Tensions remain over Congress’s perceived weakened role in aid deal to Israel

This story originally appeared on “>largest military package to any country in American history. However, some legislators are uncomfortable with provisions of the agreement, which they believe sideline Congress as part of the appropriations process. 

Democratic Rep. Gene Green supported providing Jerusalem with $38 billion, but he objected to the clause “>return any money Congress provided over the MOU limit in 2017 and 2018. “Given the tremendously dangerous situation that Israel faces on a number of its borders, it is impossible to anticipate in the next year or two what their needs will be let alone over the next 10 years,” Boyle told Jewish Insider. The Pennsylvania legislator noted that over the past 16 years—during both the Bush and Obama Administrations—there has been a perception of a “creeping power” moving from the legislative to executive branch, especially in areas related to Foreign Policy. Boyle clarified that he would likely support a bill that would revise the section of the MOU preventing the Jewish state from lobbying Congress.

Would AIPAC also be prevented from petitioning the legislative branch for additional funds to Jerusalem during the next ten years?

Boyle explained that AIPAC would probably be permitted to lobby since restricting the group would violate their members’ constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech as American citizens.

Marshall Wittmann, AIPAC spokesman, declined JI’s request for comment.

The frustrations with the perceived infringements on the legislative branch also extend to the Republican Party. When informed about the Obama Administration move, Senator Lindsey Graham warned, “Congress is not going to sit on the “>Republican Senators—including Graham and John McCain— advocated changing the MOU two months ago by providing Jerusalem with an additional $1.5 billion. But, not enough legislators signed onto the September bill, which prevented the torpedoing of Obama’s deal.

During the campaign last June, Donald Trump’s advisor David Friedman assured that the Republican leader would likely “>Jewish Insider’s Jacob Kornbluh that during a Trump Administration, aid to the Jewish state would not be limited to the the $38 billion MOU. However, after Trump’s resounding electoral victory, Washington experts on Israel remain cautious that the real-estate mogul turned Commander-In-Chief will dramatically boost financial assistance to the Jewish state.

David Makovsky, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Jewish Insider, “It is wrong to view the incoming Trump as a gravy train for Israel.” Citing the current divide within the Republican Party on the role of American involvement in the Middle East, Makovsky added, “There is a fiscal side of Trump who feels that America has limited resources and our friends should not be exploiting” that generosity.

“Israel needs to be very careful [about] making military assistance a partisan issue,” noted Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies. “The Israelis will need to remember that this is a four or eight-year period, and the tide can easily shift in another direction. Tearing up a previous agreement in a way that would be viewed as partisan would not play well for a Democratic party that appears to be drifting left.”

Aaron Keyak, a Democratic strategist and co-founder of Blue Light Strategies stressed that renegotiating the MOU would undercut the meaningfulness of the agreement. “At a time where the US-Israel relationship has become more and more partisan, it is important to keep bedrocks of the US-Israel relationships like the MOU intact and reliable,” Keyak added.

Under the Obama MOU, Washington will provide Israel with over $10.4 million per day. Israel receives “>important achievement for the state of Israel, and Israeli citizens can be rightly proud of it.” Nonetheless, some Israelis, including former Prime Minister “>wartime, which in Israel’s context happens relatively frequently.

Given the economic woes facing many Trump supporters, offering Israel with more aid—beyond the $38 billion—is not likely to occur during the beginning of the next administration, explained Dan Arbell, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings Institute. The Jewish state would also have to worry about the public relations repercussions of obtaining even more financial assistance when Americans are facing high unemployment levels. Because of Trump’s independent streak, Arbell emphasized that even though Friedman promised additional aid does not guarantee that the real-estate billionaire will implement such a policy. Trump has frequently

Trump has frequently “>March press conference, then-Republican candidate suggested that Israel would have to repay the American government for earlier assistance. Similarly, Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a March speech before AIPAC. But, after the election, advisor Walid Phares clarified that the President-elect would move the diplomatic post only by “

Clinton reaffirms opposition to UNSC resolution in meeting with Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for about 50 minutes at the W Hotel in Union Square, Manhattan on Sunday.

