A Nov. 8 Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) conference call featured former United States Ambassador Dan Shapiro and Israel Policy Forum Policy Director Michael Koplow discussing the recent debate involving U.S. aid to Israel.
During the annual J Street conference on Oct. 28, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind, said he wants “to ensure that US taxpayer support to Israel does not get turned into US taxpayer support for a move like annexation.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is also running for president, said during an Oct. 19 campaign event that “everything’s on the table” to deter Israel from increasing settlement building in the West Bank, including the U.S. reducing aid to Israel. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also said at the J Street conference that some of the yearly aid the U.S. gives to Israel should be diverted toward the Gaza Strip.
Shapiro served as the ambassador to Israel from 2011-2017 and said that U.S. aid to Israel has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy for “decades” and was ramped up following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He argued that such aid is necessary since “Israel is our democratic ally in the Middle East, the only democracy in the Middle East” and because Israel’s enemies –Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – are also threats to the U.S.
“Israel should have a qualitative military edge and the United States is obligated to provide that,” Shapiro said. He added that the “benefits of this relationship flows both ways, noting that there’s an enormous amount of sharing of Israeli intelligence with the U.S. and Israel also trains U.S. forces.
He went on to say that the U.S. and Israel agreed to a 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) where the U.S. provides $3.8 billion per year to Israel during fiscal year 2019-2028. Under the MOU, $3.3 billion a year is allocated for foreign military financing and $500 million toward missile defense.
“Israel should have a qualitative military edge and the United States is obligated to provide that. ” — Fmr. U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro
“The value of a 10-year MOU is that it provides stability for both sides,” Shapiro said.
He added that President Barack Obama didn’t treat such aid as conditional despite Obama’s public spats with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Koplow pointed out that Buttigieg and Warren have called for conditioning aid to Israel to stop them from taking steps toward annexing the West Bank.
“Annexation would threaten Israel’s ability to be Jewish and democratic at the same time,” Koplow said, adding it would also result in “enormous security costs” that go far beyond the monetary value of the MOU.
The issue of West Bank annexation first arose when Netanyahu pledged to start annexing parts of the West Bank in April. In September, Netanyahu vowed to annex Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.
Shapiro agreed with Koplow’s criticisms of Israel potentially annexing the West Bank. “It’s very much in U.S. interest that annexation should not occur and we should be active” in that, Shapiro said.
However, he also pointed out that most of the MOU funds go toward long-term purchases of major U.S. military systems that counter Iran and Hezbollah from Syria. “Our dollars are used for what our dollars are used for” and should focus on that, Shapiro said.
Koplow said that he didn’t think that the current discussion over aid to Israel involves “whether the MOU or the current aid structure will be impacted or not.” He said Warren and Buttigieg are simply voicing their displeasure with the current Israeli government. He added that there is a large consensus in the Democratic party to support a two-state solution while ensuring that Israel has a right to defend itself.
“The Democratic Party is still very much in the moderate, bipartisan category when it comes to policy toward Israel,” Koplow said.