Friday, September 23, 2016

Obama's New Deal With Israel

Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu met at the United Nations on Wednesday—their conversation was, as expected, tactful, punctuated by smiles and banter. The President—whose Administration just signed a Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U.) with Israel, committing to a ten-year, thirty-eight-billion-dollar aid package—has reason, this election season, to stress his contribution to Israel’s military strength. “We want to make sure that Israel has the full capabilities it needs in order to keep the Israeli people safe,” Obama told the press before the meeting. Netanyahu, who has openly allied with Congressional Republicans—and has been attacked at home for damaging relations with the President in the process—has reason to show gratitude for the Administration’s largesse. “The military aid deal fortifies Israel’s security and makes sure it can defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” he said.

Israel currently receives about half of all American foreign military aid, about three billion dollars annually, and has gotten a significant, long-term increase, so gratitude is certainly not misplaced. The M.O.U. includes five hundred million dollars each year for Israel’s missile-defense technology, and supports Israel’s acquisition of F-35s, offered to no other ally. But the M.O.U. is really a victory for Obama over Netanyahu and his conservative supporters in Washington—quieter than the Iran deal but arguably as decisive.

As I reported in March, the essential condition Obama set for a significant increase in aid was that Netanyahu make a binding commitment that he (and his successors, presumably) would not lobby Congress for more support in the next decade. A part of the Administration’s thinking, a former White House official told me then, was that the American government needed to budget its foreign-aid appropriations over the long term. But another consideration, the former official said, was overtly political. Obama did not want Israeli officials making common cause with Congressional Republicans during future election cycles, much as he did not want the aid negotiations to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy during this one. The Obama Administration informed Netanyahu, a senior official told Haaretz in February, that, if he refused the no-lobbying condition, he was “free to wait for the next administration.” Netanyahu chose not to, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, complained that the Prime Minister “pulled the rug” from under his conservative allies in Congress.

Read on at The New Yorker