“Secretary Clinton had an in-depth conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu,” a senior Clinton campaign aide said after the meeting. “Secretary Clinton stressed that a strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States because we share overarching strategic interests and the common values of democracy, equality, tolerance, and pluralism. She reaffirmed her unwavering commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship and her plan to take our partnership to the next level.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer and Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy advisor also participated in the meeting, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

According to the campaign, Clinton underscored her support for the new MOU and pledged to continue to strengthen the defense and intelligence relationship to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge.

“>met with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at his residence in Trump Tower. According to the Prime Minister’s Office,  “Netanyahu presented Israel’s positions on regional issues related to Israel’s security and efforts to achieve peace and stability” and “thanked Mr. Trump for his friendship and support of Israel.”

Graham blasts Netanyahu for snubbing Congress in new MOU

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “pulled the rug” from under pro-Israeli members of Congress by rushing to sign the new $38 billion 10-year “memorandum of understanding” with the Obama administration, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said on Friday.

“Here is what I would tell Bibi: ‘When members of Congress come to Israel, you do a great job talking about the State of Israel’s needs and threats. Well, don’t tell us about all those needs and when we try to help you, you pull the rug from under us,'” Graham said in a conference call with American Jewish community leaders. “I think that is bad for Israel.”

On Wednesday, the Obama administration and the Israeli government signed the new decade-long security assistance package, which was described as the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history.” Under the agreement, Israel also committed not to approach Congress for additional budgets for missile defense systems, and “volunteered” to give back any money Congress gives above the MOU’s limits, “>showed Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party would receive 27 Knesset seats, while the ruling Likud would go down from its present 30 seats to only 23.

“I think Bibi is in a bad spot, politically,” he added. “Well, I am not. You know what? We are not going to let this agreement be turned into something that is dangerous for the checks and balances in our government. We are not going to let this president take the power of Congress away when it comes to helping allies. And in the end of the day, I would tell our friends in Israel: Congress is your friend. Don’t pull the rug from under us.”

Graham also suggested that Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, would “give you a better deal than this.” He also said that Clinton (“I don’t know if she wins”) would be “more generous to Israel.”

Israel and the United States sign historic 10-year, $38 billion defense assistance pact

The United States and Israel formally signed the new $38 billion 10-year “memorandum of understanding” (MOU), in what the State Department called the “single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history,” at the U.S. State Department on Wednesday.

The pact was signed by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon, Jr. and Israel’s Acting National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel. National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Ambassadors Dan Shapiro and Ron Dermer also attended the signing ceremony.

According to details of the deal, Israel will get $3.8 billion dollars annually, $500 million of which will be allocated to developing missile defense systems. Israel also committed not to approach Congress for additional budgets for missile defense systems, and “volunteered” to give back any money Congress gives above the MOU’s limits, according to “>Haaretz that in the event of an emergency, such as a war, the United States would be prepared to consider increasing the budget for missile defense systems beyond what is promised in the agreement, as it has done in the past.

In a statement on Tuesday, AIPAC commended President Obama and his administration “for forging this landmark agreement. It demonstrates America’s strong and unwavering commitment to Israel.”

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton welcomed the new security assistance deal as sending a clear message to the region and the world that the U.S. “will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”

“America’s commitment to Israel’s security must always remain rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said in a statement. “That’s why Senator Kaine and I applaud the agreement on a new memorandum of understanding regarding American security assistance to Israel, and congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama on this important diplomatic achievement. It reaffirms the depth and strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship — which is based on common security interests, shared values, and deep historical ties — and sends a clear message to the region and the world that we will always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel.”

According to the Democratic nominee, the MOU “will help solidify and chart a course for the U.S.-Israeli defense relationship in the 21st century as we face a range of common challenges, from Iran’s destabilizing activities to the threats from ISIS and radical jihadism, and efforts to delegitimize Israel on the world stage.” 

Is Israel-California partnership paying dividends?

California Gov. Jerry Brown had some choice words for Glenn Yago.

The Milken Institute, the Santa Monica-based think tank that employs Yago, has provided a good deal of citizen muscle behind a March 2014 agreement Brown signed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that pledges to deepen ties between the two states.

Though he’s neither a politician nor a diplomat, Yago, a financial economist, is a crucial figure in implementing that memorandum of understanding (MOU).

When the two encountered each other at a posh conference at the Beverly Hilton in May 2015, Brown wanted Yago to understand something about the California-Israel MOU: “This is not just a press release,” Yago recalls the governor telling him.

