Bush can strengthen U.S. alliance with Israel
with uncontroversial and inexpensive actions

President George W. Bush comes to office with very low expectations from the Jewish community.

But he has the opportunity to do many small things — most of which his “best friend Israel ever had” predecessor, Bill Clinton, never did — that can strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Of course, he also could make a few major decisions that could have an even more dramatic effect.

And the best part of the opportunities Bush has is that they have nothing to do with the peace process and therefore are dependent primarily on his good will rather than the actions of others.

One of the easy ways for Bush to strengthen the relationship is to expand existing relations between the American and Israeli government bureaucracies.

Few people are aware that agreements exist between virtually every U.S. agency and its Israeli counterpart. Frameworks for cooperation, what I call “Shared Value Initiatives,” cover everything from space research to education to fire fighting.

The president can encourage the agencies to continue and to expand existing projects. More important, he could seek small amounts of money for implementing the bilateral agreements that otherwise become moribund from lack of funding.

The two nations also benefit from several binational foundations that provide grants for joint research in science, agriculture and commercial technology. The acronyms BSF, BARD and BIRD may not mean much to most of you, but they mean thousands — sometimes millions — of dollars to academic institutions and companies around the country and in Israel.

Nearly 400 American institutions in 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have received funds from these foundations, which are financed primarily by the interest on endowments created by both governments more than 20 years ago. The projects funded have produced dozens of scientific breakthroughs, many with important practical applications.

An infusion of new money, a few million for each foundation, would have an exponential impact not only for the recipients here and in Israel, but to people around the world who benefit from the joint research.

Rejuvenate programs

One of Clinton’s few innovations in the U.S.-Israel relationship was to create the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission. Unfortunately, after it was announced with some fanfare in 1993, it was neglected and never fulfilled its potential.

Bush should rejuvenate the USISTC to promote development of agricultural and environmental technologies and assist in the adaptation of military technology to civilian production.

Other little-known programs such as the Cooperative Development Research Program, the Middle East Regional Cooperation Program and the Cooperative Development Program, which help Israel assist other developing countries, are also important to the overall goals of the United States and should be continued and strengthened.

These types of programs are vital to the overall relationship and demonstrate the depth and breadth of a friendship rooted in the values our nations share.

The other pillar in the alliance is our common interests. This administration, which is far more strategically-minded than its predecessor, should be especially appreciative of Israel’s role in the Middle East as the most reliable supporter of American national security concerns.

Bush can help Israel fulfill this role, as well as give it the confidence it needs to make the sacrifices for peace that will no doubt also be expected, by enhancing the level of strategic cooperation.

The United States and Israel already have a series of cooperative arrangements that make Israel something just short of a formal ally. Before Clinton left office, negotiations were being conducted to move a little closer to a formal alliance, but the talks foundered because of the U.S. side’s reluctance. I hope Bush will renew these talks and finally recognize Israel as a full ally with all the rights and obligations that entails.

Just before he left the White House, Clinton also told Israel that he would recommend allowing Israel to buy America’s most sophisticated fighter plane, the F-22. This “next generation” aircraft will not even be available to the U.S. Air Force until 2005. Bush should implement this recommendation.

Earlier, Israel agreed to a reduction in economic aid in exchange for increases in military assistance. Everyone recognizes that Israel no longer has the same need for economic assistance it once did.

But the necessity for Israel to maintain its qualitative military advantage, combined with the cost of hardware (one F-22, for example, costs $85 million), makes it vital that the U.S. provide greater aid to make Israel’s arms purchases (most of which are made from U.S. contractors) possible.

For all the credit given to Clinton during his term, he did little to strengthen U.S.-Israel ties in the long-term. By action on these suggestions, most of which cost little and are uncontroversial, Bush can be the one who truly leaves a lasting positive legacy on the special relationship.