WASHINGTON (AP) — THE ISSUE: Support for Israel has been a mainstay of American foreign policy since the Jewish state's creation in 1948. Despite occasionally strong and even pointed differences, successive U.S. administrations of both parties have steadily increased financial, military and diplomatic assistance to Israel over the past six decades. The U.S. now provides Israel with roughly $3 billion every year, making it the largest single recipient of American foreign aid, and the Obama administration boosted that amount to $3.8 billion with a new memorandum of understanding on defense.
Public debate over Washington's pro-Israel position has intensified in recent years — notably over the Iran nuclear deal that Israel opposes, failed efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and Israel's continued construction in territory claimed by the Palestinians. But the Democratic and Republican parties and their presidential candidates have never wavered from that stance and strong congressional backing for Israel makes any significant change in policy unlikely.
WHERE THEY STAND
Republican Donald Trump raised eyebrows during the primaries by saying he would be "neutral" in trying to resolve the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has since said he loves Israel and he would be "somewhat neutral" in pursuing what he calls "probably the hardest negotiation there is." As a businessman who prides himself on his negotiating skill, Trump says he would try to get peace talks back on track but has offered no specific proposals on how he would do it.
Democrat Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state oversaw a failed effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, has also pledged to continue work for a two-state solution — one that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel — while offering strong support for Israel's defense and its co-called "qualitative military edge" in the tumultuous Middle East. She has boasted of helping to secure a ceasefire between Israel and the militant Hamas movement in Gaza, but was also a leading critic of Israel's settlement building while she was secretary of state.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although it has not been a major campaign issue thus far, Israel remains the staunchest U.S. ally in the volatile region, even after the well-publicized spat over the Iran deal and disagreements over the peace process.
With the war in Syria showing no sign of easing, Iraq on edge and an increasingly authoritarian government in Turkey, Israel is stable and at peace with neighbors Jordan and Egypt. And, U.S. presidents from both parties and Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum have hailed their shared values and democratic ideals.
Israel enjoys great support from members of Congress and American Jews, who are traditionally politically active and courted by politicians, as well as others. But a growing and vocal group of pro-Palestinian activists has tried to blunt U.S. backing for Israel. Given the stated pro-Israel positions of both Clinton and Trump, however, those efforts are not likely to yield much success no matter who wins in November.
This story is part of AP's "Why It Matters" series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at: http://apne.ws/2bBG85a