US Should Increase Aid to Palestinians

Washington's pledge of $250 million over two years for territories pales beside $2.5 billion annual gift to Israel

FOLLOWING on the heels of the historic Sept. 13 handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, the United States convened a summit of the world's wealthiest nations.

With the full knowledge that even the most preliminary steps toward peace will require building a solid economic foundation in the occupied territories, commitments were garnered for almost $2 billion over the next five years. News stories reported that even Israel offered to put $25 million into the pot.

For some reporters, this was seen as an astonishing gesture. However, for those of us who have followed the news and have witnessed the US Congress annually vote to send Israel direct economic aid of $2.5 billion, this ``gift'' from Israel of 0.1 percent of the American taxpayers' annual ``gift'' is, at the very least, ludicrous. Thanking Israel for the symbolic gesture, the Palestinians said they preferred to simply receive the approximately $300 million Israel collects from them in income taxes.

Or, perhaps Israel can return the millions of dollars in goods confiscated from the small merchants in Beit Sahour who have been refusing to pay illegally imposed VAT (value added) taxes.

The revenues that Israel has collected from the Palestinians over the course of its occupation, coupled with the effects of its commercial and monetary policies, have netted it a great deal of money. Economists at Temple University and Georgia Tech have estimated the total to be as high as $11 billion (in 1990 dollars).

Perhaps even more critical than these dollar amounts is the blame that must be placed squarely on Israel for the state of the Palestinian economy and the infrastructure.

Palestinians, prohibited from digging wells and left with only 17 percent of the water supply - the other 83 percent diverted to Green Line Israel and to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories - have found that their agricultural output in the West Bank has steadily declined over the 26 years of Israeli occupation.

Any surpluses Palestinian farmers have managed to grow have been subject to severe export limitations. In Gaza, the fishing industry, which remained a profitable source of employment and income until 1982, has been decimated as the occupying authority reduced the fishing areas from 300 kilometers (180 miles) to 24. The fishermen I saw on the beach had given up hope of earning an income and spent their days scraping their rowboats after bringing in catches that were barely enough to feed their own extended families.

As for the sorry state of the Palestinian infrastructure, who but the Israelis is responsible for that? Wherever I traveled in the West Bank, I could see new roads leading up to Israeli settlements. Yet the jitneys in which I was traveling had to swerve to avoid the pot holes on the roads that connected Arab towns and villages. According to a UN report mandated under a General Assembly resolution of December 1991, Israel has invested heavily in new apartment complexes and roads for the Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem while ignoring the housing needs and infrastructure of the Arab Sector, neglecting the most basic municipal services such as garbage collection, street cleaning, and public lighting.

If we are, indeed, entering a new era, it is time that the US change its stance. Instead of being grateful for every symbolic gesture Israel makes, let us ask for substance.

Instead of doling out money to Israel to the tune of almost $4 billion annually (the combined amount of economic and military aid), let us adopt a more even-handed policy. How even-handed is the US pledge of $250 million for the Palestinians over the next two years compared to our annual gift to Israel of $2.5 billion? The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by amil to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.

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