Blogs: Paul Pillar

Additional Weirdness in Opposition to the Iran Nuclear Agreement

Trump and the Loss of Public Spirit

Illusion Meets Reality in the Green Zone

The False Impasse Over Aid to Israel

Paul Pillar

A larger aid package for Israel certainly is not in order as “compensation” for concluding the multilateral agreement that limits Iran's nuclear program. An agreement that has curtailed that program and moved Iran farther away from any prospect of having a nuclear weapon is, as many former senior Israeli national security officials have recognized, an improvement in, rather than a detriment to, the security of Israel. The Netanyahu government's actual reasons for not wanting anyone to have any dealings with Iran are not reasons to be encouraged, from the standpoint of either Israeli or U.S. interests. Any “compensation” would only be in the North Korean sense of a regime engaging in troublesome behavior (which in the Netanyahu government's case has involved its blatant interference in the U.S. political process to try to kill the Iran agreement) and then expecting a payoff in return for not engaging, for a while, in more such behavior.

The only possible justification for increased largesse to Israel at this point would be as preparation for a serious effort in the remaining months of the Obama administration to get the Israeli government to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians involving a genuine two-state solution. To be seen bending over even farther backwards than before as a supporter of Israel could be a necessary part of any such effort, given political realities in both Israel and the United States. But whether the Obama administration will make such an effort remains to be seen.

In the meantime, those members of the U.S. Senate who signed a letter urging the administration to conclude quickly a memorandum of understanding with Israel about a new aid package ought to be explaining to their taxpaying constituents what such aid really means in fiscal terms as described above.

The administration itself might take some advice from Donald Trump—even though Trump himself might not always apply his own advice to dealings with Israel—in a speech on foreign policy that, while studded with inconsistencies and falsehoods, included a pointer from this self-proclaimed expert on deal-making. “In negotiation you must be willing to walk,” said Trump. “When the other side knows you’re not going to walk, it becomes absolutely impossible to win.” Walking away from a negotiation can entail substantial risk, in the form of losing benefits that can only be gained from an agreement. Such risks are much more common in international relations than in the business dealings Trump is familiar with, in which there is always some other property owner, or some other hotel or golf course, to which one can turn for an alternative deal. But as far as U.S. gift-giving to Israel is concerned, there is no risk at all to U.S. interests from walking.

The situation at hand is the equivalent of a nephew complaining about the amount of birthday gift money he got from an uncle and wanting uncle to agree to give more. Negotiation is not the appropriate response for uncle. Either walking or saying “take it or leave it” would be more appropriate, as would a stern reminder to the nephew about who in this relationship is the giver and who is the taker.

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