Fund Israel's Military, Not Its Settlements

Fund Israel's Military, Not Its Settlements

Washington should link part of its defense aid to Jerusalem's settlement funding.

It is nevertheless highly questionable if two states, a Jewish state of Israel alongside an Arab state of Palestine, could ever come into being if the current Israeli settlement policy persists. Many of the so-called settlements are not settlements at all. Several are now towns with thousands of residents and some, like Beitar Illit and Modi’in Illit, are actually small cities, with populations in excess of thirty thousand.

It is clear that the majority of these cities and towns will always remain under Israeli sovereignty. It would be exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to displace their residents. Areas such as the Etzion Bloc, a group of towns in the West Bank that had been populated by Jewish Palestinians prior to the 1948 War of Independence, would therefore have to be the subject of land swaps that all advocates of a two-state solution, including the sponsors of the Arab Peace Initiative, recognize must take place. If settlements continue to expand, however, villages will become towns, and towns in turn will evolve into small cities. There will simply be no contiguous territory upon which any kind of viable Palestinian state could be established.

On the other hand, there are many smaller settlements that have not yet expanded to any great degree. Some of these so-called “hilltop settlements” are considered illegal even by the Israeli authorities. Were Israel to choose to maintain its current level of OSP for its defense industry, at the expense of supporting its current West Bank policy, there would be an immediate impact on the growth of West Bank settlements. Cutbacks in Israeli spending on the West Bank would terminate support for the hilltop settlements and slow down, if not entirely put a halt to, the territorial expansion of larger towns and the infrastructure that supports them.

It is often argued that the Offshore Procurement program has resulted in benefits to the U.S. military, which has accessed Israeli-developed weapons and ancillary systems that have subsequently been manufactured in the United States. Implicit in this contention is that reducing OSP would have a negative impact on America’s military capabilities in addition to Israel’s. But these critics have failed to demonstrate a direct linkage between OSP and the sale of Israeli military items to the United States. Those items might well have been developed without OSP. By capping the potential transfer of OSP funds to one-half of the program’s total, or some $400 million, Washington would enable Israel to capitalize upon what would still be robust American subsidies for its defense industry. In addition, should there indeed exist a direct link between OSP and the defense-related products that America acquires from Israel, the U.S. military could continue to benefit from those products, which could be transferred for domestic American production.

Furthermore, not all Israeli military products are made available to the United States, as is obviously the case vice versa. In addition, Israel has in the past employed some of its OSP funds to sustain its systems; no benefit to the United States would accrue from these particular expenditures. Reducing OSP, in short, would not necessarily result in the loss of cutting-edge Israeli military products that otherwise would have been made available to the American military.

The Congress could, of course, refuse to approve any presidential reprogramming action that would result in the transfer of funds out of the OSP account. Any such action would require the prior approval of the Foreign Relations Committees and the Appropriation Committees’ Foreign Operations subcommittees of both houses. Any one of these four committees could block the transfer. But would it? After all, in so doing, it would rightly be seen as directly spending U.S. taxpayer funds on settlements that both Democratic and Republican administrations have long opposed on policy grounds. Very few members of Congress are likely to apply taxpayer dollars to explicitly flout long-standing bipartisan policy, especially if no actual reduction of funding for Israel would be involved.


LINKING OFFSHORE PROCUREMENT spending to settlement expansion would be far more effective than the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) efforts that have thus far failed to gain much traction in the United States. Whereas BDS seeks to undermine Israel’s civilian economy, OSP transfer will not reduce American assistance by one penny. Nor will it have any impact on the nonmilitary sector, whose contribution to the civilian economy has long been a subject of debate.

Unlike BDS, it would pose no threat to Israel’s existence. (Whatever its advocates might assert, the BDS campaign is a direct descendant of the original Arab boycott that was meant to strangle Israel economically when the Jewish state first came into being.) Again unlike BDS, it would not provide a haven for those who not-so-innocently insist that they are only anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic, even though their campaign ultimately would result in the destruction of the one place in the world where Jews escaping persecution, violent threats or both would be welcomed unreservedly and without question.

It is time Israel accepted full financial responsibility for its West Bank policies. For its part, the United States has long opposed Israel’s settlement policies and continues to do so. In no way should Washington aid and abet them. Israel could, of course, choose to cut back on its domestic military procurement and continue to finance its current settlement policy. Moreover, even if it were to choose not to finance that policy, it would not automatically follow that the so-called two-state solution would be imminently attainable.

Stopping settlement expansion and the current level of expenditure on West Bank infrastructure is a necessary, not sufficient, condition for an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians.

At present, neither side seems particularly interested in any kind of solution. In the absence of a mutual willingness by the principal parties to negotiate with each other, external efforts to get them to do so will come to naught. Indeed, many observers believe that it will take a new generation of leaders on both sides before any agreement can be reached. In the interim, it is important to ensure that the situation on the ground is not radically altered to the point where any agreement becomes virtually impossible. Tying the level of America’s OSP program to Israel’s settlement policy would help avoid such a development. By directly linking the level of American expenditure on OSP to that of Israeli expenditure on settlements, Washington would finally force Jerusalem to make choices that it has for too long been able to avoid. It will then be up to Israel to decide whether, and how much, to spend on maintaining its cutting-edge defense industry versus supporting the ongoing expansion of settlement activity in the West Bank.

Dov S. Zakheim is vice chairman of the Center for the National Interest. He was under secretary of defense (comptroller) from 2001 to 2004 and deputy under secretary of defense (planning and resources) from 1985 to 1987.

Image: An IDF helicopter in Greece. IDF photo, CC BY-NC 2.0.