Published On: Tue, Sep 20th, 2016

Obama taught Netanyahu a lesson in negotiations

Op-ed: The prime minister's Congress address cost Israel a considerable sum, but the most serious blow has been inflicted on AIPAC. Now that Congress is out of the game, half of its lobbyists can stay home and half of its donors can direct their money elsewhere.

Netanyahu- OBAMA-MIDEAST-ISRAEL----- Reuters -

Money, that’s what fuels the dispute over the American-Israeli memorandum of understanding on the US military aid for the next 10 years. Granted, we are talking about a lot of money here, yet less than what the administration was willing to give during the battle over the approval of the nuclear agreement with Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Congressional address cost Israel a considerable sum. We will never know the exact sum, because the negotiations were disrupted by Netanyahu from the very beginning. The conservative estimate says $2 billion; the maximum estimate says $7 billion, depending on the timing, the circumstances and the mood of the person doing the estimating.

I have written before that it was one of the most expensive speeches in history, perhaps the most expensive speech ever delivered to a friendly state. At least from this aspect, it should have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

There is, on the other hand, something outrageous in focusing on the financial side of the agreement. We must not be ungrateful, Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. He was right, of course. Yet I have no doubt that when the translation of his comments reached computer screens at the White House, the response was bitter laughter. There is not a single Israeli who was more ungrateful than him.

The aid affair is significant beyond the sums. It can be described in arm-twisting terms. On one side, a prime minister who believes he has America at his feet; on the other side, the first black president. The prime minister’s American sponsors disregard the president and use racist and derogatory names to refer to him, dragging the prime minister along with them.

And then the president teaches the prime minister a lesson in negotiations. The White House realized that Netanyahu was in trouble. After his failure to turn Congress against the president, he must prove to the Israelis – and first of all to himself – that he has not caused any damage. He is like a driver who was involved in a car accident and is too ashamed to tell his family about it.

You will get aid, the White House stated. The sum will be similar to the sum you have received so far from the administration and from Congress. But the game between the White House and Congress is over: It was your sin, and this is the punishment. You will have to promise not to approach Congress with aid requests anymore.

The White House went behind Congress’ back, just like Congress went behind the White House’s back when it invited Netanyahu to Washington. An eye for an eye. When Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, heard about the condition, he was furious. He claimed, with a certain amount of justice, that the executive branch cannot dictate a legislative move to the legislative branch. Moreover, he did not want President Barack Obama, who he despises, to be portrayed as a savior. He threatened that he would allot an additional hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel this year despite Obama’s objection.

And then came the next stage in Netanyahu’s taming. The White House forced him to write a humiliating letter, in which he pledges that Israel will return to the administration every dollar allotted by Congress in the next two years. Why only in the next two years? Because the 10-year agreement will only take effect in two years, in October 2018.

As Elliott Abrams, one of the directors of the National Security Council in the George W. Bush Administration, wrote Sunday, there is no precedent for such a letter. Netanyahu took pride in the agreement, but forgot to tell the Israelis about the letter he was forced to write. I found out about the letter and its content from sources in Washington last week.
Senator Graham did not forgive Netanyahu. He harshly attacked the prime minister in a conversation with a right-wing Jewish organization last weekend. I assume Netanyahu will find a way to reconcile with him and with his friends. If flattery doesn’t help, his billionaire friends’ dollars will do the trick.

The serious blow has been inflicted on AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby. Half of AIPAC’s activity is invested in the promotion and maintenance of Congress’ aid to Israel. If Congress is out of the game, half of its lobbyists can stay home. Half of its donors can direct their money elsewhere. AIPAC’s leaders, who were against Netanyahu’s Congress speech but did not have the courage to confront him, will also pay the price of the speech.

Ynet News

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