Not all MOUs are created equal

The memorandum Israel signs intermittently with the U.S. government, for instance, including one currently in the final stages, determines the amount of military aid Israel will get. The document Brown signed in Mountain View (near San Jose) is not that concrete. In fact, it has more in common with a press release than, say, a trade agreement.

The MOU lays out bold blueprints for collaboration but brackets them in qualifiers such as “plan” and “intend.” In the final paragraph, almost as a postscript, it notes that it “does not create any legally binding rights or obligations for either Participant.”

In interviews with the Journal, leaders involved in the memo’s implementation noted a political paradox it creates: It is at once a diplomatic watershed and a more or less pie-in-the-sky 493 words of text.

In the words of Gili Ovadia, the head of the Israel Economic Mission to the West Coast, the treaty is “political paper.”

“The memorandum of understanding isn’t worth a lot,” Ovadia said.

But the “amazing atmosphere” it creates has to be worth something, he said.

Ovadia spoke with the Journal from his San Francisco office the day after he returned from a trip to Southern California for two back-to-back symposia on water innovation in Marina del Rey and San Diego.

Appraising the memo, he said, “It doesn’t really have money. It doesn’t have people. It doesn’t have mechanisms. It was just a piece of paper signed by two really important men — maybe the most important people for [California and Israel]. I think it generates a lot of interest, a lot of attention, a lot of press.”

He attributed the water conference, for instance, in part to momentum from the MOU.

By itself, though, it doesn’t do much of anything.

“That’s always the challenge with MOUs,” said Yaki Lopez, consul for political affairs at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. “To make sure they’re action-oriented, to make sure it’s not just ink on paper.”

Lopez called the MOU “the crown jewel” of all the accomplishments of West Coast Consul General of Israel David Siegel, who completed his post here at the end of July, after five years of service in Los Angeles and the Southwest.

Asked to pinpoint its impact over the more than two years it has been on the books, Lopez, like Ovadia, mentioned the optics: “It created a whole exciting and vibrant atmosphere for the two states to work together.”

If anybody should be able to point to tangible outcomes, it’s Yago, an informal evangelist for collaboration between California and Israel who divides his time between the two.

As the head of the Milken Institute’s Financial Innovation Lab, his job is more or less to figure out how to stimulate technology transfer, in particular these days from Israel to California.

“There are some very concrete, tangible results going on right now,” he said. “People are working on specific projects. Everything from perchlorate remediation of groundwater contamination in the San Fernando Valley to putting in rain catchment for toilets in schools in San Diego and in L.A.”

The proliferation of projects being undertaken under the Milken Institute’s umbrella can’t be claimed as direct outcomes of the MOU, although each received a boost when Netanyahu and Brown shook hands like exuberant new business partners.

“You need air cover to start working on these things,” Yago said.

A ‘cascading effect’

In most discussions of California-Israel collaboration, water is first and foremost.

While California and Israel share a parched climate, Israel, unlike the Golden State, is a water exporter. Policymakers here point to this difference as evidence that Sacramento could learn a thing or two from the Israeli model.

But the state of California has a weak regulatory grip on water use, and an alphabet soup of local agencies are most directly responsible for keeping the taps running.

So it’s not the statewide agreement but rather a series of local and municipal pacts in Southern California that it inspired which have generated Israel buzz over the past two years.

L.A. City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield was the intellectual grandfather of the MOU. A bill he wrote but that didn’t pass while he was serving in the state assembly eventually formed the template for a letter of intent then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed outlining the need for an MOU, and ultimately for the MOU itself, he said.

He’s also among the first local officials to apply the MOU as a mandate for collaboration at the municipal level.

“At lunch right after the signing ceremony, I said to myself and the folks who were around me, ‘I want L.A. to be the first city to implement this thing,’” he said in an interview. “And so the Israel-Los Angeles task force was born.”

In October 2014, the task force met for the first time, building on L.A.’s sister-city relationship with Eilat, a council of Israeli industry leaders and city officials aimed at harnessing Israeli innovation to the city’s struggles.

The brokering of diplomatic relationships between local governments and the Israelis has boomed since Brown and Netanyahu consecrated the practice — a phenomenon Lopez described as a “cascading effect.”

