BLOG 320 September 26, 2016
Political jockeying is going on behind the scenes and the meaning of what is ahead is not entirely clear. In a speech before a joint session of the US Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel has come to the end of its childhood stage and was approaching a state of self-reliance. Netanyahu was saying that American economic aid could end (about $1.2 billion since the Camp David Accords in 1979). However, since 2007, Israel has settled on an annual aid of $3 billion for military aid.
Actually, Israel is doing quite well financially. The country’s high-tech sector is a significant financial success. The finalization of a gas deal will put billions of dollars in their economy. In my experience of traveling and working in Israel beginning in 1968, I have watched the country continually prosper. The first time I went to Jaffa, I had to take a bus down from Tel Aviv. Now Jaffa and Tel Aviv are one city with prosperous businesses in between.
In the ensuing years, US President Obama has been increasingly on a downhill slide in Israel. Netanyahu makes no secret of being highly suspect of Obama. However, the overall commitment of the USA to Israel has stayed intact. As observers in Israel have watched this relationship continue to deteriorate, questions have been raised about moving away from Uncle Sam and what they see as dictates from Washington. Theses voices argue that financial distance from Washington, D.C., will give Israel greater diplomatic independence.
Whether Netanyahu holds this view is not clear, but it is obvious that he has made almost every possible mistake in managing Israel’s relationship with President Obama. This even went to the extent that Netanyahu was seen as meddling in the US presidential electon by publically favoring Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Probably the all-time low point came in March 2015 when he side-stepped the White House and spoke to Congress critizing the administration’s Iran Policy. Ignoring this slap in the face, the White House concluded a Nuclear Arms Negoiation with Iran over Israel’s objections.
This is not how allies treat each other!
Netanyahu’s hubris and petty political actions will not stop American support. The larger Jewish population and lobby is too highly significant for that to happen. However, Netanyahu has already said he will wait and make further negotiations with the next president – another antagonistic response to Obama.
Is all of this trivial, mean-spirited, squabbling – or could it be a definite matter of policy? Netanyahu has already manuevered with the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox parties to give the US State Department no hope of renewned negotiations with Palestinians. Netanyahu is throwing the dice in a highly risky game.
The next American president will have to decide on how to respond and the negotiations will be tricky with an Israeli Prime Minister who has been playing this game for at least seven years.
Is it a policy change or just politics?