PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama in the White House on Monday
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Barack Obama for the first time in more than a year on Monday, in a 2 1/2-hour session free of the discord that has marked their relationship.
The discussion at the White House offered no signs of advances on issues such as the Israel-Palestine dispute or Netanyahu’s hostility to negotiations with Iran, including the nuclear deal. Instead, Israeli officials played up their hope for a significant increase in US military aid.
Israel currently receives about $3 billion in American assistance per year, but reportedly is seeking about $5 billion. Officials said Obama and Netanyahu agreed to an increase, but they did not specify the amount.
Netanyahu highlighted the request in an address at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday night:
The United States supports Israel to the tune of 3 billion a year. You spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a trillion and half. So that’s five centuries’ worth of support for Israel….
The President today said supporting Israel is not just important for Israel….It’s also a very solid investment for American security. We’re an ally that doesn’t ask for any American troops. We never have and we don’t intend to. We can defend ourselves. We just want to have the tools.
Obama told reporters that it was time to renegotiate the 10-year, multibillion-dollar package of military aid. He said that the US and Israel should put aside their “strong disagreement” over the “narrow” July 14 nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+1 Powers, which he claimed had been allowed to eclipse areas of common interest.
The President also walked a careful line on the Israel-Palestine issue, in which negotiations have long been suspended and violence has escalated in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Obama said that the US and Israel should find ways to calm tensions.
In contrast to the bitterness of their previous encounter, Netanyahu hailed “one of the best meetings I’ve had with Obama”:
The conversation was in very good spirits and very honest. No one hid the disagreements between us. Rather, we focused on how to go forward.
A US “senior administration official” agreed:
It was a forward-looking meeting. There was obviously an awareness of past disagreements, including recent ones, and no attempt to paper over them, but also no attempt to rehash them on either side.
Israeli officials focused on the arrangements for military aid. They said a US delegation led by Yael Lempert if the National Security Council will visit Jerusalem in early December to start negotiations about a new memorandum.
The current memorandum was signed in 2007 and lapses in 2017.
Netanyahu tolld journalists, “We didn’t focus on the exact sum, but I presented our needs….Today’s Middle East cannot be compared to what it was then.”