Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares a joke with US President Barack Obama during their meeting in the Oval office of the White House, in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Talks between the US and Israel to replace a $30-billion ten-year military aid package that expires in 2017 have had their ups and downs.
At the height of the split between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama over the Iran agreement last year, Netanyahu refused to negotiate with Obama.
Talks were renewed about six months ago. But so far no deal has been clinched. Part of the reason for the delay is Israel’s desire to improve the terms for the new 10-year package to a level that would meet or exceed $40b.
Another reason is reportedly the strained relations between the two heads of state in the wake of their very public confrontation over the nuclear deal with Iran.
There have been reports that Netanyahu has considered waiting until after the US presidential elections in the hope that he can negotiate a better deal with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Israel is also reportedly concerned that if the military package is finalized now, the Obama administration will feel freer to support international initiatives on the Middle East peace at the UN Security Council.
However, none of these strategic concerns or inter-personal tensions should be allowed to override the importance of reaching an agreement with the Obama administration in a timely fashion. Newly appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is presently in the US talking with his counterpart US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. He and Netanyahu should do everything in their power to finalize the military aid package quickly.
This is important for a number of reasons.
While we understand the desire of Netanyahu to reach the best possible deal with the US, the importance of the US military aid package is less about money than about the important ties that are fostered as a result of the technological cooperation between the two countries. Unique synergies have been fostered by the military package. American and Israeli teams work together to develop military products such as Iron Dome. Whether or not the size of the package is significantly increased is less important than the continued cooperation.
Also, there is little to the claim that Israel will succeed in reaching a better deal with the incoming US administration than with Obama’s. Though the serving US president has been critical of Israel’s settlement policy and its supposed intransigence vis-a-vis the Palestinians, no previous US president has been more forthcoming with regard to military cooperation. Obama has an interest in offering Israel a demonstrably improved military package to cement his claim to have done more than any other president to support Israel’s security.
And signing a generous military aid package would insulate Obama against accusations of being too tough on Israel should he decide later this year to pressure it to accept a peace deal that embraces a two-state solution.
Netanyahu also has an interest in signing the deal with Obama. Pushing off the signing of the deal until the next US president is elected could result in a delay in implementation. The incumbent will take office in January of 2017. Many months would likely go by before the new administration gets around to meeting with Israel and hammering out a deal. Negotiations could easily stretch into 2018.
By clinching now, Netanyahu would come away showing that he has survived a particularly tumultuous and partisan period with relations still intact. Despite all their differences, Netanyahu could prove that even with a right-wing prime minister and a liberal US president the ties between Israel and the US remain strong.
Any deal that is signed would automatically have strong bipartisan support.
Signing a robust military aid package sooner rather than later is something both Obama and Netanyahu should want. From an American standpoint, it is an important legacy to leave the US-Israel security relationship strong. From an Israeli standpoint it would provide stability, security and predictability for Israel.
And from a regional standpoint, a clinched deal sends out a message to Israel’s many enemies that the US-Israel partnership is as strong as ever despite all the rhetoric and tensions.