while Washington will almost certainly come to regret bribing Israel, Israel may regret receiving such a bribe even more.
Previously, U.S. opposition to settlements resulted in penalties, not rewards, for continued construction. Washington deducted from its loan guarantees to Israel an amount equivalent, dollar for dollar, to the money that Israel spent in the occupied territories. While it’s true that the United States has turned a blind eye to indirect U.S. subsidies for Israeli activities in the territories – such as tax deductions for American organizations that fund settlements – the deal now being offered to Israel is of a totally different magnitude. If it goes forward, it will be the first direct benefit that the United States has provided Israel for settlement activities that we have opposed for more than 40 years.
By subjecting Israel’s defense needs to the political demands of an American administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done something quite dangerous for Israel – he has made those needs contingent, negotiable, optional. Israel’s security requirements are now merely a bargaining chip with which to negotiate what Jerusalem will or will not do to advance the peace process.
Today, the United States has “purchased” a short-term settlements freeze; what will be for sale tomorrow? For that matter, how seriously should our defense planners and congressional budget watchers take Israel’s arguments about its security needs when it is prepared to market different elements of its policy for another squadron of advanced aircraft? Does anyone really believe that there is a substantive connection between a three-month settlement freeze and Israel’s professed need for more airplanes?
This bargaining exercise has been unseemly all along. If it proceeds, both sides will probably regret it. But the deal has not yet been sealed. And it is not too late to start over.