Netanyahu, Obama's Tense Relations Hinder U.S.-Israel Aid Deal

'There’s a unique place of pique for the Israelis in certain places in the administration' hovering over negotiations, expert tells New York Times.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Barack Obama.
Friends? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and United States President Barack Obama. Credit: Reuters

Tense relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama have had a part to play in the holdup in negotiations between Jerusalem and Washington over a renewed military aid agreement, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

“There’s a unique place of pique for the Israelis in certain places in the administration, and I think that hovers around this negotiation,” Robert Satloff, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's executive director, was quoted by the Times as saying. “It’s one of the reasons it’s taken so long to reach a decision.”

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.

Last week, Netanyahu noted that "significant gaps remain" in the negotiations. 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.

Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, was quoted by the Times as saying that “at the end of the day, it’s a numbers question and a political bet about whether the Israelis can get something better from the next administration, which I think would not be a wise gamble.”

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.

On Monday, 83 senators led by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons signed a letter urging Obama to quickly reach an agreement.

"In light of Israel's dramatically rising defense challenges, we stand ready to support a substantially enhanced new long-term agreement to help provide Israel the resources it requires to defend itself and preserve its qualitative military edge," said the letter.

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