On Sept. 1, 2015, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Beverly Hills City Council voted on the same evening to partner with Israel on a number of issues, beginning with water conservation.

For climatic reasons, water is normally the first item on the agenda, but it’s not the only one. The Brown-Netanyahu pact highlighted water, alternative energy, health and biotechnology, cybersecurity, arts and culture, education and agricultural technology.

The day after Ovadia attended the water conference in Marina del Rey, a summit brought Israeli and Californian cybersecurity leaders together at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

Addressing the audience from the stage in the main theater, Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch said the prosperous city hopes to leverage Israeli network protection as it integrates driverless cars into its public transportation grids.

“That’s what our relationship is about — is finding solutions,” he said.

The latest step forward in Israel’s trickle-down diplomacy in California was a unanimous vote by 37 local elected officials who make up the regional council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) — a technocratic inter-government agency.

On June 7, SCAG approved an MOU with its Israeli counterpart.

Like the March 2014 accord, the agreement with the Federation of Local Governments in Israel is an equivocal document. Studded by the words “whereas” and “may,” it also “does not create any legally binding rights or obligations for either Participant.”

It does, however, include 18 million Californians in 191 cities and six counties — L.A., Orange, Santa Barbara, Riverside, Imperial and Ventura — under some sort of Israel MOU endorsed by their local elected officials.

It also adds smart growth, emergency preparedness, public safety and the startup ecosystem to the list of focus areas provided by the Mountain View agreement.

The Israeli-American Nexus (IAX) and the Israeli American Council (IAC), both prominent and well-connected nonprofits in L.A., acted as citizen diplomats in facilitating the agreement. But the political will was furnished by the two heads of state.

That handshake “definitely paved the way for this partnership,” said IAX and IAC official Shawn Evenhaim, a local developer.

In an interview with the Journal, Evenhaim sounded a lot like Brown in his directive to Glenn Yago in July 2015: “The intention of this was not to sign a document and file it somewhere.”

How to import chutzpah

There are limits to what a contract can do, even between two heads of state.

For instance, Israel’s success in tackling its water problem is often chalked up to a certain Jewish chutzpah, and it’s much easier to import a technology patent than a cultural attitude.

Nonetheless, some have tried. The prevailing method is to put the leaders and high-ranking officials of public and private agencies on jetliners to Israel, including people such as Scott Houston.

Houston is a director of the West Basin Municipal Water District, a water agency that delivers 220,000 acre-feet of water each year to customers in an area covering much of the South Bay.

In July 2015, he traveled with the Milken Institute to Israel, where he learned, among other things, that Israel is crisscrossed by 110 miles of “purple pipe” (they’re actually purple) that carry 85 percent of its wastewater from treatment plants to farms.

But asked to summarize what he took away from the trip, he noted a tight-belted reverence for the Israeli watershed by its consumers.

“We’re trying to instill that here,” he said on the sidelines of the water conference in Marina del Rey, steps away from the Pacific Ocean.

For instance, he said, Israel seems to have overcome what he called the “ick factor,” which still gives pause to Americans: a psychological aversion to piping treated wastewater into our gardens and fields.

About a week after Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, came back from Israel, where she’d been traveling with IAC, she summed up her trip in much the same way.

“A real takeaway is the water ethic — how precious every drop of water is within the country,” she wrote in a statement to the Journal.

While there, she met at the Milken Institute’s request with a group of agriculture officials, academics and industry leaders for a daylong session on delivering Israeli solutions to California markets and vice

The working group was the latest in a series of intensive working sessions hosted by the think tank and aimed at coupling Israeli and Californian knowhow to crack tough market and sustainability problems.

“They’re kind of like mini Manhattan Projects,” Yago said of the labs. “Instead of creating a nuclear bomb, we’re trying to create solutions to global problems.”

Ross wrote in a blog post that the June 23 brainstorm had dwelled on the fact that smart agriculture technology “doesn’t generate the rate of return compared to other elements of the tech industry.”

If it did, Netafim, an Israeli company and the world’s largest drip irrigation concern, would likely see its revenues multiply.

The company encourages farmers to switch from the less efficient (and more expensive) flooding agriculture method popular in California.

Watering the plants rather than the ground, as drip irrigation purports to do, is one of the simplest ways California could imitate Israel’s portfolio of water solutions.

