Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.
That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”
Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.
Let’s state upfront that Paul’s objectives here are to:
a. Seize any opportunity to cut any kind of foreign aid, a cost-effective measure that the isolationist from Kentucky opposes in principle and which enables him to pander to the large group of Americans who also dislike the idea of sending money abroad, especially to unsavory types like Abbas; and
b. Pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors in preparation for his expected 2016 run for president.
Whether one considers Paul to be sincere in his professions of friendship for Israel or not, attacking aid to the PA is an easy way to achieve both objectives and distract Americans from the fact that he also opposes the vital aid that Israel gets to maintain its qualitative military edge over its enemies.
Rubin explains the opposition to the cutoff as something that is both reasonable and linked to Israel’s interests. Quoting the insightful Elliott Abrams, she explains that pulling the plug on all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is not something the Netanyahu government wants. Some of the money goes to help fund the PA security forces that cooperate extensively with the Israelis. Without these funds the PA could collapse and leave the Israelis with the messy job of having to administer the territories as well as depriving them of the assistance that the Palestinians provide in keeping a lid on terror in the West Bank.
Thus, while the Israelis have been denouncing the PA in the last week since Abbas announced the deal with Hamas that put a formal end to the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, they actually don’t want anyone in Washington to act on those complaints, at least with regard to the money that the U.S. funnels to the PA.
That means Paul’s line about AIPAC being derelict in its job is, at best, a cheap shot, and, at worse, a devious attack on a group that rightly suspects that his overtures toward the Jewish state are not to be trusted.
But before we file this incident away as an incomplete forward pass cynically aimed at Jewish voters by Paul, those who care about Israel and the slim hopes for peace need to acknowledge that the isolationist isn’t completely wrong here.
The security cooperation between the two peace partners/antagonists helps the PA as much if not more than Israel because without it Hamas might have toppled Abbas in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza in 2007. But, like it or not, Israel needs the PA to stay afloat even if it is an untrustworthy, hate fomenting foe as much as a partner.
Yet part of the problem with the PA dating back to its beginnings in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is that it has exploited Israel’s dependence on it as a shield against accountability. Rather than use aid to the PA as leverage to force it to stand up against terror and to stop broadcasting hate and undermining peace, the U.S., often with Israel’s connivance, has given it a pass. It has been all carrot and no stick, a situation that has allowed the PA to become an institution that works hard to stoke the fires of the conflict even as it is insincerely praised as a force for peace. No matter what it does, up to and including forming a new alliance with a group that is dedicated not just to Israel’s elimination but also to genocide, it knows it can be sure that the spigot of U.S. taxpayer money funneling into the pockets of Abbas’s Fatah cronies will never be turned off. Just as Kerry’s initiative failed in large measure because of the administration’s unwillingness to press the Palestinians while they were also mercilessly bashing Israel, so, too, does the aid perpetuate the conflict as much it helps keep the peace.
While it is true the Israelis are no more interested in cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians than the administration, Paul is right in the sense that unless something is eventually done to scare the PA straight, it will never stop feeding the anti-Zionist hate that fuels the conflict. This is a sentiment that is shared by most supporters of Israel, including AIPAC members. Nor is it surprising that the Zionist Organization of America formally endorsed Paul’s proposal.
So while Paul’s swipe at AIPAC was wrongheaded and has more to do with his ambition than any love for Israel, his critics shouldn’t be so blithe about spiking his proposal. It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior. What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.