Al-Monitor’s Akiva Eldar notes that the presidential campaign (and Hillary Clinton’s need to appease big money Likudnik donors like Haim Saban) doesn’t seem to be tempering the Obama administration’s willingness to criticize illegal Israeli settlement activity:
Top US administration officials are not in the habit of shooting announcements from the hip, especially when it comes to harsh condemnations of Israel. This is especially true at the height of the courting season of Jewish donors and voters and of non-Jewish pro-Israel advocates. Diplomats and politicians in Jerusalem were counting on the US administration currying favor with them during the three intense months of the campaigning leading up to the elections. That’s why such seasons are suitable for new construction in the West Bank and for the retroactive authorization of existing illegal outposts to which authorities have turned a blind eye. Conventional wisdom has it that the pressures on Israel will be put off until Nov. 9, at which point they will resume with a vengeance and continue — at least — until the next president — male or female — moves into the White House.
Why then, at the height of efforts to resolve the dispute with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the US security aid deal, did the US administration decide to provoke Netanyahu and risk angering pro-Israel voters? Especially given that most of the new housing units recently approved are located in the area of Jerusalem-at-large, which is supposed to be annexed to Israel as part of the two-state solution?
Settlements, as Eldar notes, are kind of an easy target even for American politicians in the midst of campaign season, because polling shows that the vast majority of American Jews believe that settlements are either damaging to Israel’s security or believe they make no difference; very few believe that new settlements actually increase Israel’s security. A Democratic president isn’t risking much by way of traditional Jewish Democratic votes by going in on settlements, then. But still, serious criticism of the Israeli government during a presidential campaign isn’t something you usually see in American politics, so that’s something, I guess.
But I have to say, any time the issue of the supposedly sour Obama-Netanyahu relationship comes up, or somebody expresses surprise at Washington’s willingness to criticize the Netanyahu government, I have to ask: apart from words and personal beefs, what has Obama actually done to recalibrate the US-Israel-Palestine relationship? Because the correct answer is not that he’s made the US a more objective party to the Israel-Palestine conflict; in fact, the correct answer is that he’s moved American policy clearly and sharply toward Israel:
A senior Israeli official will arrive in Washington next week for a final round of negotiations involving the largest military aid package the United States has ever given any country and that will last more than a decade after President Obama leaves office.
The Obama administration has said it is prepared to sign a 10-year “memorandum of understanding” that significantly raises the $3.1 billion a year the United States currently grants Israel under an existing agreement that expires in 2018. In addition, Congress has provided additional money for missile defense.
Over months of secret negotiations that picked up steam late last year, Netanyahu was holding out for as much at $5 billion a year, according to accounts in the Israeli news media. Israelis argued that they need to spend much more on defense in the wake of last year’s Iran nuclear deal, which is freeing up frozen Iranian assets that Israel fears may be used in part to fund Iranian aggression in the region.
Yes, as Greenwald writes, Netanyahu is about to get a better deal from the US than any Israeli PM has ever gotten from any US president, but he’s still pissed that it’s not even better. It’s not just about the money; US military aid to Israel has in the past come with generous allowances about how much of the aid can be used to purchase materiel from Israeli defense contractors rather than American contractors, and Obama is reportedly trying to get those allowances reduced or eliminated. Most US military aid deals are basically pass-throughs to US contractors, where the money goes to the target nation but the target nation must then use it to purchase US-made arms and equipment. In Israel’s case past deals have allowed the Israeli government to spend a significant amount of US aid on Israel-made arms and equipment, in order to incubate a domestic Israeli defense industry, but Israel’s defense industry is thriving now so there’s no longer much justification for
any military aid to Israel whatsoever those allowances.
The obscenity of giving Israel ~$5 billion per year to continue pounding Gaza and southern Lebanon while swallowing up whatever’s left of the West Bank is unjustifiable on its own. It’s particularly unjustifiable at a time when, again as Greenwald writes, Israel is doing so well economically that its citizens enjoy a far higher standard of social services (universal health care, for example) than Americans do. But somehow the attention when it comes to US-Israel relations always gets focused on the fact that Obama and Netanyahu don’t like each other. Big deal. Clearly they don’t have to like each other to do business.