(Of course, Israel is already on to the next best thing: Yago mentioned a technique now in beta called precision irrigation, which involves plant growth cycles and something he called “fertigation or nutrigation.”)

Ze’ev Barylka, Netafim’s U.S. marketing director, is confident U.S. agriculture will make the switch to drip irrigation eventually, although, he said, “It’s a long process.”

It’s something his company has been pushing since it arrived in the United States 35 years ago.

“It’s very difficult to isolate what is the contribution of the MOU because we have been living [with the spirit of] the MOU for 35 years,” he said when asked about the agreement’s contribution to Netafim’s bottom line.

He went on, “It’s benefiting the [agriculture technology] sector overall in terms of visibility, activity, on the internet, in articles, in awareness, in education — all that.”

Ramifications of the agreement have yet to fully play out, according to some of its architects. A number of Israeli sustainability technologies are taking baby steps into the California market.

Blumenfield said the Department of Water & Power is currently looking into Israeli technology to clean up San Fernando Valley groundwater pollution left behind by the defense industry. But for now, “they’re studying rather than going sort of headlong.”

In the meanwhile, there are some more immediate effects, like generating coverage of Israel beyond the negative press afforded to it by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Blumenfield said the memo and the publicity it generates “help people understand the dangers of a BDS movement that is designed to do the opposite [of what the memo seeks to do]. That’s not why we created the task force, obviously. But it is a tangible political outcome.”

Despite its political outcomes, the MOU’s chief mechanism of action has proven to be other than political.

“Most of what we do these days is innovation — innovation on water, innovation on stem cells, innovation on biotech,” Siegel said at the Beverly Hills cybersecurity
event. He added, “Innovation is job No. 1 in this relationship.”

Siegel’s formula is simple: joint innovation equals diplomacy.

Blumenfield had a similar formula for collaboration: “Israel is the startup nation and California is the scale-up nation.”

Giuliani: Israel should wait w/MOU for next POTUS

Former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani offered the Israeli government some unsolicited advice during a trip to Israel: wait for the next U.S. administration to sign a new 10-year “memorandum of understanding” (MOU).

“I’d wait for the next president,” Giuliani said during an interview with journalist Sharon Kidon on Israel’s Reshet TV on Sunday. “You’re going to do better with the next president. Any president would be better than Obama.”

According to Giuliani, Hillary Clinton “would not be particularly good for Israel” because “she would cave in to the left wing of her party” and “keep her administration very much to the left” to prevent a progressive challenger like Senator Elizabeth Warren from running against her in a 2020 Democratic primary. Nonetheless, the former Republican presidential candidate and supporter of Donald Trump suggested, Clinton will be “better than the worst president for Israel, who is Barack Obama.”

“And Trump will be a lot better for Israel,” Giuliani added.

Current negotiations over the the long-term security aid package have been ongoing since November 2015.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated on Thursday that the talks near conclusion.

“I hope that we’ll conclude a new memorandum of understanding for the invaluable American support for Israel’s defenses for the next decade,” Netanyahu said in remarks at the U.S. Embassy’s 4th of July annual reception in Tel Aviv. Adding, “I’m deeply grateful for the political and military support America has given Israel over the years.”

President Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke at the event, expressed hope for a quick end to the negotiations over the military aid agreement. “I want to thank the American people — on both sides of the aisle — for years of financial, diplomatic, and military support, and for helping us carry the burden of defense,” he said. “Looking to the future, I hope that an agreement on this important issue will be reached as soon as possible.”

On Friday, National Security Adviser Susan Rice sent a joint letter to Congress with the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, updating lawmakers on the MOU talks, according to 

Adviser: Trump will increase military aid to Israel

Donald Trump, if elected president in the fall, will give in to Israel’s demands should negotiations with the Obama administration over a new long-term “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) hit a wall, Trump’s Israel adviser said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

“I can’t give advice on how Israel should bargain and how it should develop its own strategy but certainly the Trump administration is not looking to cut back on foreign aid and will in all likelihood increase it significantly,” David Friedman, “>told a large Jewish gathering this month.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on an official visit to the U.S., said on Tuesday that the two sides are close to finalizing deal on the increased defense aid. “We need a good agreement within an appropriate amount of time and I see no contradiction between the two. I believe we can reach an agreement by November,” Times of Israel quoted Lieberman as saying.

