The Obama administration’s offer of a package of advanced weaponry and military assistance worth billions of dollars in return for an Israeli commitment to freeze settlement construction for just three months marks a troubling development in the relationship between the two allies. There’s a reason that this deal has drawn criticism from an unusual chorus on both the left and the right among Americans who care about Israel’s security. It’s not beneficial to either nation.
Yes, the deal has the unseemly odor of a bribe, a desperate attempt to persuade Israel to enable a resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians. (And what are the Palestinians offered for their own brand of intransigence?) But this is about more than perception. It’s about linkage.
For decades, the American commitment to Israel’s security has largely been insulated from the politics of the day. Even during the Obama administration, which some view as unduly demanding toward the Israeli government diplomatically, the U.S. has strengthened its efforts to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. Will that now become a subject of negotiation, a bargaining chip employed by either side?
As Elliott Abrams and Michael Singh noted recently in Foreign Policy, either the $3 billion in additional fighter jets to Israel is just a sweetener — about $33 million in taxpayer funds for each day of the freeze — or the offer represents something more ominous: A new willingness by the U.S. to use weaponry “as pressure to tidy up a diplomatic mess of its own making.”
That’s a complaint from the conservative camp, but others have voiced similar concerns. Daniel Kurtzer, a former American ambassador to Israel, also believes this is “a very bad idea.” As he wrote in The Washington Post, by “subjecting Israel’s defense needs to the political demands of an American administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done something quite dangerous for Israel — he has made those needs contingent, negotiable, optional.”
There are safer ways for the Obama administration to prove its unquestioned support for Israel’s security. And better reasons for the Israelis and the Palestinians to resume their negotiations.