Tensions Remain Over Congress’s Perceived Weakened Role in Aid Deal to Israel

WASHINGTON — The United States signed a 10-year $38 billion “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) in September offering Israel the largest military package to any country in American history. However, some legislators are uncomfortable with provisions of the agreement, which they believe sideline Congress as part of the appropriations process. 

Democratic Rep. Gene Green supported providing Jerusalem with $38 billion, but he objected to the clause preventing the Jewish state from lobbying for additional missile defense funds. Green told Jewish Insider, I think Israel and anyone else ought to be able to access elected officials.” Although some have argued that a Trump Administration would be more favorable to amending these clauses of the MOU given his perceived support for the Jewish state, Green questioned whether the President-elect would in fact adopt more pro-Israel policies.

Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle also criticized part of the agreement that required Israel to return any money Congress provided over the MOU limit in 2017 and 2018. “Given the tremendously dangerous situation that Israel faces on a number of its borders, it is impossible to anticipate in the next year or two what their needs will be let alone over the next 10 years,” Boyle told Jewish Insider. The Pennsylvania legislator noted that over the past 16 years—during both the Bush and Obama Administrations—there has been a perception of a “creeping power” moving from the legislative to executive branch, especially in areas related to Foreign Policy. Boyle clarified that he would likely support a bill that would revise the section of the MOU preventing the Jewish state from lobbying Congress.

Would AIPAC also be prevented from petitioning the legislative branch for additional funds to Jerusalem during the next ten years?

Boyle explained that AIPAC would probably be permitted to lobby since restricting the group would violate their members’ constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech as American citizens.

Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC spokesman, declined JI’s request for comment.

The frustrations with the perceived infringements on the legislative branch also extend to the Republican Party. When informed about the Obama Administration move, Senator Lindsey Graham warned, “Congress is not going to sit on the sidelines. Seven Republican Senators—including Graham and John McCain— advocated changing the MOU two months ago by providing Jerusalem with an additional $1.5 billion. But, not enough legislators signed onto the September bill, which prevented the torpedoing of Obama’s deal.

During the campaign last June, Donald Trump’s advisor David Friedman assured that the Republican leader would likely increase aid to Israel “significantly. In September, Friedman went even further telling Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that during a Trump Administration, aid to the Jewish state would not be limited to the the $38 billion MOU. However, after Trump’s resounding electoral victory, Washington experts on Israel remain cautious that the real-estate mogul turned Commander-In-Chief will dramatically boost financial assistance to the Jewish state.

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Jewish Insider, “It is wrong to view the incoming Trump as a gravy train for Israel.” Citing the current divide within the Republican Party on the role of American involvement in the Middle East, Makovsky added, “There is a fiscal side of Trump who feels that America has limited resources and our friends should not be exploiting” that generosity.

Israel needs to be very careful [about] making military assistance a partisan issue,” noted Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies. “The Israelis will need to remember that this is a four or eight-year period, and the tide can easily shift in another direction. Tearing up a previous agreement in a way that would be viewed as partisan would not play well for a Democratic party that appears to be drifting left.”

Aaron Keyak, a Democratic strategist and co-founder of Blue Light Strategies stressed that renegotiating the MOU would undercut the meaningfulness of the agreement. “At a time where the US-Israel relationship has become more and more partisan, it is important to keep bedrocks of the US-Israel relationships like the MOU intact and reliable,” Keyak added.

Under the Obama MOU, Washington will provide Israel with over $10.4 million per day. Israel receives more than half of America’s entire foreign military assistance budget. Netanyahu thanked President Obama, calling the deal “a very important achievement for the state of Israel, and Israeli citizens can be rightly proud of it.” Nonetheless, some Israelis, including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, blasted Netanyahu for not securing enough American aid, demanding millions more. The Obama deal does allow for America to offer the Jewish state additional funds during wartime, which in Israel’s context happens relatively frequently.

Given the economic woes facing many Trump supporters, offering Israel with more aid—beyond the $38 billion—is not likely to occur during the beginning of the next administration, explained Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute. The Jewish state would also have to worry about the public relations repercussions of obtaining even more financial assistance when Americans are facing high unemployment levels. Because of Trump’s independent streak, Arbell emphasized that even though Friedman promised additional aid does not guarantee that the real-estate billionaire will implement such a policy. Trump has frequently

Trump has frequently disregarded advice from fellow Republicans such as their recommendation that he cease insulting a beauty queen for gaining weight.

The Trump campaign’s own statements about assistance to Israel have appeared inconsistent. While Friedman now calls for increased aid to Jerusalem, during a March press conference, then-Republican candidate suggested that Israel would have to repay the American government for earlier assistance. Similarly, Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a March speech before AIPAC. But, after the election, advisor Walid Phares clarified that the President-elect would move the diplomatic post only by “consensus.” Palestinian leaders vehemently oppose American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the State Department also consistently rejects this move, making such a consensus difficult to achieve.

Despite all of the fine-tuned analysis on possible Trump administration foreign policy, Keyak acknowledged that predicting the President-elect’s strategy was challenging at best. “Of course, we have no idea what Trump is going to do on anything, he explained.

Aaron Magid was an Amman-based journalist. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Al-Monitor, and Haaretz. He currently lives in Washington DC @AaronMagid

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.