Lieberman met on Monday with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington. Following the meeting, a senior Israeli official said in a briefing to  reporters that it is important to close a deal soon so as to ensure the IDF and Defense Ministry can cover their multi-year plan.

“The negotiations are being conducted rationally and responsibly and, in the end, we will bring a good result,” a senior official in the prime minister’s office was quoted as saying by Haaretz. “The prime minister thinks he can achieve a better deal than what is on the table now and we believe that we shall soon reach a decision.”

According to Friedman, Trump’s view is “that the aid package to Israel will certainly not go down, it in all likelihood will go up in a material amount because Israel must maintain a technological and military superiority within in the region.”

“I know that Donald Trump has a deep-rooted affection, if not love, for the State of Israel,” Friedman added.

A poll “>Trump said, “I can’t imagine Bibi likes Obama too much,” referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “He’s totally forsaken Israel.”

In his address to AIPAC in March, Trump promised to meet with Netanyahu “immediately,” and “move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Trump is planning a trip to Israel in the coming weeks, according to sources close to the campaign.

Corker: Republicans are not more supportive of Israel than Democrats

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee pushed back against those who are trying to make the U.S.-Israel relationship a wedge issue in the presidential campaign, during an appearance at the AJC Global Forum on Monday.

“I would love to say to the audience that, you know, Republicans are much more supportive of Israel than Democrats are, but that’s not true,” Corker said during a discussion on the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Thankfully, that is not true.”

According to the Senate Foreign Relations Chairman, while there’s an unprecedented “tenseness” that currently exists in the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, once a new president is elected, “What you are going to see is a return to the norm, regardless who comes out of this cycle.”

“But in Congress, certainly, there is bipartisan support for Israel,” Corker said.

A recent Gallup poll 

Water autonomy: From Israel to California

On the eve of Israel’s 68th anniversary, it is important to remember water’s vital role in the success and continued independence of the Jewish state. The drought in the Middle East is the worst in 900 years, and it played a key role in the collapse of Israel’s neighbor Syria while threatening to overwhelm entire regions of the world. Yet Israel has solved its water problem through persistence, education and innovation, freeing it from the climate constraints plaguing the Middle East.

[RELATED: How Israel’s water solutions can save California]

As we celebrate our water independence, the drought California faces is the worst on record. Hundreds of thousands of farm acres have been left uncultivated, driving up food prices and inhibiting growth. The economic impact has skyrocketed into the billions of dollars. Gov. Jerry Brown has enacted the first mandatory water use reductions in state history and sought assistance from the federal government. How should California respond to this major crisis? The state’s leaders are increasingly turning their gaze toward a tiny desert nation some 7,000 miles to the east. 

In water resource management, Israel’s experience is unparalleled. One of the driest nations on earth, the Jewish state declared independence 68 years ago with dilapidated infrastructure, nascent institutions and almost no water to sustain a population swelling with new immigrants. Today, Israel not only produces enough water for itself, it is a hydro-exporter to its neighbors. 

California is now leveraging a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed two years ago between Brown and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tap into Israel’s vast experience in turning its limited resources into a water surplus. 

California’s leaders are now visiting Israel on a regular basis to learn more about the country’s water innovation. 

What has been the result? Israeli water innovations are taking root in the Golden State from the Bay Area to Beverly Hills. Municipal utilities looking to cut usage have turned to Israeli companies like TaKaDu, which uses algorithms and big data to detect and prevent leaks in the water grid, dramatically reducing waste. Farmers in the Central Valley are deploying Israeli drip-irrigation systems to increase crop yields using far less water. While 75 percent of Israeli farmers rely on drip irrigation, California, while second to Israel, is only at 38 percent. 

California policymakers are looking to replicate Israel’s success in reclaiming 90 percent of its wastewater — the highest ratio in the world by far. They’re also examining Israel’s uniquely successful public awareness and education programs on water conservation. 

Israeli know-how has been a driving force behind California’s major new investments in desalination. IDE Technologies, the Israeli company that currently operates the most energy-efficient desalination plant on earth, to date has designed two plants in California, including the Carlsbad Desalination Project, the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The facility provides water for 300,000 people in San Diego County. 

