US Security Aid to Israel May Increase to $5 Billion a Year

US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House on November 9, 2015 (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House on November 9, 2015 (Saul Loeb/AFP)

U.S. security assistance to Israel may jump from just over $3 billion a year to possibly $5 billion under an agreement that may be nailed down this week during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington.

President Barack Obama on Monday morning met with Netanyahu at the White House, where the two discussed renewing the financial aid memorandum of understanding.

The original 10-year agreement guaranteeing Israel $3.1 billion annually expires in 2017 and Israel has reportedly asked that it be extended and increased to as much as $5 billion.

"Israel has shouldered a tremendous defense burden over the years, and we've done it with the generous assistance of the United States of America," Netanyahu said in prepared remarks.

"And I want to express my appreciation to you and express the appreciation of the people of Israel to you for your efforts in this regard during our years of common service and what you're engaging in right now -- how to bolster Israel's security, how to maintain Israel's qualitative military edge so that Israel can, as you've often said, defend itself, by itself, against any threat," he added.

Obama told reporters that a lot of his time with Netanyahu will be spent on the memorandum "that we can potentially negotiate.

"It will be expiring in a couple of years, but we want to get a head start on that to make sure that both the United States and Israel can plan effectively for our defense needs going forward," Obama said.

The exact aid figure Netanyahu is hoping Obama will agree to has reportedly been as low as $4 billion and as much as $5 billion – the latter most recently reported by Reuters quoting unnamed congressional sources.

In their remarks before the press, neither made reference to Netanyahu's previous appearance in the U.S., which he used to criticize the administration's efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran and push Congress to kill it.

The two leaders have had a frosty relationship almost from the start. Obama made it clear during a meeting with Netanyahu in 2009 that Israel needed to reign in its settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which the international community agrees is to be site of a future Palestinian state.

During a state visit to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden in early 2010, however, Israeli officials announced they would build develop more than 1,500 units for Jews in East Jerusalem.

Since then, Israeli has continued to expand settlements.

But Netanyahu is about to get new pressure from the White House over the settlements, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Obama National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told the paper in a recent interview that the settlements are an obstacle to the two-state solution that is not going away by being ignored.

"Whoever the next president is, there is going to be significant international concern over the lack of a two-state solution and settlement expansion," Rhodes told the paper.  "For Israel, the more there is settlement construction, the more it undermines the ability to achieve that peace and the more Israel will only have to be defending its settlement policies in the years to come … There is no alternative that people can just forget this issue and say, ‘You know what, it is just going to work itself out.' It is only going to get more difficult over time."

Though a succession of U.S. administrations have pointed out the problems posed by the settlements, few have ever suggested that American financial largesse be tied to halting them.

Only President George H.W. Bush actually cut off loan guarantees to Israel over its settlement policies, a move that, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, contributed to his loss of support among Jewish voters when he ran for reelection in 1992.

His share of the Jewish vote dropped from 54 percent in 1988 to 12 percent in 1992, when he lost to Bill Clinton.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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