The Israeli cabinet’s decision on Sunday to approve an additional $20 million for West Bank settlements is deeply irresponsible and a deliberate challenge to the United States at a time when the two nations are negotiating a massive military aid agreement to cover the next 10 years.
The government’s official pretext for the appropriation — which comes on top of previously-approved spending on the settlements –- was “the security situation” in the occupied territory. But much of the money will in fact be spent on purely civilian projects like bolstering business development and tourism in the West Bank.
The decision came a day before the new Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was to hold his initial meeting in Washington with US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Top of the agenda is a new Memorandum of Understanding being negotiated between the two countries that will grant Israel the most generous military aid package the United States has ever offered to an ally. The sides are negotiating the amount — but it will certainly exceed the more than $3 billion in annual aid that the United States currently provides.
Israel is the largest recipient of US security assistance, taking in about 55 percent of the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) budget worldwide. US aid accounts for about 25 percent of Israel’s overall defense budget.
J Street supports military assistance to Israel and hopes the Memorandum of Understanding can be completed soon. But we also believe that Israel cannot be allowed to flout the will of the United States and the entire international community with total impunity. The settlements undermine the prospects of a two-state peace deal with the Palestinians and help entrench an occupation that has now entered its 50th year. They erode any sense among Palestinians that Israel has any intention of ever leaving the West Bank.
US administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, have since 1967 opposed the settlements. It is time for the United States to find appropriate ways to go beyond words in its opposition to settlements and to make it clear that there are real repercussions for this deeply misguided policy.