State Department: Massive Cuts in Budget Won't Affect Military Aid to Israel

Israel is set to receive $3.1 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, Israeli officials are concerned that the massive cuts could reduce aid to the Palestinians, create a new security threat.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) looks on as President Donald Trump speaks to the press at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 13, 2017.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP

The State Department clarified on Thursday that despite the deep cuts included in President Trump's new budget plan for fiscal year 2018 there will be no implications for the annual security aid package to Israel. 

A statement by the Department explained that "the budget blueprint includes $3.1 billion to meet our security assistance commitments to Israel." This is the exact sum of money that Israel should receive from the United States for security and military purposes according to the 2007 memorandum of understandings between the two countries. In 2019, Israel is supposed to begin receiving a higher budget of $3.8 billion, according to an agreement that was signed last year by the Israeli government and the Obama administration. 

The 2018 budget blueprint includes a cut of 28% in the budget sent to the State Department and to U.S. foreign aid, which is expected to hurt the department's work on issues such as climate change and humanitarian aid. It could also cause damage to different UN agencies that rely on U.S. funding for a large amount of their budget. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the department's workers that he supported the budget cut, since the department's previous budget was "unsustainable." Tillerson, according to a number of news reports, convinced Trump to withdraw from an earlier plan to cut as much as 37% of his department's budget.

One area of concern for some Israeli officials, despite the fact that Israel's aid won't be touched, is the work of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the West Bank. The agency supports a number of economic and humanitarian projects aiding the Palestinian population, and if those projects shut down because of budget cuts, it could create tension and frustration on the ground. Such a result could also hurt the attempts by Trump's Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, to encourage and support Palestinian economic activity as a means of advancing the peace process. 

Bipartisan resistance

Trump's first budget outline, calling for a security-heavy re-alignment of federal spending, drew quick resistance from the U.S. Congress, with especially strong criticism of proposed deep cuts to diplomatic and foreign aid programs. 

Trump's plan, submitted to Congress on Thursday and showcasing his administration's economic priorities, is just the first volley in what will likely be an intense battle over spending in coming months. Although Trump's fellow Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives, Congress holds the federal purse strings and seldom approves presidents' budget plans. 

Republicans applauded Trump's call for a 10 percent increase in military spending next year in a budget that would also finance construction of a wall on the border with Mexico and provide more resources for deporting illegal immigrants. 

But even some conservative Republicans who traditionally fight for smaller government labeled as misguided the Trump administration's request for a 28 percent, or $10.9 billion, cut in State Department funding and other international programs. 

Protecting national interests requires a comprehensive approach, "including not just military engagement but also the full and responsible use of all diplomatic tools at our disposal," said Republican Representative Hal Rogers, who chairs a panel that oversees State Department and foreign aid spending. 

Representative Ted Yoho, a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, said international programs were cost-effective, adding they "help advance U.S. national security interests at home and abroad and spur economic job growth." 

Trump's plan would eliminate the Overseas Private Investment Corporation that helps spur private investment in foreign development projects. Yoho called it "an amazing corporation" that he said helps generate billions of dollars in U.S. exports.

The cuts to the State Department came under fire from Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL). "The President's budget reveals a White House that lacks a basic understanding of how to conduct smart foreign policy," said Deutch, a ranking member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee.

"The President's decision to ignore calls for a robust international affairs budget from experienced statesmen, respected ambassadors, and even three-star and four-star generals weakens American power abroad and puts our country at even greater risk."

 The budget also drew criticism internationally. The French ambassador to the United Nations, Francois Delattre, warned that cutting funding of global programs could fuel instability. 

Reuters contributed to this article