New York. -- The time has come, I think, to make Israel the 51st state. That's the only way we can cut back on aid to our friends there.
States, the old 50, are getting less and less money from Washington each year, and Israel gets more and more. We could even, since Israel's not very big, make it a city. Call it, say, "Detroit," and the people who live there would not get a penny, much less $10 billion loan guarantees to build town houses for newly arrived homeless people from the Soviet Union.
The U.S. currently gives Israel something like $5.6 billion a year in various kinds of direct foreign aid. That's about $1,270 for every man, woman and child in the country. That figure is not exact. I'm not sure there is anyone here or there who knows the real numbers, because over the years money to Israel has been creatively distributed along budget lines no one has looked at for a very long time.
There have been emergency grants and subsidies, loans and loan guarantees. With the loans, there are often declarations of no cost to U.S. taxpayers. That is being said now about the $10 billion the government of Israel wants in order to build housing on West Bank land occupied by Israel since the 1967 war against its hostile and surrounding Arab neighbors.
But last year, when Congress authorized $400 million in loan guarantees for the housing of earlier Soviet refugees, Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole said the attendant costs for placing the loans with commercial banks practically added up to more than the face amount. "It would be cheaper," he said then, "to just give them the money and forget it."
(The U.S., incidentally, has a $25 million limit on loan guarantees to foreign governments, but Israel is now exempted from that law. The $10 billion is 400 times the legal limit for the rest of the world.)
Besides that, Israel has had billions of dollars in loans from the United States, some of them periodically forgiven. Then there are one-shots like the $600 million paid out this year to compensate for damage done by Iraqi Scud missiles during our campaign in the Persian Gulf.
There is one other chunk of foreign aid that some members of Congress privately consider aid to Israel. That is the $965 million this year in direct aid to Egypt mandated by the Camp David agreements more than 10 years ago. In reality, they say, that is an annual payment to Egypt for not invading Israel -- again.
With all that, the Israelis are mad at us, or, at least, at our president, for wanting to delay the loan guarantees while the world tries to make a permanent peace in the Middle East. The president thinks that more and more building of settlements on land Arabs claim may mean the Israelis have no intention of turning it back to the former owners in return for peace.
How dare you interfere in our affairs? -- that is the message Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir is sending to the White House. The Israeli leader has a plan for Americans: Sign here and shut up.
Now it's hard to imagine that the governor of Louisiana, which has about the same number of people as Israel, would talk that way to a president -- complaining at the prospect that some of the checks may be a little late this year. And the mayor of Detroit demanding loan guarantees for the homeless? Forget it. He would not get past the White House switchboard. These are hard times at home, my friend.
So they are, and not just in Israel. If the Israelis are doing humanitarian work for the rest of the world by taking in Jewish people eager to leave the Soviet Union, so are we, and we will keep doing it after everyone who wants to leave is gone. Many if not most of those Soviets arriving in Tel Aviv each day are really trying to get to the U.S. These are urban and educated people who, on the whole, would prefer to be in Brooklyn or Los Angeles rather than in desert town houses where there are no towns.
If we made Israel the 51st state, there would be peace because an attack on Israel would be an attack on the mighty United States. Then President Bush could tell Governor Shamir that there is no point in throwing money at problems, that welfare dollars produce nothing but dependency, and any real economic trouble can always be eliminated immediately by reducing capital-gains taxes and seeking among a thousand points of light.
And as a bonus, when the Soviet emigrants say they want to go to America, Mr. Shamir can say: "You're here. Welcome to the Promised Land, the U.S.A.!"
Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.