The recently finalized deal between the United States and Israel for a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package is a very big deal and is rightly so claimed by President Obama.
To be sure, the overall deal has some drawbacks. For one thing the U.S. insisted that Israel relinquish the right to petition Congress for incremental increases. For another, Israel now has to spend all of the aid money in the United States and end the practice of supporting Israeli military arms producers by purchasing material from them.
All things being equal, however, it is an important step forward for Israeli security. Yet there is a danger that this development will draw attention away from a ticking time bomb relating to Israel’s future.
In a statement just after the deal was signed in a formal ceremony at the State Department, President Obama said the aid package symbolized America’s role as “Israel’s greatest friend and partner.” But he went on to say that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as important to Israeli security as the military aid package.
Mr. Obama had already roiled the waters of any possible resolution by declaring it the U.S. position that a settlement must involve borders based on the 1967 armistice lines with minor land adjustments. This was a dramatic departure from the George W. Bush notion several years earlier that final borders would be built around the robust Jewish settlements of the West Bank and the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem, with appropriate land exchanges.
The president has long been vociferous in his attacks on Israeli settlement policy and at the State Department signing he again spoke of “the deeply troubling trends on the ground” which he said undermine the goal of a two-state solution.
Indeed, according to the New York Times, his strongly worded comments “raised anew the possibility…that Mr. Obama might make an effort after the November election to lay out terms of a possible peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, perhaps through introducing a resolution at the United Nations
Further, it has been clear for several years that the president’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lines up neatly with J Street’s efforts to move the understanding of what it means to be “pro-Israel” away from AIPAC’s support for the policies of the elected government of Israel.
The issue was underscored by separate meetings on Sunday between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the two major U.S. presidential candidates. According to Donald Trump’s campaign, Mr. Trump told the prime minister that under a Trump presidency the United States will “finally accept the longstanding congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the state of Israel.” Sounds to us that he is at least closer to President Bush’s formulation concerning accommodation of Jewish population centers than President Obama’s.
As for Mrs. Clinton, her campaign reported that she had “reaffirmed her commitment” to work for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “negotiated directly by the parties.” Nothing about settlements and borders. Given her strong position against settlements while serving as President Obama’s secretary of state, the presumption has to be – unless of course she directly says otherwise – that she would continue the Obama policy rather than follow the Bush approach.
However, her commitment to pursue a settlement “negotiated directly by the parties” could be a boon to Israel in that it would not be consistent with the idea of the U.S. proposing – and presumably seeking to impose – its own solution, as Mr. Obama is reportedly considering.
The point here is that there are issues at least as significant as $38 billion in U.S. military aid to Israel.Editorial Board