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Top White House official slams settlements, vows military aid

National Security Adviser Susan Rice says Israeli expansion in West Bank ‘corrodes’ peace; promises largest military aid package in history

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

US National Security Advisor Susan Rice (AP/Craig Ruttle/File)
US National Security Advisor Susan Rice (AP/Craig Ruttle/File)

WASHINGTON — While lashing out at settlement activity, National Security Adviser Susan Rice promised Monday evening that the upcoming defense agreement between the US and Israel will constitute a “significant increase in support” for Israel’s security, despite reports that the negotiations have stumbled.

Rice, who addressed the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, is one of the central figures involved in negotiating the latest in a series of 10-year military aid deals that have served as the underpinning of US-Israel military assistance for decades. While negotiations on a new Memorandum of Understanding started months ago, talks have slowed amid reported disagreements over the total funding level.

Rice, however, cited the agreement as evidence of the administration’s support for Israel. “Even in these days of belt-tightening, we are prepared to sign the single largest military assistance package with any country in history,” Rice proclaimed, noting that Israel already “receives more than half of the US’s entire foreign military assistance budget.”

The new memorandum, she said, will “constitute a significant increase in support.” The memorandum is expected to grant between $37 and $40 billion in aid over the course of a decade from 2019 to 2029.

The national security adviser pointed to Israel’s expected receipt of the cutting-edge F-35 stealth jet and cooperation on anti-missile and anti-tunnel defense technologies, and noted that “our intelligence cooperation is at an all-time high.”

“Israel’s enemies are on notice – if you come at Israel by land, by sea, by air or even under the earth, you will lose,” Rice proclaimed.

Implicitly offering a rejoinder to arguments that Israel has become a polarizing issue in US politics, Rice instead insisted that “Israel’s security is not a Democratic interest or a Republican interest. It is an American interest.”

The bond between the US and Israel is an ironclad promise, Rice said, drawing a parallel with the relationship of the Biblical figures Ruth and Naomi.

“For those of us who care deeply about Israel this is a time of concern and sometimes of sorrow,” Rice said.

“When one country is singled out time and time again on the floor of the UN, Israel is not alone,” she declared. “When angry voices attack Israel’s right to exist, Israel is not alone.”

But “by the same token,” Rice stressed, “when Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting death to Arabs, when Palestinian mosques and churches are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone.”

“Our commitment to Israel’s security is why we continue to urge Israelis and Palestinians to resolve what President [Reuven] Rivlin describes as the tragedy that envelops us all,” she continued, stressing that the Obama administration’s policies toward settlements were unchanged from previous administrations.

The Obama administration, she said, opposed settlement activity “just like every administration since 1967, Republican and Democratic, just as we oppose counterproductive Palestinian actions including incitement and violence.”

“Settlement activity corrodes the possibility of two states. It moves us toward a one-state reality,” she argued.

Referring to last week’s Paris talks on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Rice stressed that “participants underscored that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace.”

She repeated the administration’s longstanding opposition to international efforts to impose a resolution to the conflict, such as Palestinian-backed UN resolutions, and stressed that “a solution cannot be imposed on the parties, so we urge them to take meaningful actions on the ground.”

“Peace is necessary, just and possible,” she said.

Rice lashed out at unnamed groups that sought to deny the legitimacy of Israel. “We will stand up not just for Israel’s security but for its legitimacy,” she declared. “No state is immune from criticism…but when one state is targeted as relentlessly, obsessively, bitterly as Israel is time and time again it is wrong and ugly. It is bullying in the guise of diplomacy and it has to stop.”

Rice also warned that “when Israel’s adversaries seek to isolate and boycott Israel economically, we forcefully combat these efforts.”

Speaking before the annual gathering of a major Jewish organization that opposed the July 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Rice stressed the utility of the controversial agreement.

“Whether or not you supported the Iran deal, the results are undeniable,” Rice argued. The deal resulted in the dismantling of two-thirds of Iran’s centrifuges and the filling of a reactor core with concrete, disabling it. “With this deal we have closed off every single path to Iran building a nuclear bomb. Every single one.”

While the administration has faced scrutiny in Congress for what opponents have complained was a lackluster response to illicit ballistic weapons testing, Rice vowed that the administration “will not let Iran off the hook.”

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