In the opening of Fiddler on the Roof, Nahum the beggar asks Lazer the butcher why he was giving only one kopek this week when he gave two last week. Lazer replied that he had a bad week, and the beggar responded, "Just because you had a bad week doesn't mean I should, too."
I was reminded of that when I read that Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that if the Obama administration doesn't agree to the increased aid levels he wants for a 10-year agreement – he's reportedly asking to boost aid from the current $3.1 billion a year $5 billion starting in 2018 plus added benefits – he'll wait until the next president comes in. That threat reportedly infuriated the White House.
Netanyahu twice last year turned down Obama's offers to open talks on a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) covering aid and strategic relations, saying it might detract from his efforts to block the Iranian nuclear pact. He lost that fight and appears to be losing once more since Obama is feeling less generous, according to American and Israeli officials.
"Bibi refused" those negotiations, an Israeli source told me, "gambling our future for short term (election) gains at home." After the Iran deal, Israel asked to renew negotiations on the new agreement, but Obama's earlier terms are off the table, the source said. The Israeli government is making matters worse by complaining to reporters that Washington is the one dragging its feet on the MOU.
"Bibi is skewering himself and the administration is enjoying it," said the source.
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador in Israel, warned Netanyahu that waiting until the next administration might not be wise in light of American "budgetary limitations."
Netanyahu, a serial meddler in American politics, may be hoping to leverage the aid package this election year by getting his Republican friends to attack Obama for not doing enough to help the Jewish state. He will be in Washington next month for the AIPAC policy conference and is expected to meet with Obama to close the deal on the 10-year MOU.
He's also likely to meet with Republican leaders. The PM has an admitted affinity for Republicans – his ambassador is a former GOP operative – and he knows how Republicans have been declaring their love of Israel by bashing Barack Obama.
But that's just the usual campaign talk. Someone should also tell the PM that Speaker Paul Ryan is under increasing pressure from the hardline fiscal conservatives in his party to renege on the bipartisan budget deal struck last year by his predecessor.
Foreign aid is not popular on the far right, and that won't improve when the fiscal hawks learn Netanyahu is asking for more than all US aid for the rest of the world combined.
Bibi's leverage is greatly diminished from what it was a year ago. His congressional speech, leading the opposition to the Iranian deal, the lack of any movement on the peace front, his campaign vow to block Palestinian statehood and his racist warning to followers that Arabs were voting in "droves" didn't score any points at the White House.
Defense News reports Obama is demanding that in exchange for any aid increase Israel will have to "forgo annual plus-ups to the president’s budget from Congress except for extreme emergency cases." A similar arrangement was made during the Reagan administration.
The PM reportedly is ready to reject Obama's terms. He wants to get everything the administration offers and then be able to go around it to the Congress for more, as he has done in the past. And if Obama objects, Bibi said he's willing to wait for a better offer from the next president.
Yossi Melman, writing in the Jerusalem Post, said Netanyahu's position "is the threat of a gunslinger that is out of bullets."