Trump keeps Obama era aid to Israel amid massive State Department cuts

Concluding negotiations over the MoU deal, Israel agreed not to lobby Congress for more aid than the deal prescribes for the coming fiscal year.

Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Donald Trump (L) during a news conference at the White House in Washington , US on Feb. 15, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Donald Trump (L) during a news conference at the White House in Washington , US on Feb. 15, 2017
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – A budget outline published by the Trump administration on Thursday respects an agreement made during the Obama administration to transfer $3.1 billion in US foreign military financing to the Jewish state in 2018, despite massive cuts at the State Department and elsewhere.
Last year, the US and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding meant to govern American defense assistance to Jerusalem for the next decade. That will begin in fiscal year 2019 when the old agreement expires. At that point, aid will increase to $3.3b. annually.
Consistent with the MoU, Trump’s first budget “provides $3.1b. to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high.” The administration further vowed to ensure that Israel “has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.”
The doctrine of qualitative military edge commits the US to ensuring Israel’s military capacity remains greater than that of its neighbors.
Rice: Military aid deal, a memorandum of understanding, is win-win for US, Israel
Few other programs enjoy the security of Israeli aid; Trump’s budget, which he titled “America First,” cuts or eliminates funding for programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Global Climate Change Initiative, the Educational and Cultural Exchange, the World Bank and the UN.
“The budget for the Department of State and USAID diplomatic and development activities is being refocused on priority strategic objectives and placed on the appropriate US share of international spending,” the budget reads. The goal, it continues, is to “reduce or end direct funding for international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance US foreign policy interests, are duplicative or are not well-managed.”
In total, Trump’s proposal would cut the State Department budget by 28% and the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 31%. At the same time, it requests an unprecedented $54b. increase in defense spending, a figure balked at by senior lawmakers – both Republicans and Democrats – on Capitol Hill.
Congress will ultimately appropriate funds for the next fiscal year after proposed allocations are finalized in the legislative budget process.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday said current spending by the State Department was “not sustainable,” and he willingly accepted the “challenge” Trump had given in proposing to cut more than a quarter of his agency’s budget.
Tillerson defended the cuts as a necessary correction to a “historically high” budget that had grown to address conflicts abroad in which the United States was engaged, as well as disaster aid.
“Clearly, the level of spending that the State Department has been undertaking – particularly in this past year – is simply not sustainable. As time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the US will be directly engaged in,” he said.
The United States will also reduce spending by attracting funds from other countries and “other sources” to contribute to development aid and disaster assistance, said Tillerson, speaking in Tokyo at the start of a trip to Asia focused on the threat from North Korea.
Reuters contributed to this report.