nothing.

The United States should have nothing to do with this policy of human dispossession. It is against everything we believe in, including the written tenets of our Constitution.

Let me try a little raw truth in discussing this mess. I was in Israel in 1999 when Ehud Barak defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the election for prime minister. Shortly before the election, Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Ha'aretz newspaper, asked Barak what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian.

Barak's response, the most honest one he could give, angered most Israeli Jews. I was among journalists at the press conference when Barak said: "I would have joined a terrorist organization."

Remember, Barak is not a lover of Arabs. He is one of Israel's most decorated generals, a man who killed Arabs as a duty.

But even Barak knows the score: You cannot dispossess a people and then attempt to govern them by occupying their land, by forcing them to subsist in refugee camps, by blocking roadways to their jobs, by refusing to let them get medical attention, by cutting them off from their universities, by discounting their humanity.

Only fools would attempt such folly.

Today, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is living out his dream of getting rid of Arafat. Sharon's history with Palestinians is a bloody one, and nothing has changed since he has been in office.

Look at how he got elected. He, a candidate for prime minister and a well-known public figure, went to the Temple Mount shortly before the national election. He knew what he was doing. He knew how Palestinians would react. Even more cynically, he knew how Israeli Jews would react to Palestinian violence: They would turn Barak out of office.

Sharon came into office with the intention of militarily bringing the Palestinians to their knees, and Palestinian extremists played into his hands by carrying out acts of terrorism inside Israel and in the territories.

As myopic as he is, Sharon miscalculated the fury, scale and longevity of the new intifada.

Now, Sharon has declared Arafat irrelevant. Ironically, the Palestinian people were declared irrelevant decades ago.

Declaring Arafat persona non grata is self-defeating. Israel will gain nothing but more violence for another generation by humiliating Arafat. And if Arafat is killed -- either by Israelis or by militant Palestinians -- Israel will pay a price higher than that of the Palestinians. Why? Because the bulk of the Palestinian people have nothing left to lose.

Does anyone in Israel or the United States believe that the Palestinian people will simply lick their wounds and disappear into their refugee camps if Arafat is killed?

Does anyone believe that Palestinians will abide Israel's hand-picked successor to Arafat?

Does anyone believe that the growing legion of suicide bombers will reform and start herding sheep and growing olives?

Israel must protect itself. But how? The first step is to acknowledge its role in creating the violent conditions in the region. The time has come to stop blaming Arafat for everything. Israel foments terrorism by brutalizing Palestinians.

Many Israelis argue that Arafat and other Palestinian Authority leaders do not want peace with Israel. Instead, they want to destroy Israel. Well, many Jews do not want peace with Palestinians. Many Jews want Palestinians to evaporate.

But neither side is going anywhere soon.

Instead of taking sides, the United States should become an impartial broker in a genuine peace process -- a process that does not blame Arafat for the deeds of every individual madman.

The United States should take another look at its aid to Israel. The Jewish state should not receive another American dollar until it moves to help bring real dignity to the lives of Palestinians.

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