Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Shevat 5760 - January 19, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Peace at a Price

The lowest number that has been suggested for the cost to America of Israel's peace with Syria is $17 billion. Other estimates have gone up to around $70 billion. All these estimates refer only to cash for Israel, and do not include aid to Syria which would presumably be expected as well.

Few, if any, know what is really going on from the Israeli side. Prime Minister Barak keeps his experiences and his plans very private. He does not even report to his own Cabinet as required by law. Yet the lower figure, at least, has some confirmation from sources in the United States.

Talks about American aid are said to be continuing on their own, even as the high level talks proceed.

Israel says that it wants the aid to replace its physical presence, which gives it warnings of Syria's preparations and intentions, with an electronic presence that can provide the same level of information. A virtual frontier will thus replace the physical frontier that is being given back to Syria.

However, the response that was quoted, anonymously, in the United States press did not seem so sympathetic to Israel's approach. American officials reportedly characterized the Israeli military shopping list as "grab what you can." Other American officials said it was "peace at our expense."

It is no secret that U.S. President Clinton has an ulterior motive in promoting an Israeli-Syrian settlement, as he wants to leave a major foreign achievement, as that would be, to remember his presidency by. Yet it seems that the Israeli diplomats may have overestimated the intensity of his desire as well as his ability to pay.

So far, Clinton has not yet delivered the $2 billion that he promised Netanyahu for signing the Wye Agreement, even as Barak handed over the land to the Palestinians. The U.S. Congress balked at spending the money and has so far not authorized it. It will not be easy to sell them an even bigger package, especially if the salesman is on his way out.

Moreover, if Israel gets military goodies in return for signing, Syria will expect and demand similar consideration. Many experts say that the state of Syria's armed forces is very poor. It may be that Syria will benefit even more, relatively speaking, from American aid than Israel and, conversely, it may be better to forgo aid to Israel in order to prevent Syria from also receiving help in restoring its crumbling armed forces.

Netanyahu earned favorable publicity in the United States when he proposed a gradual reduction in the aid that Israel receives from the United States. An Israel-Syria settlement that includes a bill attached for the American taxpayer may not sit well with the American voter. There are also many U.S. observers who have no excess love for Israel and will be glad of an opportunity to present it as a money-hungry state that is taking resources away from American poor.

We do not know how important these funds are in Prime Minister Barak's personal calculations of what he is prepared to do in return for which consideration. However, if our analysis is correct, he would do well to redo the figures, and revise his monetary requests sharply downward.

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