Israeli taxi drivers are notoriously reluctant to pay the tax associated with turning on their meters. I took one Tel Aviv taxi driver to task over this, wondering aloud who would pay for the relatively high level of services Israelis enjoy. ‘Don’t worry, the Americans will pay,’ was his quick retort. And so they have, by the billions, year after year. Back in Kansas – where a significant number of citizens regard taxation as theft – this might not go down too well. But that has been the reality for the last 30 odd years.
So what does the US get for its money? It is hard to see any US strategic purpose that is served by uncritical support for Israel. Alienating millions of Arabs, whose markets and resources you prize, doesn’t seem like any way to run an empire. The reasons are more ideological – at once political and biblical. The ‘War on Terror’ is tailor-made for Sharon and company, allowing them to avoid any realistic moves towards peace. In the US a ferocious pro-Israel lobby, made up of mainstream Jewish organizations and the less-well-known but very powerful Christian Zionists, is ever-vigilant. Almost every Christian fundamentalist – and there are many in George Bush’s inner circle – is also a Christian Zionist.
Without US support, which runs at over $6 billion a year, Israeli military ambitions would need to be curtailed. Both Palestine and Israel are staggering under the economic fallout of the conflict. In places like Gaza livelihoods are disappearing. In Israel the tourism industry has melted down and the important hi-tech sector is reeling. Budgetary debates about who should pay the mounting bill for defending the settlements frequently boil over. The teetering economy could end up as the wild card, forcing a search for a peaceful solution.
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