Politicians tend to engage in some heated rhetoric amid the tension which can engulf a close election, whether it’s their own or that of an ally. But now that the votes have largely been counted in Israel it’s time for the President of the United States and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to patch things up and get back to the business of being staunch partners in democracy. Take it away, Mr. President.
President Obama, in his first extensive post-election comments, leveled tough criticism at Benjamin Netanyahu over comments the Israeli prime minister made in the run up to his election victory, underscoring the deepening tensions between the two men.
In an interview published Saturday in The Huffington Post, Obama said he told Netanyahu in a phone call Thursday, “it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible”– after the Israeli leader rejected the idea of a Palestinian state during the elections…
“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly,” Obama told The Huffington Post. “And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”
Well… that should certainly patch things up, eh?
Watching the president talk about this subject I’m unable to escape the sense that he’d really rather not be discussing it at all. Obama has an agenda to worry about as he seeks to cement his legacy in “the fourth quarter” of this game, (as he made clear in January) and it has little or nothing to do with foreign policy. He’s busy at home with subjects such as global warming, ending racism and modifying the behavior of unruly Americans through executive regulatory actions. Troubling topics like Israel, ISIS, Vladimir Putin or Afghanistan are distractions. He knows he can’t ignore them entirely, but interviews such as this one leave me with the feeling that he resents having to talk about them.
There’s also more than a little thinly veiled, petulant annoyance in his tone. Barack Obama has been a happy warrior when things are going his way, but he seems to become quickly annoyed when others disagree with his vision of the world. If Bibi had lost the election badly, Obama might have had a new leader in Israel who could be more easily aligned with his own agenda. Now that the desired outcome failed to materialize, these not terribly subtle digs at Netanyahu seem to signal the end of the discussion for the President.
The sad part of this breakdown is that it was all so completely unnecessary. Nobody was expecting Barack Obama to solve the situation between Israel and the Palestinians. Nobody can solve that problem from the outside. The United States is stuck in the position of essentially standing aside, continuing to express our resolve and support for our ally, and letting all of Israel’s enemies know that if you mess with the Israelis you mess with us. Beyond that… well, there isn’t much to be accomplished. On the issue of Iran there is much to be done, and Bibi was far more focused on that scenario than any two state solution. Sadly, that was yet another missed opportunity on our part.
If there’s any good news to be found here it’s that this is probably a brief bump in the road. There will be a new President in a couple of years, and assuming Iran doesn’t have a bomb by then, not much will have changed in that part of the world. Bibi most likely has the luxury of being able to simply outlast Obama and rebuild relations with the next Oval Office occupant.