The unique benefits of this partnership are mutual. Access to California’s vast market enables Israeli companies to partner, refine their technologies and scale up their businesses in new ways. And while California reaps the benefits of Israel’s know-how on water, Israel is leveraging the MOU to harness California’s expertise in areas from biotech to renewable energy. 

In today’s world, there is no greater resource than human capital. By working together to fight drought, Israel and California are demonstrating how thoughtful partnerships can facilitate the flow of knowledge between countries, cultures and continents to solve big problems. 

The new era of collaboration spurred by the Israel-California MOU is just beginning. By pairing our knowledge, talents and limitless imaginations, Israel and California will become even more innovative and significant to the world. 

Who would have believed 68 years ago that in a matter of decades, the nascent State of Israel would soon be helping America’s Golden State achieve its water independence?

David Siegel is Consul General of Israel to the Southwestern United States.

White House: We’re prepared to make the largest ever military pledge to Israel

The White House said it is prepared to commit to the “largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history” in its defense assistance talks with Israel.

A White House official made the statement to JTA in response to a letter sent Monday by 83 U.S. senators to President Barack Obama urging him to substantially increase defense assistance to Israel.

“We have been holding intensive discussions with Israel aimed at concluding a new 10-year Memorandum of Understanding on security assistance to follow the current MOU worth $30 billion, which will conclude at the end of FY 2018,” the official said.

“We are prepared to sign an MOU with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history,” the official said. “And we are ready to do this even though we are operating in a particularly challenging budget environment that has necessitated cuts on federal spending across a wide array of programs.”

The official told JTA that discussions are continuing and “we remain hopeful” the sides can reach agreement.

It’s not clear what is obstructing the conclusion of talks over the memorandum. Reports have said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government wants as much as $5 billion per year over a 10-year period, while the Obama administration reportedly is prepared to reach close to that amount if it includes missile defense cooperation, which is now considered separately and amounts to nearly $500 million.

Netanyahu has walked back earlier comments saying he was willing to wait until a change in administration due to take place in January. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an author of the Senate letter, had advised the Israeli leader recently to conclude a deal quickly.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that complications over how to incorporate the missile defense cooperation might be causing hitches.

“My assessment is it’s that part, which has never been negotiated in an MOU,” he told reporters.

Israel won’t get better aid deal after Obama leaves office

U.S. officials reportedly have urged Israel to sign the 10-year foreign aid package on the table, saying it will not get a better deal with the next president.

“Even as we grapple with a particularly challenging budget environment, this administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is such that we are prepared to sign an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Israel that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history,” an unnamed senior U.S. official told Haaretz on Sunday night.

“Israel is of course free to wait for the next administration to finalize a new MOU should it not be satisfied with such a pledge, but we would caution that the U.S. budgetary environment is unlikely to improve in the next 1-2 years and Israel will certainly not find a president more committed to Israel’s security than is President Obama.”

Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in remarks to his Cabinet said the deal may not be signed during the current administration, saying the issues are complex, detailed and take time, according to The Jerusalem Post. President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017.

The aid package due to expire in 2018 averages $3 billion a year in assistance. Israel reportedly hopes to increase the annual amount to $5 billion, while Obama administration officials are said to be offering closer to $4 billion.

According to the unnamed official, Israel currently receives over 50 percent of American foreign military aid.

Obama has pledged to maintain a robust defense relationship with Israel in the wake of a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers that Israel had adamantly opposed.

Members of the Obama administration’s national security team were in Israel last month for talks on the assistance package.

Israeli expertise, meet California’s needs

We gathered in Silicon Valley this past March, all smiles and applause, to watch Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gov. Jerry Brown sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership for Joint Innovation, Exchanges and Cooperation, or MOU. Six years in the making, the signing of the MOU felt like sweet success to those of us involved in bringing it to fruition.  But was it anything more than feel-good political theater? Was it even necessary? After all, two-way trade between Israel and California totaled more than $4 billion in 2013 — one of the largest two-way trade relationships between Israel and a U.S. state — and the fact remains that the shelves of government offices around the world are littered with highfalutin international accords gathering dust. Why should this one be any different?

