Sunday, March 13, 2016

Biden In Jerusalem

On Tuesday, Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem, to discuss, among other things, a long-term military-aid package—in effect, funding for the Israel Defense Forces to acquire advanced American weapons. That morning, however, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided to cancel a planned trip to Washington, claiming that he could not secure a meeting with the President. The White House, which learned about the cancellation from news reports, said that it had offered a meeting on a day that the Prime Minister’s office had proposed. Pressed on Tuesday as to whether Netanyahu’s government should have informed the Administration before cancelling the trip, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “I think it’s just good manners.” He continued, “I think you’d have to ask them why they chose to pursue this in the way they did.”

The current memorandum of understanding about military assistance, which was signed in 2007, guaranteed Israel three billion dollars a year in military support, from 2009 to 2018. The Netanyahu government has reportedly asked for as much as five billion dollars a year for the following ten years. Last November, eight months after his brazen speech to Congress, Netanyahu returned to Washington to press Obama for the increase in funding. Negotiations have been ongoing since then, and stalled out after the last round of talks, on February 4th through 6th, in Washington. A senior Israeli official told Haaretz’s Barak Ravid that the U.S. had offered forty billion dollars over ten years, with the yearly allocation increasing over the term of this agreement—if Netanyahu agrees not to lobby Congress for further increases. Without the commitment not to lobby Congress, the U.S. has offered thirty-four billion dollars over the course of the decade.

Inevitably, the negotiations have become hostage to a fraught Presidential election. Clearly, Obama does not want to hurt the chances of his preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, by prompting yet another open dispute with Israel. After the February 6th talks, Netanyahu told his Cabinet that, if the Obama Administration did not offer the level of aid he had asked for, he might simply leave the decision to the next President. “Israel is of course free to wait for the next administration to finalize a new MOU,” or memorandum of understanding, one senior U.S. official said, as the dispute deepened, but “Israel will certainly not find a President more committed to Israel’s security than is President Obama.” Hillary Clinton is far more popular in Israel than Obama (and, in spite of his Jewish roots, Bernie Sanders). But none of the current front-runners have anything like the sympathy for Netanyahu or his government that Mitt Romney had in 2012.

Read on at The New Yorker