Illogic on Mideast aid
At a time of mounting budget deficits - and diplomatic impasse in the Middle East - it is odd that Congress is again considering providing more aid for Israel than the administration itself requests. Odder, still, in light of the fact that President Reagan has put an embargo on the sale of F-16s to Israel until it withdraws its forces from Lebanon. The American public should be aware of the facts:
The administration has requested $2.485 billion in aid for Israel for fiscal 1984. Of this amount, $785 million would be for economic assistance (grants) and the form of grants and the remainder low-interest loans. The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, however, has raised the amount of economic grants by $65 million and the amount of military grant aid by $300 million. In other words, the subcommittee is proposing giving Israel $365 million more in free aid than the administration requests.
The subcommittee justifies this increase largely on grounds that for fiscal 1983 the House also provided more aid in direct grants than the administration asked for and therefore Israel would be penalized by a reduction of such aid in 1984. More likely, the lawmakers are reluctant to apply cost-cutting standards to aid for Israel as the 1984 election season gathers momentum.
Many Americans ask whether the time has not come to scrutinize the Israeli aid budget more closely. It is not a matter of withdrawing American support for Israel - something no one advocates - but simply of applying to Israel the foreign policy standards applied to other nations. The public may not realize that aid for Israel has shot up substantially in recent years and that an increasing share of the aid is concessionary: Under the administration request for 1984, for instance, $1.33 billion of the total $2.48 billion package would not have to be repaid at all. The rest would be loaned over a long period at a below-market rate of interest.
Concerned about such largesse, Congressman Mervyn Dymally of California earlier this year asked some pertinent questions: ''How can the United States support giving so much money in view of our economic crisis . . .? How can we continue to do this to a country that has rejected the President's peace initiatives, stepped up its settlements in the occupied territory, and continues to remain entrenched in Lebanon?''
And all, it should be added, in violation of international law and of the US law under which such aid is given. The President has criticized Israel for violating ''the spirit'' of the Arms Export Control Act by its continuing occupation of Lebanon. Legal experts would say it is also violating the letter of the act, which states that US-supplied arms shall be be used solely for ''legitimate self-defense.''
Some legislators may genuinely believe they are serving Israel's best interests by continuing to provide generous aid without condition. Yet, if the US is opposed to Israeli foreign policy and believes that Israel's long-range security is best served by a different policy, should this not be taken into account by Congress in appropriating aid? What is so unfair or unreasonable about linking American aid to Israel with specific progress toward peace, such as withdrawal from Lebanon, and with Israeli observance of existing laws? In what can only be described as a double standard, the House subcommittee has barred the sale of advanced military arms to Jordan unless Mr. Reagan certifies that Jordan is ready to start talks with Israel and recognize Israel's right to exist. If it followed its own logic, the subcommittee would then have to bar arms sales to Israel until it entered talks under Mr. Reagan's plan.
One more observation. The subcommittee, even while it increased direct military grants for Israel, reduced such aid for Egypt. Yet, following the Camp David accords, the two nations were supposed to be given roughly equal treatment in the interests of achieving a Mideast peace. Not surprisingly, the Egyptians are smarting from the congressional action. Especially since the administration apparently did nothing to sway the subcommit-tee from voting as it did.
With the presidential contest in swing, it will become increasingly harder to weigh this matter dispassionately. American voters can therefore render a service by letting legislators know that they expect them to put the US national interest ahead of domestic politics.