Criticism of the $38 billion military aid package signed with the US last week shows ingratitude to Israel’s strongest and best friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
The comment came in the wake of criticism that had he handled the relationship with US President Barack Obama with more finesse, Israel could have received substantially more aid under much better terms. Former prime minister Ehud Barak has been the most vocal in this criticism, slamming Netanyahu for the deal in an op-ed last week in The Washington Post.
Netanyahu said the criticism sends a message of “ingratitude” – which he said was the “saddest thing” – for a “record agreement that will greatly enhance Israel’s security. We should all welcome it and express our appreciation to the United States.”
He characterized the criticism as “background noise and disinformation.”
Netanyahu and Obama will meet in New York on Wednesday for the 17th time, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting. The prime minister said he will personally thank Obama for the agreement that “expresses the depth of the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also took notice of the agreement in announcing the meeting, which has been in the planning stages for a number of weeks.
Earnest said the meeting will afford the leaders the opportunity to discuss the “strong ties between the United States and Israel, as recently underscored by the finalization of a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding with Israel, the single largest pledge of military assistance in US history.”
Netanyahu said he also intends to discuss with Obama “the challenges and opportunities in the Middle East, as well as the way to advance peace and security,” while Earnest said “the meeting also will be an opportunity to discuss the need for genuine advancement of a two-state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict in the face of deeply troubling trends on the ground.”
He added that the two leaders will likely discuss “continued implementation” of the Iran deal and “other regional security issues.”
This will be the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since last November, and is expected to be their last before Obama leaves office in January.
Speaking at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that at no point during the negotiations – which started in 2013 – was Israel ever offered any more money than the $38 billion, nor any special technologies. Barak had claimed Israel could have received $45 billion.
“These are fabrications and falsifications from parties with political interests,” he said.
“Either they do not know the facts, or are falsifying the facts.”
Noting that this accord is the largest aid package the US has ever given any country, Netanyahu said it expressed the deep and strong relationship between the two countries.
“Support for Israel in the US is stronger than ever, crosses the parties, and encompasses the length and breadth of the US,” he said. “And it is manifest in this agreement.”
Barak’s fierce condemnation of Netanyahu and the deal last week spilled over to Sunday, with National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, a close associate of Netanyahu, saying the former prime minister had the most “complexes” of any politician or minister he had ever worked with.
“He was a failed prime minister,” Steinitz said in an interview to the Kol B’rama haredi radio station. “That does not mean that he does not have the right to speak – that is not realistic – but the Israeli public will judge.”
Steinitz said the agreement panned by Barak and others – including former National Security Council head Uzi Arad, former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin, and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon – is actually an “excellent agreement, especially in light of the cuts in the US army.”
Barak, Yadlin, and Ya’alon are all political rivals of Netanyahu, and Arad has been a harsh critic of his former boss ever since leaving his post as National Security Council head in 2011.
Steinitz said that those who are sharply criticizing the agreement in order to hurt Netanyahu politically, are in fact hurting Obama, who gave Israel a very generous package.
“Crazy people are saying that it is a humiliating agreement,” he said. “What kind of ingratitude is that?” The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu will be an opportunity for the prime minister to glean from the US president whether or not he plans to bring a resolution on the Mideast to the UN Security Council before he leaves office, something Israel opposes. He may also get the chance to discover whether Obama will use the period between the elections on November 8 to the January 20 inauguration of the next president for a speech to set down the parameters he thinks are needed for an Israeli-Palestinian accord.
Netanyahu is also expected to meet a number of other foreign leaders during his four-day stay in New York. Unlike in years past, the Prime Minister’s Office has not yet put out any list of whom he will be meeting.
Officials in the PMO would not comment on whether there have been efforts to set up a meeting with both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump.
It is, nonetheless, clear that Netanyahu will not meet one without meeting the other.
Unlike the presidential campaign in 2008, when both Obama and the Republican contender John McCain came to Israel before the elections, and unlike 2012 when Mitt Romney paid a visit some three months before the election, neither Trump nor Clinton have scheduled a visit to Israel during this campaign season.
This will be the final UN General Assembly for Obama, as well as for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will also be leaving his post at the end of the year.