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Saturday, September 17, 2016

Don't celebrate the new US-Israel MoU

If you were thinking of celebrating the new United States - Israel Memorandum of Understanding signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama this week, Eli Lake has a bunch of reasons why you shouldn't.
After all of this bad blood, in the last months of his administration, Obama has decided to sign an agreement with Israel that guarantees $3.8 billion per year between 2018 and 2028. On paper it seems generous. As Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, said Wednesday, this is the "single largest pledge of military assistance -- to any country -- in American history."
The fine print tells a different story. The key word in Rice's statement is "pledge." Congress is the body that appropriates the annual aid budget. When Obama is long gone, it will be Congress that doles out the money for Israel to spend on U.S. military equipment. So one aspect of the aid deal should raise eyebrows: terms saying that Israel will stop making its case directly to Congress for military aid.
Morris Amitay, a former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, told me he had never before heard of a president asking a sovereign country, as part of an aid package negotiation, not to lobby Congress.
At first Netanyahu didn't want to give up Israel's ability to ask Congress for more funding. But he relented. A secret annex to the memorandum signed Wednesday requires Israel to forgo any funding Congress would want to give it that exceeds what was in the aid agreement that expires in 2018.
It's unclear how restrictive the lobbying restriction will actually be. Israel doesn't lobby Congress much. Far more pro-Israel lobbying is done by Aipac, which comprises U.S. citizens. Could an agreement between Israel and the U.S. limit the rights of Americans to petition Congress? When I put this question to Aipac's spokesman, Marshall Wittman, he told me: "The agreement, of course, is only between the two governments. When the two governments reach an agreement on an issue, we give that factor great weight." For the time being, Aipac says it will lobby Congress to enact the terms of the new 10-year aid agreement signed on Wednesday.
Obama's 11th-hour aid deal is less than it seems, not only because the White House cannot appropriate and because the lobbying restriction is off target, but also because Obama's successors may not honor his pledge. Obama himself discarded an agreement with Israel's leaders that was made by George W. Bush and supported by Congress, to accept the legitimacy of some settlements in and around Jerusalem. (That agreement was made as part of negotiations to get Israel to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza.)
The White House also got its way on another key issue known as the "off-shore procurement" carve out, whereby Israel is allowed to spend around 26 percent of the U.S. aid on its own defense industry. In the new aid deal, Israel will spend all of the U.S. subsidy on U.S. defense equipment by 2024.
In this sense the U.S. aid to Israel is a subsidy to American defense companies. The U.S. also retains the leverage that comes from subsidizing around 20 percent of a sovereign nation's defense budget.
Of course, Israel doesn't even need the money. When the U.S. began giving Israel serious military assistance in the 1960s, the country's planned economy was minuscule. In the 1970s it faced a very real boycott, backed by wealthy nations like Saudi Arabia (as opposed to an inconsequential boycott backed by U.S. and European college professors). Back then, the Jewish State really needed as much help as it could get.
Today, Israel's economy is thriving. In the last 10 years, the country's gross domestic product has nearly doubled, to $230 billion. Israel has discovered great deposits of natural gas. Its lawmakers in recent years have discussed starting a sovereign wealth fund. Israel is a key partner with the U.S. arms industry.
I've heard it claimed that Netanyahu agreed to this because he 'fears' that if elected President, Donald Trump will force Israel to repay aid money. If that were true, as Lake points out, this deal would not stop Trump from doing that.

I suspect that the quid pro quo is much more immediate and relates to the Obama administration's behavior at the United Nations over its last four months in office.

But who knows if they'll honor that?

Shabbat Shalom everyone.

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At 4:55 PM, Blogger John Hellein said...

The less aid Israel receives from the US the better – for Israel at least.


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