Netanyahu: Significant Gaps Remain in Israel-U.S. Military Aid Talks

Prime minister still hopes though to be able to reach a new 10-year deal before Barack Obama leaves office in January.

Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval office of the White House, Washington D.C., November 9, 2015.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at their last White House meeting in November 2015. Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told political reporters on Monday that "significant gaps remain" in negotiations between Israel and the United States over a renewed military aid agreement.

"We are in the course of the process and I hope it will be concluded," Netanyahu said about discussions for renewing a 10-year military aid package that expires in 2018.

"I have conducted several negotiations as finance minister. You have to have patience. I will be very happy if the agreement is achieved between President Obama and me, and I hope the gaps will be reduced to permit this to happen."

After initially suggesting he would prefer to wait until Obama's successor takes office in January to conclude the aid deal, Netanyahu about-faced earlier this month.  

A senior official told Haaretz on April 1 after Netanyahu met with Republican leader Sen. Lindsey Graham and representatives, that the prime minister would now prefer to conclude the deal before Obama leaves office.

In 2007, Israel and the United States signed a military aid deal under which the latter promised Israel $30 billion over the next 10 years, or $3 billion a year. This deal will lapse at the end of 2018. American and Israeli officials have therefore been negotiating since November on a new 10-year deal that would define the level of military aid Israel will receive through the end of 2028.

The difficulty in finalizing a deal is in deciding between two alternative frameworks that the Americans have proposed. 

Under Washington's first proposal, Israel would initially get $3.7 billion a year, with the sum gradually rising to over $4 billion by the end of the decade. Under this proposal, Israel would receive a total of about $40 billion over 10 years – $10 billion more than it got under the current deal.

However, there’s a condition attached to this offer: Israel must promise not to lobby Congress for any additional aid during the decade that the deal is in force.

The second alternative doesn’t require any such Israeli commitment but also offers less money. Under this proposal, America would increase its annual aid by only $400 million a year, meaning the total over the 10-year period would come to $34 billion.

Netanyahu has thus far not been happy with either alternative.

Regarding the Palestinians, the prime minister denied that Israel was about to sign any agreement regarding IDF operations in Area A or to commit officially to IDF forces not operating in Palestinian cities in the West Bank.

He also denied that any contacts with the Palestinians were taking place behind the backs of security cabinet ministers. "Our principle is simple, if the Authority's security forces do more, the IDF will do  less," Netanyahu said.

"We have no interest in injecting large numbers of forces into Area A unnecessarily.  Under no circumstances will we give up our right to operate at any time and place west of the Jordan."

Netanyahu referred to Israelis held by Hamas in Gaza – two soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge, Shaul Oron and Hadar Goldin and two civilians – and said this is an issue that is never off his daily agenda.

"We are working on this issue all the day but I have no news," he said. "We are not sparing any channels or refraining from pursuing any paths. Not everything is useful. Until this moment no channels have proven useful. Some of the existing channels do appear to be promising."

Netanyahu said he hadn't known in advance about the visit of the Austraian Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. He said the invitation sent by the Likud to Strache was not with his knowledge and that he was looking into the issue.

Regarding the naming of the new ambassador to Rome, Fiamma Nirenstein, Netanyahu said he hasn't received any negative messages from Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on this issue.

Netanyahu refused to relate to the "Uvda" television show's investigation into late cabinet minister and general Rehavam Zeevi, and said he plans to relate to the matter in the near future.