I’d like to believe that this isn’t pure vindictiveness at work, that there’s an element of political strategy in it — e.g., weakening Bibi at home in order to create a more centrist coalition government, perhaps — but if I were an Israeli, I’d be so enraged that I’d want to rally behind him. So if there’s a strategy, it seems awfully stupid. If you’re coming late to the story about tensions between Obama and Netanyahu, read this Yossi Klein Halevi piece at TNR for background. In a nutshell, the right-wing part of Netanyahu’s government announced the building of new settlements in east Jerusalem on the day Biden came to visit, which allegedly sent The One into a snit over what he considered to be an insult. Never mind that Netanyahu himself apparently didn’t know about the timing of the announcement and that building in east Jerusalem, which would almost certainly remain Israeli in any peace deal, was routine. Obama wants to make a show of standing up to the Zionist entity for our Islamic “partners in peace” in the naive belief that that’ll help bring about the ever elusive solution to the crisis. So here’s his big show — I hope. It’s possible that there’s no grander strategic meaning to it at all, and that he really is just this petty.
For a head of state to visit the White House and not pose for photographers is rare. For a key ally to be left to his own devices while the President withdraws to have dinner in private was, until this week, unheard of…
After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.
“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”…
Newspaper reports recounted how Mr Netanyahu looked “excessively concerned and upset” as he pulled out a flow chart to show Mr Obama how Jerusalem planning permission worked and how he could not have known of the announcement that hundreds more homes were to be built just as Mr Biden arrived in Jerusalem.
Mr Obama then suggested that Mr Netanyahu and his staff stay on at the White House to consider his proposals, so that if he changed his mind he could inform the President right away. “I’m still around,” the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted Mr Obama saying. “Let me know if there is anything new.”
Follow the link for the list of demands he gave Netanyahu, including “an end to Israeli building projects in east Jerusalem.” He certainly is the strong horse, isn’t he? Not with Iran, for whom we’re preparing to water down sanctions yet again because the colossus of the age can’t persuade China and Russia to agree to anything harsher. But with Israel? Strong as they come. The left will claim that he’s doing it in the interests of peace, per the theory that a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians will have some sort of domino effect against Islamist regimes that exploit the Palestinian issue, but how it advances peace to force Israel into shows of weakness is beyond me. Jackson Diehl:
Obama has added more poison to a U.S.-Israeli relationship that already was at its lowest point in two decades. Tuesday night the White House refused to allow non-official photographers record the president’s meeting with Netanyahu; no statement was issued afterward. Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length. That is something the rest of the world will be quick to notice and respond to. Just like the Palestinians, European governments cannot be more friendly to an Israeli leader than the United States. Would Britain have expelled a senior Israeli diplomat Tuesday because of a flap over forged passports if there were no daylight between Obama and Netanyahu? Maybe not…
U.S. pressure on Netanyahu will be needed if the peace process ever reaches the point where the genuinely contentious issues, like Palestinian refugees or the exact territorial tradeoffs, are on the table. But instead of waiting for that moment and pushing Netanyahu on a point where he might be vulnerable to domestic challenge, Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun. As the veteran Middle East analyst Robert Malley put it to The Post’s Glenn Kessler, “U.S. pressure can work, but it needs to be at the right time, on the right issue and in the right political context. The administration is ready for a fight, but it realized the issue, timing and context were wrong.”
“He appears ideological — and vindictive,” writes Diehl, reminding us that not all appearances are deceiving. I assume that Obama’s game here is that he doesn’t want to appear weak either after the insult to Biden, but it’s not clear who he’s aiming to impress by humiliating Netanyahu. The nuclear horse is almost all the way out of the barn on Iran, and we know how little China and Russia care about concessions to the U.S. Is there a strategy here or is it just O being O?