Israel aid deal delays potential for peace

The late erudite Israeli foreign minister, Abba Eban, was quoted widely for once having said "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity" for peace. The same could apply recently to the Americans.

The United States signed a deal to give Israel $3.8 billion a year over the next 10 years beginning in 2018 — a total of $38 billion — in what National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice characterized as the biggest military assistance package to another country in U.S. history.


The pact was consummated despite Washington's repeated complaints about Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank and plans to demolish the Palestinian village of Susya in the area, all virtually ignored by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At the same time, there has been talk in Washington of President Barack Obama taking a last stab at trying to spur a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. He tried that at the outset of his presidency nearly eight years ago, and the effort fell flat, creating everlasting enmity between him and Mr. Netanyahu that worsened over the Iran nuclear deal.


A renewed U.S. peace effort may be an attempt at one-upmanship as Russia seeks to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to meet in Moscow to discuss possibilities for an agreement. The Russians already have shown up the Americans in Syria, and another diplomatic setback for Washington in the Middle East, which it considers its traditional area of influence, certainly would be an embarrassment.

So why did Washington agree to give Israel $3.8 billon a year — up from $3.1 billion — and thereby surrender any leverage the United States may have in trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together? Couldn't it wait?

U.S. attempts at engineering an Israeli-Palestinian peace are nearly as old as Israel's capture of the West Bank, among other territories, in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Mr. Obama merely sought to carry on what has become a cottage industry tradition, to no avail.

J Street, the more liberal alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel's leading lobbyist in Washington, hailed the new defense pact but couldn't help prodding Mr. Obama to consider last-ditch "efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

In a statement, it suggested a "major speech laying out the possible parameters of a peace agreement and potentially seeking to enshrine those principles in a new United Nations resolution" — options the Obama administration reportedly has been discussing.

Mr. Obama served notice after the signing of the aid deal that the United States will continue "to press for a two-state solution to the long standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the deeply troubling trends on the ground that undermine this goal. As I have emphasized previously, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine."

Good luck with that so long as Mr. Netanyahu remains in power. If anyone thinks the unprecedented aid package will nudge Mr. Netanyahu toward a peace pact with the Palestinians, think history: There's been lots of sound, lots of fury over the decades about Israel surrendering all or part of the West Bank, and virtually nothing to show for it.

In a video before the signing ceremony in Washington, Mr. Netanyahu thanked the Obama administration "for this historic agreement" and made a passing reference to the thorny peace process as "disputes you have between family."


"This agreement," he said, according to the online Times of Israel, "demonstrates the simple truth that the relationship between Israel and the U.S. is strong and powerful."

Apparently not powerful enough.

With $38 billion in leverage gone with the strokes of two pens and Mr. Netanyahu's stiff resistance to an agreement with the Palestinians, in part to satisfy his nationalist and conservative constituency, there is little chance for a peace agreement any time soon.

Mr. Netanyahu is foremost a politician and has mouthed platitudes about making peace without any follow-through. Sounds good, but that's it.

Richard C. Gross, a former correspondent and bureau chief in Israel and foreign editor of United Press International, retired as opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun. He lives in Santa Fe, and his email is