Tuesday, January 25, 2005
EAST JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials are planning to ask the United States to pay nearly $200 million for new checkpoints in occupied Palestinian territories, according to news service reports quoting U.S. officials. This aid would be on top of the nearly $3 billion the United States gives Israel every year.
Anyone who wants the United States to promote peace in the Middle East should oppose this plan. There are many good things the United States can do just after the Palestinians have held democratic elections to replace Yasser Arafat. Paying for continued Israeli occupation is not one of them.
For most Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, Israeli checkpoints represent the harshest edge of Israeli occupation, rivaled only by military raids and illegal settlements. Children must pass them on their way to school every morning. Elderly and sick must ask for permits to reach medical care. Family members are cut off from siblings, uncles and cousins. Many Palestinians are forbidden any passage at all. Some 30-year-old men have not left their own towns since their teens.
Like the wall Israel is building in the West Bank, the checkpoints would be considerably less offensive both to daily life and international law if they separated Israel from the territory its army occupies. But Israel has annexed East Jerusalem and built settlements across the West Bank.
The wall and the checkpoints are in the middle of the Palestinian areas, trapping people in small enclaves. Rather than separate Israel from Palestine, the checkpoints keep Palestinians away from one another.
Israel's argument to the United States is that money for more efficient checkpoints will ease life by speeding people and goods through. This is Orwellian, of course. Rather than give Palestinians independence, Israel is asking the United States for help in making their occupation more efficient.
But there are other reasons for Americans to be alarmed.
First, if we were serious about promoting peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, then this would be very bad policy. Americans already are feeling (and paying) the heavy cost of occupying Iraq. If Israel can get someone else to pay for its occupation, it will have that much less reason to negotiate an end to the occupation. Americans will be enablers of the status quo.
Second, Arabs and Muslims already perceive U.S. support for Israel as a sign of hostility and imperialist ambition. This perception has deepened during the recent intifada as President Bush shunned the Palestinian leadership while giving Israel a free hand. What are Palestinians to think if the checkpoints they encounter every day are literally paid for by the people of the United States?
People may disagree on the degree to which the United States is responsible for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. But let's at least make the Israelis pay for their policy themselves.
Michael Kagan, from Port Ludlow, is a lawyer teaching at Tel Aviv University's Law School clinical program.