US President Barack Obama may sit down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month to clinch a massive 10-year aid package, the American envoy to Israel said Thursday.
Jerusalem and Washington have been attempting to hammer out the details of the military aid deal before the current package of $3 billion annually expires in 2018.
The White House reportedly wants to wrap up the deal before Obama leaves office in 11 months, but Netanyahu has intimated he is considering holding out for a better deal with whoever wins the presidency.
“There’s a chance [Netanyahu and Obama will meet],” Ambassador Dan Shapiro told Channel 2 news Thursday night. “However, there still remains an issue of timing. We’ll see in the next few weeks how it works out.”
Netanyahu is expected to be in the US for the annual policy conference of the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby from March 20 to 22.
Shapiro said that he was “optimistic” the agreement was coming together.
“This is a complicated effort that takes into account the security needs of Israel and the budgetary limitations of the US,” he said in Hebrew.
He also said Israel and the US had an “excellent opportunity” to ink a military aid deal. He was responding to a question of whether the US was urging Netanyahu to sign before Obama leaves office in January 2017.
On Sunday, Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting that “perhaps we won’t succeed in reaching an agreement with this administration and will have to reach an agreement with the next administration.”
In response, an unnamed US official warned that the financial situation in the US was unlikely to improve in the next two years.
“Israel will certainly not find a president more committed to Israel’s security than is President Obama,” the official told the Haaretz daily.
Netanyahu would like to see the annual aid figure under the so-called Memorandum of Understanding bumped from $3 billion to $4 billion annually, plus hundreds of millions in Congressional aid, an Israeli official told Reuters. A Congressional source told the agency the US was offering $3.7 billion a year.
In November, when both sides first met to negotiate a new 10-year package, US congressional sources told Reuters that Israel would be asking for an annual $5 billion, starting in 2017. The sources at the time estimated that the White House and Israel would ultimately agree on a sum between $4 billion and $5 billion.
Last week, an American delegation led by Yael Lampert, the Israel point person on the White House national security council, visited Jerusalem for a third round of talks.
Higher level talks between the two countries will kick off when Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon visits with his US counterpart Ashton Carter early next month.