US-Israel ties tested, but the relationship remains unbreakable

US-Israel ties tested, but the relationship remains unbreakable
Although relations between the US and Israel have been tried under President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the US-Israel partnership remains among Washington's top priorities.
4 min read
14 September, 2016
The US-Israel relationship has been tested in recent times [AFP]
On Tuesday, the US announced its largest ever increase in military aid closest ally in the Middle East - Israel.

While Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had been eyeing a package upwards of $4.5 billion a year, the memorandum of understanding between the two nations set the princely sum of $3.8 billion a year. This is a nearly $800 million increase on the $3.1 billion donated to Israel under a current pact that expires in 2018.

The deal comes at a time when the US-Israel relationship has come under numerous trials and tribulations under the leaderships of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Nonetheless, the bolstered aid package perhaps shows the sturdiness of the special relationship between the two nations, which in the end comes despie personal animosities and disagreements on detail.

A rough patch

The Obama administration has grown frustrated with Israel's continued policy of building illegal settlements on Palestinian land and has warned that future peace could be put in jeopardy.

Recently, the US state department criticised a video released by Netanyahu, in which he equated opposition to Israeli settlement building with "ethnic cleansing".

The office described the video as "inappropriate and unhelpful", and questioned Israel's committment to peace.

"We obviously strongly disagree with the characterisation that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank," said State Department Spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau.

"We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful."

For its part, Israel has not agreed with some key elements of US, in particular the rapprochement of sorts between Washington and Tehran in agreeing the bilateral nuclear deal.

In the immediate aftermath of the accord's agreement in July, Netanyahu said that "the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was yesterday".

Snubs and spurned offers

Personal tensions between Netanyahu and Obama have often come to the fore in recent years. Netanyahu is set to visit the US this month to attend the United Nations General Assembly, but it has also been said that he will not be visiting the White House for a one-on-one meeting with the president.

Tensions: Obama and Netanyahu have shared a tense and difficult relationship [Bloomberg]

It is thought that this will be the last chance for a face-to-face meeting between the two before Obama hands over the presidential reins in mid-January. The two leaders last sat down in November 2015 in Washington, when they surprised observers by holding a friendly chat.

In March, however, the Israeli PM rebuffed an offer from Obama to meet in the White House - a move that was seen as a direct response to the president turning down of previous request made by Netanyahu to meet at the Oval Office around a year earlier.

"We were looking forward to hosting the bilateral meeting, and we were surprised to first learn via media reports that the prime minister, rather than accept our invitation, opted to cancel his visit," White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said.

Bigger than personalities

Despite the personal animosity between Obama and Netanyanyahu, the bolstering of US aid sends a message to the Israel's regional opponents - including Iran - that the special relationship comes above personal tensions and policy disagreements.

Indeed, the package may be seen as Obama's attempt to seal his legacy as a friend of Israel - a point that despite the farewell package, many will dispute.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has pointed out that Congress played no part in shaping the agreement, and has even indicated that he in favour of a bigger aid package.

Others have even taken offence to the deal, with conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin describing it as "one more kick in the shins to Israel".

Despite what Obama's opponents may say Israel remains high on the US' list of priorities. 

Whether critics argue that the aid package is significantly lower than the $4.5 to 5 billion requested by Israel, the agreement marks another missed opportunity for the US to hold Israel to account for its actions against the Palestinians.