How the U.S. and Israel Can Move Forward – Editorial Board/The New York

by Newsstand

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House on Monday will be his first meeting with President Obama in over a year, an unusual lapse in direct personal contact between the leaders of two allied states. Their broken relationship, caused in large measure by the Israeli prime minister’s vitriolic but failed campaign to kill the nuclear deal with Iran, make the circumstances awkward. But it is in the strategic interests of both countries to find a way to work together more constructively.

The challenges are immense. One big issue on the table is a new 10-year defense agreement to replace one that will expire in 2017. The agreement is a tangible sign of a continued American commitment to Israeli security that has become more important as Israeli concerns about Iran have grown. Over the last decade, Israel has received at least $3 billion a year in American assistance. Reuters recently reported that Israeli officials have asked for an increase to $5 billion.

White House officials do not expect a new defense agreement to emerge from this meeting. It is hard to see how such a large increase could be justified, especially when Congress is trying to keep a lid on federal spending and is cutting back many vital programs. And Israel has long been a leading recipient of American assistance.

In any case, whatever aid the administration and Congress finally agree to must be linked to Mr. Netanyahu’s willingness to cooperate on matters that are in American as well as Israeli interests. As a White House official acknowledged this week, Mr. Obama has thrown in the towel on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians because neither party has taken “sufficient steps forward” despite repeated peacemaking attempts during the last seven years. That is a sobering acknowledgment, since Mr. Obama had made negotiating a two-state solution a priority from the start of his presidency. .

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, still believes a peace deal is possible and, in The Jerusalem Post last week, urged the two parties to “come back to the negotiating table without delay and without preconditions.” While two states, side by side, is the best formula for peace, it is hard to see that happening under Mr. Netanyahu and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

For the moment, officials say Mr. Obama is urging Mr. Netanyahu to relieve tensions with the Palestinians and leave open the possibility of a two-state solution in the future. Those steps need to include a halt to the construction of new and expanded housing units for Israelis in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem; new settlements have been pursued so aggressively by Mr. Netanyahu that the land available for a Palestinian state may already be foreclosed. Mr. Obama might also consider spelling out what the United States thinks a peace deal should entail in the event that negotiations resume in the future. There is more than one side to this conflict, as Mr. Obama knows, and there is much Mr. Abbas must do as well — not least insisting that the Palestinian put a stop to their violent assaults on Israelis.

Despite tensions at the top, the United States and Israel have been careful to maintain close cooperation on intelligence and others security matters. Now that the Iran nuclear deal is underway, the two leaders need to find a way to avoid further such confrontations and work more collaboratively on other mutual concerns like the war in Syria and Iran’s efforts to expand its regional influence.