Unless developments in Gaza overshadow all the planned agenda for the summit meeting, Prime Minister Olmert and President Bush are set to discuss Tuesday, inter alia, Israel’s request to increase American financial aid. A few months ago, Israel submitted a request to raise the annual sum over 10 years by 25 percent, from $2.4 billion to $3 billion. If implemented, this would reverse the course initiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu a decade ago, which gradually reduced American annual assistance by 20 percent, from $3 billion to $2.4. Doing so would be a mistake.

The underlying rationale for the Israeli request is to take advantage of the final two years of the firmly pro-Israel Bush Administration. Israel’s main reasons for increased aid are fairly obvious: financial need for multiplying security threats, and reinforcing a powerful public symbol of American support. On the other hand, there are four reasons to continue the process of decreasing aid, perhaps leading to eventual elimination of it.

First, since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance. In the past 55 years, Israel has received more than $84 billion in grants alone. Annual American aid to Israel per capita is more than $340, which is by far the highest in the world. Average global aid per capita is only $22! This comparison becomes all the more glaring, given that according to various indices Israel is ranked 27th or 37th on the “rich scale.”

From a moral point of view, Israel’s place at the top of the list of aid recipients, ahead of all poor and sick and malnourished Third World countries, is, to say the least, problematic. Furthermore, this is, or should be, also a matter of national honor. It was only a generation ago that the goal of “economic independence” was still mentioned in Israel, if only as a distant aspiration. The process initiated by Netanyahu inched Israel toward that goal; freezing the process, let alone reversing it, means forsaking the dream.


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