Memorandum of Understanding May Hang on Security Council Vote

YERUSHALAYIM -

The possibility of U.S. support for a U.N. Security Council resolution defining a two-state solution with the Palestinians may be the impediment to finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on military aid to Israel over the next ten years.

A senior Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is weighing allowing negotiations for the MOU to drag on for the next few months, to be concluded with President Obama’s successor.

This, because Netanyahu fears the White House may want to quickly conclude the MOU so that it can be presented as further proof of the president’s commitment to Israeli security — thereby giving him more freedom of action at the U.N.

Israel has as yet received no assurance from the White House that Obama opposes such a resolution — a decision that is the president’s alone, the official noted.

Meanwhile, some key provisions of the MOU remain undecided. For example, whether the package should be “sealed” or remain open to emendations over the course of the next decade.

“You don’t know what will be the threats,” the official said. “Now we’re speaking of Iron Dome and tunnels. But maybe in five years you’ll see submarines coming from Gaza,” indicating that Israeli negotiators prefer the open format.

The comments throw a new light on the negotiations. Until now, it was said that Netanyahu might delay concluding the MOU in hopes of getting more generous terms. Israel is requesting $5 billion per year in the new package, the U.S. counter-offer has reportedly been between $3.4 and $4 billion.

“In Israel’s view, the lower end of that range would actually represent a decrease in aid, since the 2007 MOU would have amounted to $3.6 billion per year if one factors in inflation,” said David Makovsky, a former senior advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry.

In any case, the obstacles to the signing of an agreement appear to be external to any defense-technical issues. If it were up to defense officials in both governments, the memorandum would be signed in a matter of weeks.

“They are pushing,” the official continued, referring to the military and defense industry in Israel. “They want this deal sealed so they can start planning for the future. Because when you buy a plane, you make the commitment for five, ten years.”

However, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed the claims of the source in this report: “We hope to conclude an MOU with the Obama administration as soon as possible,” the official said.

In addition, Tzachi HaNegbi, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that while he does not know Netanyahu’s thinking on the negotiations, he questioned the logic of such a strategy, arguing that the importance of the MOU greatly surpasses that of any Security Council resolution.

Mideast expert Dennis Ross pointed to another reason to look for a conclusion to the MOU talks before the end of Obama’s term: “It’s clear that there are serious discussions going on trying to finalize the MOU and the best indication of that is that there are no real leaks taking place about the content.”

“The Israeli government is working with the administration, not bringing Congress into it and not leaking details out, because they want these talks to succeed,” he continued. “I don’t know whether there is any linkage to other issues including the peace issue and possible moves at the U.N. The reality is both the administration and the Israeli government see the benefit of concluding an MOU this year and I think that’s what’s driving both sides at this point.”