The difference is that this MOU constitutes a crucial foundation to produce conditions in which Israeli know-how can contribute to meeting California’s genuine needs, and vice versa.  For California, these needs are undeniable in the areas of water (in light of California’s “epic” drought), and energy (given California’s ongoing transformation of its energy portfolio in favor of renewables, energy efficiency and storage). Israel’s capability in water technologies is well known.  The Israeli national water company, Mekorot, is a world leader in wastewater recycling, irrigation and desalination technologies. On the energy side, Israel long has been recognized for its proficiency in solar and geothermal energy production.  

That the MOU exists at all is thanks to the work of Brown, Israeli Consul General David Siegel, Los Angeles City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, nonprofits including Faith2Green and the Southern California Israel Chamber of Commerce, and individuals such as Los Angeles City Commissioner Jerry Levey. (I am proud to have been part of this effort ever since 2009, when I led a delegation of California leaders to Israel; that trip helped galvanize the forward movement of the MOU, which then-Assemblymember Blumenfield had initiated.) Nevertheless, it remains just a framework document, containing a series of goals and aspirations, all waiting to be brought to life. It is the road ahead — the path of implementation — that will determine the true success of the MOU. 

The MOU is intended to promote closer commercial ties between Israel and California in seven areas of activity, foremost among them Water Conservation and Management, and Alternative Energy and Related Clean Technologies. While the MOU will foster a two-way relationship between Californian and Israeli businesses — to be achieved through intergovernmental working groups, sister-city relationships, academic exchanges and California’s Innovation Hub (iHub) network — part of the equation is that Israeli companies will be welcome to offer their expertise to meet certain needs in California. In the water and energy sectors, this means such companies must be afforded admittance to California’s markets. 

However, while the California water and energy sectors may be ripe with opportunities for Israeli companies, they are difficult for foreign entities to penetrate.  Both markets are highly regulated.  The water supply industry is dominated by publicly owned agencies, the largest of which is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). There are well over 400 public water utilities throughout the state, serving around 85 to 90 percent of the demand, and there are more than 100 private (or “investor-owned”) water companies, but they, too, are subject to strict regulatory oversight. Sanitation in California is largely the domain of the public sector, with approximately 900 public wastewater treatment plants in operation statewide.  The energy field in California is dominated by four investor-owned utilities (which have about a 70 percent market share); the rest of the market is serviced by numerous publicly owned agencies (again, LADWP is the biggest of these).  In other words, the water and energy sector is split between publicly owned utilities, which are government agencies, and private enterprises that work in such an intensely regulated environment that they, too, must be viewed as comparable to governmental entities.

This is key for Israeli companies to grasp. Governmental bodies do not function like private firms. They have an array of policy and regulatory mandates to follow, including: public bidding procedures for contracts, local business preferences, policies for the support of minority-owned and women-owned enterprises, and a plethora of other social programs.  On top of this, jurisdictions such as Los Angeles have multifold layers of scrutiny, which necessitate a close familiarity on the part of the market entrant with the political process. And there are stakeholders — labor, business, environmental and community organizations — that have a keen interest in the projects and contracts undertaken by the local utility. All of this means that an aspirant would need first to establish a material presence in the target region. While some Israeli enterprises have done this successfully, this endeavor requires an investment which Israeli entrepreneurs may be reluctant to make, given the uncertain returns. Short of this, Israeli companies will have to entertain joint ventures or subcontract arrangements with already entrenched market players as a means of gaining an initial foothold.   

The MOU is intended to catalyze entry into the California water and energy markets by qualified Israeli companies. But there are innate obstacles to address in securing more openness. And here, the formation of task forces to examine how best to facilitate that entry (with its concomitant attraction of capital, galvanization of business activity, stimulation of innovation and production of jobs), while safeguarding local priorities, becomes all-
important. Los Angeles is to be commended for taking the first step to convene such a team of experts (thanks to a resolution sponsored by Blumenfield).  

Notwithstanding the challenges, the panoply of opportunities in California is so rich that Israeli companies should not be deterred in attempting to bring their capabilities to the state.  California has the demand, and Israel can provide some of the supply. It is up to those tasked with charting the road ahead to bring that demand and supply together; in other words, to breathe life into the MOU.

H. David Nahai is an attorney and consultant.  He is a partner at the Lewis Brisbois law firm and President of David Nahai Consulting Services.  He specializes in real estate, energy and water matters.  He is the former general manager and commission president of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.