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Any doubts surrounding Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential ambitions were cleared up this past week when he proposed the “Stand With Israel Act” (S. 2265). However, the bill’s good ideas are not new, and its new ideas are not good. The legislation calls for all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be suspended until it publicly recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, purged everyone from the security services with ties to terrorism and renounced terrorism more generally, stopped supporting anyone responsible for anti-Israeli or anti-American incitement, publicly committed to no longer fighting Israel, and honored it’s previous diplomatic commitments. Demanding the PA recognize Israel’s right to exist is a good idea, but it’s already on the books; threatening to cut off aid from the PA for a litany of reasons is a new idea, but would likely backfire.
It is not uncommon for presidential aspirants to compete in an “Israel Primary,” where each tries to out-do one another when it comes to their support for the Jewish state. Given the freshman senator’s previous 2011 opposition to providing aid to Israel, the legislation has the quality of a Paul on the road to Damascus Iowa and New Hampshire moment. Just as the 2016 presidential race draws closer, the libertarian heir apparent seems to coincidentally have seen the light and changed his position. The only problem is not only does J Street oppose the bill, but so does AIPAC. And Elliott Abrams.
First, cutting off aid to the PA would involve cutting off aid to the Palestinian Security Forces. Initially a rag-tag disorganized mess, over the past decade they have been professionalized (in part by the U.S. military) and have served as an important, but under-reported, element of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination. Given Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s resignation last year – and Mahmoud Abbas’ impending departure from office – the forces are at risk of politicization and interference from partisan forces.
Second, cutting off aid to the PA could hasten its demise. Under the Oslo Accords, the Israeli government was tasked with collecting taxes for the Palestinians. The revenues have been cut off at various times, impeding the functioning PA. Breaking off foreign aid to the PA may lead to its collapse or dissolution.
This would not be a welcome development. While the PA is hardly an exemplar of good governance, without it Israel would become completely responsible for governing the Palestinians, as it was prior to 1994. This could bring about a host of unwelcome scenarios, from forcing Israel to accept a one-state solution to unilaterally withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza, leaving only chaos in it’s wake. Unilateral withdrawal has not worked out for Israel. It only made Hezbollah stronger in southern Lebanon, and paved the way for Hamas’ domination of Gaza.
Yes, Sen. Paul wants to be president. To capture his party’s nomination, he must demonstrate his bona fides as a steadfast friend of Israel. However, with friends like this, Israel doesn’t need (any more) enemies.
Albert B. Wolf is a contributing analyst to Wikistrat and writes a blog for The Times of Israel.