As I write in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, the current estimate of cumulative total U.S. direct aid to Israel since its founding is well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. According to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy: “Since 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts provided to any other state. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year which is roughly one-fifth of America’s entire foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the U.S. gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 each year.
In 2008 President George W. Bush and Israel entered into a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding that would give Israel an additional $30 billion in foreign military assistance. This largess is especially striking when one realized that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state and that between 2004 and 2011 Israel was the eighth-largest arms exporter in the world, with sales worth a total of $12.9 billion.
For the Palestinians no funds were specifically earmarked. Included in Israel’s massive arms bill, however, are the standard “general” provisions placing conditions on aid to the Palestinians. There is also a provision limiting presidential waiver authority to close the PLO mission in the U.S. if the Palestinians have obtained, in the U.N. or any U.N. agency, full membership as a state outside an agreement between Israel and Palestinians. Also, for the PLO office to stay open the president must certify that the Palestinians have not taken any action in the International Criminal Court that would “subject Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”
The Obama administration is now offering Israel the largest single pledge of military assistance than to any country in U.S. history. This is a remarkable fact when set against the persistent claims of an ongoing “rift” between the U.S. president and his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Netanyahu.
An Israeli official told Defense News that the Obama package would see U.S. military aid jump to more than $40 billion over the ten-year period beginning in 2018, from the $30 billion that began in 2008 under President Bush’s Memorandum of Understanding.
Israel will also retain sweeteners that are denied other countries: it will receive its billions as a lump sum payment at the beginning of each fiscal year while other countries get their money in installments.
Despite Obama’s unprecedented largesse, Israel is publically complaining that the U.S. president is not being generous enough. Israeli cabinet member Zeev Elkin, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party said that Israel was still waiting for a “realistic offer” from the Obama administration. “Iran’s going to get about $100 billion now,” Netanyahu claimed at the World Economic Forum in Darvos last month referring to Iran’s own money that is finally being unfrozen due to the lifting of sanctions. Netanyahu last week told his ministers that if Israel didn’t extract what it wanted from Obama “we will not manage to come to an agreement with this administration and will need to come to an agreement with the next administration.”
The White House responded that Israel could wait if it preferred but that it “will certainly not find a president more committed to Israel’s security than is President Obama.”
Israel is conducting itself as if it is an equal to the U.S. and as if it is engaged in a negotiation in which two sides have something substantial to offer and substantial to receive from each other. That’s what Israel and its lobby would like people to believe. The lobby boasts of the benefits Israel supposedly brings to its U.S. bankroller. However, the mutual benefits are marginal compared with the vast military, industrial and scientific complex of the U.S. whose $600 billion-a-year global military machine would barely notice if Israel disappeared. The fact is that Israel is a very small and barely significant U.S. client state. Its importance is inflated by several factors including its outsize domestic lobby and the ideological commitments of U.S. leaders like Obama who openly embrace the “shared values” between America’s settler-colonial history and Zionism.
The Israel lobby is not and has never been absolute. Its influence is proportional to how closely aligned Israel is with the U.S. imperial and hegemonic interests. When they clash, as in the case with the US’s rapprochement with Iran, the US establishment has no problem defying the lobby.
Palestinian rights and lives have been the currency Obama has used to “compensate” Israel over the Iran deal. The new, bigger-than-ever Obama arms package will not be used by Israel to attack Iran, and therefore does not interfere with any U.S. hegemonic interest. The weapons Obama is giving Israel will be used to maintain and fuel Israel’s occupation, apartheid and settler-colonialism in Palestine.
Get more insights in my book, Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, available for purchase here: