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The Real Cost of the $10 Billion Loan Guarantees

By Marianne Torres

Issue: December, 1991
Sonoma County Free Press

 

Under cover of the Gulf War, Israel began developing settlements at breakneck speed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

This new package is for the ostensible purpose of housing the same Soviet Jews forced to enter Israel as a result of Israeli pressure to close all avenues of immigration except to Israel.

 

AS THE WORLD WATCHES MADRID IN HOPEFUL ANTICIPATION OF A RESOLUTION to a nearly one-century-old Middle Eastern conflict, Israelis and Palestinians face each other across tables large enough to make a moot point of their respective refusal to shake hands. A world-class farce in the making, the regional conference (as opposed to the U.N. sponsored peace conference called for by the Arab world since 1974, and soon after by much of the rest of the world except Israel and the US, who have opposed it) is guaranteed by its very nature to produce nothing but disaster for the Palestinians and a face-saving way to validate Israel's continued expansion into other Middle Eastern nations. If you believe the apparent US "tough stand", we simply suggest you watch what the Baker/Bush does, not what he says.

Under cover of the Gulf War, Israel began developing settlements at breakneck speed in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. As per an earlier agreement with the US made in order to receive a special $5.6 billion combined military and economic aid package for 1991, Israel waited until September to demand $10 billion in loan guarantees, to be implemented in $2 billion installments each year for the next fove years.

CREATING "FACTS ON THE GROUND"
This new package is for the ostensible purpose of housing the same Soviet Jews forced to enter Israel as a result of Israeli pressure to close all avenues of immigration except to Israel. As a rule however, these immigrants are not being settled in Israel. They are being settled into the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza to "create facts"&emdash; to make a land-for-peace settlement politically and physically impossible. The Israeli government has already built the loan funds into its 1992 budget to free up funds for increased defense expenditures and even more Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

The loan guarantees allow Israel to raise money through loans or bonds on the promise that it will repay investors/lenders the original amount plus interest over the life of the loan or bond, usually 30 years. In the very likely event that Israel defaults on any of the US-backed loans, the US is responsible for the original loan/bond cost plus interest.

Without the guarantees, it is unlikely that Israel would be able to secure $10 billion anywhere (loan guarantees of $5 billion each from France and Germany are contingent on the guarantee from the US). Israel's credit rating is consistently scored at the bottom of the scale, and their short-term debt is so unsafe that, by US law, money-market funds may not invest more than five percent of their total assets in it. As for its long-term debt, according to the Christian Science Monitor, that part of the debt that is not backed by US pledges receives a "triple-B", the lowest credit rating by Standard and Poor's investment index.

CHOKING THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER
Supporters of the loan guarantee legislation claim that, unlike the $5.6 billion in direct US aid given to Israel in 1991, loan guarantees are free to the US taxpayer. However, based on Israel's previous housing loan guarantees, the real cost to the American taxpayers will be $3.1 to $7.1 billion if Israel repays the loans, and between $112 and $117 billion in the very likely event of default.

The minimum $3 billion is the result of Congress' plan for the US to pay the service and placement charges normally assumed by a borrower. US taxpayer costs will skyrocket if, in the absence of further US grants, Israel defaults. The US would then have to pay all administrative costs and the original $10 billion, plus interest charges, which, judging from this year's earlier $400 million loan guarantee, average 8.6 percent for 30-year loans. The total costs would range between $112 and $117 billion.

AIPAC ON THE ATTACK
In September, President Bush announced he would ask for a postponement in the congressional vote, and all hell broke loose on Capitol Hill. Gearing up for a major battle, over 100 AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's lobbying agency in the US) and other pro-Israel lobbyists descended on Capitol Hill that week, hoping to exact payback from the Congress they have paid so dearly and threatened so effectively.

For the first time in years it appeared The Lobby may not get its way so easily. In the face of worsening recession, deepening homelessness, school systems in shambles, with cities and states facing bankruptcy, combined with Israel's obvious unwillingness to join even a pretense of peace talks, the American public simply did not appear to be ready for this giveaway, and many of their Congressional representatives were unwilling to risk the anger back home.

Publicly embarrassed, and as "peace talks" loomed threateningly, the lobbyists returned home to regroup. There is talk now that Israel may even withdraw its demand for the guarantee for this year and return next year to try again. AIPAC seldom engages in battles it might not win, although those are few and far between.

The loan guarantees Israel wants represent an additional $2 billion in financial capacity over and above the "normal" economic and military grants that Israel expects the US government to provide in 1992. These loan guarantees involve the full faith and credit of the US government. As a result, they will probably carry a lower interest rate than bonds sold by American state and local governments. Israel will have a place in American capital markets superior to that of American states and cities. Because of the US government-provided preference, Israel will pay one to two percent less for its loans than will American states and municipalities.

As they say on the Hill, "The US will not need to figure out which critical domestic program - housing, job training, education - actually deserves all or part of the $10 billion. One simple loan guarantee to Israel eliminates those tough decisions".

***


Author's note, 1997—Need anyone even ask whether the loan guarantees were granted? Surely you jest! M.T.


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