Large US aid deal for Israel helps shield Clinton from Republican attacks

Clinton is wrapping herself around large US aid package to underscore how supportive she is of close US-Israeli strategic relationship.

2016/10/02 Issue: 75 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Gregory Aftandilian

The unprecedented $38 billion aid deal between US President Barack Obama’s administration and the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to protect Democratic Party candidate for president Hillary Clinton from charges that she, as former top diplomat, has been too critical of Israel.

Although Donald Trump and other Republicans may attack Clinton for supporting Palestinian statehood, that position enjoys the support of a majority of Democrats and independents and will not hurt her politically.

The historic aid deal would start in fiscal year 2019 and last ten years, providing Israel with $3.3 billion annually for the purchase of US military hardware and services and $500 million annu­ally for Israel’s missile defence systems.

As part of the deal, Israel agreed to forgo lobbying Congress for additional aid except in time of war and to phase out the practice of using a portion of the US aid on purchases from its own defence industry.

Although some pro-Israel supporters opposed the prohibi­tion on Israel lobbying for more assistance, the aid package is a huge boon to Israel no matter how one looks at it. Israel, for example, will be able to purchase many F-35 fighter jets, the most advanced in the Pentagon’s arsenal, helping Israel to maintain its qualitative military edge in the region.

Netanyahu, despite his frosty relationship with Obama, praised the deal as a great accomplish­ment. At their recent meeting in New York during the UN General Assembly, the two leaders lauded it as an example of the close US-Israel strategic ties while sweeping under the rug profound differences that remain over the Iran nuclear deal and Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

One of the reasons Obama wanted the deal finalised before the presidential election was to give Clinton a leg up on Trump. During her tenure as secretary of State in Obama’s first term, Clinton was in lockstep with Obama in calling on Netanyahu to halt settlements. This produced a partial Israeli settlement freeze for a time in the West Bank but it did not lead to any breakthrough in the peace process and made both Obama and Clinton look like critics of Israel, which Republi­cans have tried to exploit.

During the 2016 presidential election period, Clinton has been strongly pro-Israel while also reconfirming her support for Palestinian statehood. During a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March she said she would continue to support Israel’s qualitative military edge and provide it with the “most sophis­ticated defence technology”. However, she also said the Palestinians “ought to be able to govern themselves in their own state in peace and dignity”.

In contrast, Trump, her Repub­lican opponent, at the same AIPAC forum, only spoke about Israel and took an indirect swipe at the Obama administration for its supposedly critical positions. “When I become president, the days of treating Israel like a second-class citizen will end on day one,” he said. Trump’s only comment on the Palestinians was that a UN-imposed solution to the conflict “would reward Palestin­ian terrorism”.

While the Democratic Party platform included a plank regarding a secure and democratic Israel as well as “Palestinian independence, sovereignty and dignity”, the Republican Party platform only spoke of a strong relationship with Israel and “no daylight between America and Israel”.

Clinton needed to include some pro-Palestinian language in the party platform in part to assuage supporters of Bernie Sanders, her leftist Democratic rival at the time but she worked hard to exclude language on “settlements” and “occupation”, according to Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times foreign correspond­ent.

The latest bid by the two presidential contenders to show their pro-Israel bona fides was on display in New York on September 25th when Trump and Clinton had separate meetings with Netan­yahu.

While the two presidential candidates made similar remarks, Trump again neglected to men­tion Palestinian rights while praising Israel’s fight against “Islamic terrorism”. Clinton repeated what she said at the AIPAC forum but underscored that peace should not be imposed on Israel and noted the importance of the $38 billion military aid package in maintaining Israel’s “qualitative military edge”.

During the remaining weeks of the presidential campaign, Trump might criticise Clinton for supporting Obama’s policies that were critical of Netanyahu, however, he is not likely to gain much traction on the issue as Clinton is wrapping herself around the large US aid package to underscore how supportive she is of the close US-Israeli strategic relationship.

Gregory Aftandilian is a lecturer at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and is a former U.S. State Department Middle East analyst.

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