Obama’s calculations were wrong
I admit I was mistaken about the direction the relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government would take. From the pragmatic point of view, it seemed consensual that the two-state solution was on its way to the freezer with a tag attached: see under “solutionism”. This would have placed the differences between President Barack Obama and PM Binyamin Netanyahu on the level of principle. In view of realities on the ground, Obama would avoid confrontation with Israel and work with Netanyahu to accelerate economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Instead, Obama chose to embark on a collision course between the two new administrations in Israel and the US. Among Netanyahu’s advisers there are some who believe that those who set Obama on this course of confrontation are close advisers like Rahm Emmanuel who think they understand Israeli society and politics and who detest Netanyahu from the time they served in the Clinton administration. This confrontation apparently started from day one of Netanyahu’s tenure; when he visited the White House for the first time a month and a half after taking office he already encountered a chilly reception.
This is unprecedented. Even during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, whom many compare to Obama, the first visits by prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and later Menachem Begin were warm and friendly, at least on the surface, despite grave disagreements on central issues.
This strategy of confrontation from the outset was a mistake; Obama was misled by his advisers. People like Emmanuel and David Axelrod saw Israel in the context of a problematic domestic policy that is designed to suppress the American Jewish community and silence the so-called Jewish lobby. They had two goals in mind: to contain Israel and deter it from taking any initiative, especially against Iran, and to change Netanyahu’s order of priority from Iran first to “peace in our time” in Palestine.
Obama and his people thought that concentrated pressure on the settlements issue would do the trick. It would split the Israeli political system and Israeli society wide open and plunge the country into socio-political crisis. Toward that goal they had access to a vehicle that no ordinary ruler has in a conflict, whether with an adversary or an ally: some of the leading voices and commentators in Israel who harbor pathological hatred toward Netanyahu were willing to collaborate in psychological warfare against the Israeli government. Because the settlements are not a consensus issue either in Israeli society or among Israel’s friends in America, the Obama people thought they could create a rift between Israel and American Jewry.
Obama’s calculations were wrong. Although the Israeli public is far from unified on the settlements and many would dismantle them if this was needed for a final peace agreement, there is broad agreement with three current Netanyahu positions.
First, the nuclearization of Iran is of the utmost urgency and may require military action.
Second, the Palestinians have thus far proven incapable of establishing their own state based on the requisite security regime and implementation of the rule of law, meaning that any territory ceded to them will turn into a terrorist base and eventually fall to Hamas.
And third, any Palestinian state that is ultimately created must not pose a threat to Israel.
By endorsing Palestinian statehood with all the preconditions, Netanyahu in his Bar Ilan speech closed the last gap that separated him from most of the Israeli public. The public, which is not infatuated with Netanyahu, nevertheless rallied to his support because it perceived as absurd the unique and disproportional pressure directed at Israel at this juncture in its history, which reeks of appeasement. The way Obama fixed upon Israel as an ugly vehicle for rapprochement with the Muslim world was simply too transparent.
Thus President Obama, who initially was much loved and admired by many in Israel, failed in his attempt to create a political crisis here and instead reaped a harvest of hatred. These days he is despised in Israel, with his lack of moral fiber regarding Iran and the elections putsch there adding fuel to the fire. Both his policy toward Iran and that regarding Israel have exposed US weakness.
One outcome that is now emerging is a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt. Both countries are concerned about sharing a border with an Islamist fundamentalist regime in Gaza; both feel threatened by Iran; and both are most disturbed by the destabilizing effect of President Obama’s initiatives in the region and elsewhere. Thus one positive outcome of the developments of the last couple of months is Egypt and Israel hugging each other tightly in the dark.-
Amnon Lord is a senior editor and columnist at Makor Rishon newspaper.