During his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House yesterday, President Obama stated that the “security of Israel is one of my top foreign-policy priorities.” Of course, this sentiment might have been slightly more believable had President Obama a) said those words in something other than a lethargic tone, or b) not listened to Netanyahu’s statement with the humor of a human death star
Although Netanyahu claims that the meeting was productive, major problems continue to corrode U.S.-Israeli relations.
Front and center is President Obama’s flawed approach to dealing with Israel. On crucial issues, the White House continues to treat Netanyahu’s government disdainfully and as irrelevant to its Middle Eastern policy. The Obama administration has long acted grumpily toward Israel. Consider former Middle East adviser Dennis Ross’s perspective on the idiotic accusation of racism Susan Rice lobbed against Netanyahu. According to Ross, Rice believed that “the Israeli leader did everything but ‘use the N-word in describing the president.”
While Mr. Netanyahu’s conduct has not been perfect — he deserves criticism for his spokesman’s anti-Obama rant — Israel’s emotion at the American president’s perceived lack of interest is understandable. After all, facing an international plague of anti-Israel boycotts, Western delusions about Gaza, and an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, Israel worries that its American support is perishing and that it will soon stand alone. And while Israel’s worries reflect a broader dysfunction of President Obama’s diplomacy (one that is also indirectly fueling sectarian paranoia in the Middle East), Israel’s concern has an obvious historical foundation — the Holocaust. Sadly, however, President Obama believes he can paper over this widening chasm with the false elixir of increased aid and the inexcusable prisoner release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard.
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Yet this isn’t just about credibility and confidence. It’s also about President Obama’s failure to collectively challenge the shared adversaries facing Israel and America. Today, as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian revolutionaries wage war against Israel, the U.S. sits silent. Today, Obama’s earlier actions against Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah are distant memories. The White House is now talking a good game about closer partnerships, but such partnerships cannot exist solely through oratory. Even while highlighting significant disagreements on issues like settlement construction in the West Bank, the Obama administration could be doing far more to support joined interests with Israel.
#share#The corrosion in U.S.-Israel relations is also a consequence of Obama’s ignoring Israeli politics. As Netanyahu’s recent appointment of hardline right-wing Likud rival Danny Danon as Israel’s U.N. ambassador proves, Netanyahu continues to face a tough domestic political environment. Writing about Danon, a Jerusalem Post reported noted in August: “The appointment gives [Netanyahu] the opportunity to shunt aside for a number of years a political rival and all-around thorn-in-the-side.”
The White House is aware of this dynamic — or at least it should be — yet its petulance-policy only energizes hardliners in Netanyahu’s government. Ironically, the petulance will be ultimately self-defeating in that it will force Netanyahu to play to his hardliners rather than compromise with Obama. Remember, as a prime minister, Netanyahu’s executive power is tied to the impulses of his cabinet in any one moment. This is something Obama ignores when he leaks hectoring complaints about the prime minister in public.
Ultimately, the pretense of good relations on display yesterday reflects a basic calculation by both leaders. Neither trusting nor liking each other, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have decided to pursue their own agendas, ignore their differences, and hope for the best. But as the senior partner in the alliance, Obama has the first responsibility to develop a more constructive approach. But then again, this is the Middle East. And in the Middle East today, American policy is an unfunny joke.