Does Netanyahu Really Deserve a “Reward?” An Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President,

As you prepare to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House next month, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again turned violent.  While random stabbings and other attacks kill innocents on both sides, the underlying cause of Palestinian anger is the expanding Israeli settlements and the continuing Israeli occupation.

Mr. Netanyahu will arrive in Washington with expectations of renewed unconditional military support.  Media reports suggest that the Israelis have requested an annual aid increase from $3.1 billion to $4.5 billion for ten years.  The Prime Minister will  argue that the additional largess is needed to compensate Israel for its perceived loss of security resulting from the Iran nuclear deal.

The security argument is specious because there is no real loss of Israeli security vis-à-vis Iran.  Despite verbal attacks, Tehran has never threatened Israel militarily. The nuclear deal provides enough monitoring to guard against any agreement violations.   Moreover, nuclear-armed Israel has the overwhelming military superiority to deter or repel military attacks from neighbors.

Of course, such rejoinders won’t keep Mr. Netanyahu from pursuing his claim for “compensation.”

So here are some additional reasons to say no to military aid:

* In its 2014 war on Gaza, Israel used U.S-provided arms to kill more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including more than 500 children.  In the current period of violent conflict, there is a far greater likelihood that the Israeli Defense Force will use U.S. military aid to buy arms that strike Palestinians instead of Iranians—unless the Israeli Prime Minister should decide to use U.S.-provided hardware to make a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  In either case, do we want to associate with Israel’s military adventures?

* During the long run-up to the Iran deal and beyond, Israel has focused its energies on scuttling the agreement.  Mr. Netanyahu’s address to Congress last spring was more than simply disrespect to the White House, it was blatant interference with American foreign policy. A $20 million lobbying campaign targeting Congress compounded that injury.

* Intentionally or not, Israel’s preoccupation with the Iran negotiations deflected global attention from its expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem and obscured Palestinian efforts to win international support from U.N. agencies. Such actions have added to Palestinian frustrations.

* Israel is a serial violator of international law. A five page listing of such transgressions may be found on the Washington, DC-based Israel Law Resource Center website.  The list includes collective punishment, apartheid barriers, illegal acquisition of land by force, ethnic cleansing, Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory– and disregard of some 28 resolutions of the U.N. Security Council (which are legally binding on member nations).

Mr. President, don’t be misled by the oft-repeated refrain that Israel is “our best friend in the Middle East.”   Recall the 1967 sinking of the USS Liberty, the bulldozer murder of American protester Rachel Corrie and the sponsoring of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.  Recognize that our foreign policy interests are not always in line with those of Israel.

Oh, and please object strongly to the Prime Minister’s practice of calling Americans “anti-Semitic” when they embrace BDS or criticize Israeli government policies.  Such charges are as demeaning and dishonest as they are inaccurate.  The issue is not about Jews, but about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Now is not the time to “reward” or “compensate” Israel by providing it more military wherewithal to oppress and kill Palestinian civilians.  Indeed, all U.S. military aid should be halted.  Israeli planes are already bombing the Gaza Strip, perhaps the first step in another heartless “mowing of the lawn.” Will America allow itself again to become complicit in such atrocities?

The U.S. should promote a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not fan the flames of war with billion dollar grants to purchase deadly weapons.

Your upcoming meeting with Mr. Netanyahu on November 9 is a timely opportunity to tell the Prime Minister that any further U.S. military aid will be contingent on concrete actions by Israel to recognize Palestinian rights under international law–including steps to end the occupation, remove the blockade of Gaza and dismantle the settlements.

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.