President Barack Obama thinks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t know what’s good for his country according to a report by the well-connected columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that’s being quoted prominently in the Israeli media Tuesday (for example here, here and here).
With Israeli elections just one week from now, January 22nd, could the Obama administration – with this alleged leak — be trying to influence Israeli voters?
In his Bloomberg View column posted Tuesday, Goldberg explains that after the UN voted to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to non-member state, the Israeli government swiftly announced it would build housing for Jews between east Jerusalem and the West Bank in an area known as E-1 as well as 3,000 housing units in east Jerusalem and other parts of Judea and Samaria.
Now here’s the interesting part. Goldberg writes [Emphasis added]:
When informed about the Israeli decision, Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn’t even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu’s part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” With each new settlement announcement, in Obama’s view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah — one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend — it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.
Goldberg writes that Obama’s position since he was a senator has been consistent: “If it [Israel] doesn’t disentangle itself from the lives of West Bank Palestinians, the world will one day decide it is behaving as an apartheid state.”
Has a White House official told Goldberg that Obama agrees with Israel’s most vociferous critics who believe Israel is an apartheid state?
Netanyahu’s office won’t comment on Goldberg’s story, but one government minister told Israel Hayom that the leak to the reporter is a sign Obama is interfering in Israel’s elections. The head of the election campaign for Netanyahu’s Likud party Gideon Sa’ar did react to Goldberg’s article, telling Israel Hayom: “Netanyahu will know how to work with Obama very well while at the same time safeguarding Israel’s interests.”
Sa’ar, who is also education minister added: “Netanyahu has the edge over all the other candidates in the diplomatic arena too, not just the security and economic spheres.”
Netanyahu’s critics contend that building in E-1 would make the prospects of a future Palestinian state unviable, though in the past Israel has uprooted Jewish communities to concede land to the Palestinians, most notably in 2005 when Israel pulled its forces from Gaza and Jews were forced to leave their homes there.
In lockstep with European allies, the Obama administration condemned the E-1 housing announcement earlier this winter. National Security Council Spokesman Tommy Vietor said, “We believe these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations or achieve a two-state solution.”
President Obama believes only a two-state solution – a state for Jews and a state for Palestinians – can achieve long-term peace for Israelis and Palestinians. In 2011, Obama said that Israel should withdraw to 1967 borders, leaving the country just nine miles wide at its narrowest point, and thus vulnerable to Palestinian rocket attack on its strategic facilities. The policy position Obama stated would also mean handing half of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, including the Old City which is the location of the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall.
Goldberg’s assessment is that even with Obama’s frustration, the de facto consequences will be limited. That is, the U.S. won’t cut aid to Israel (Congress would oppose that regardless of Obama’s position), and Obama will continue his efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear march (unsuccessful though they’ve been to now). Goldberg writes:
But it is in terms of American diplomatic protection — among the Europeans and especially at the UN — that Israel may one day soon notice a significant shift. During November’s vote on Palestine’s status, the U.S. supported Israel and asked its allies to do the same. In the end, they were joined by a total of seven other countries, including the Pacific powerhouses Palau and Micronesia.
When such an issue arises again, Israel may find itself even lonelier. It wouldn’t surprise me if the U.S. failed to whip votes the next time, or if the U.S. actually abstained. I wouldn’t be particularly surprised, either, if Obama eventually offered a public vision of what a state of Palestine should look like, and affirmed that it should have its capital in East Jerusalem.
Talk of Netanyahu having lost American support plays into the hands of his political opponents, specifically the Labor Party headed by Shelly Yachimovich. Labor hired American Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg to spearhead its media strategy.
Obama would likely desire nothing more than for Yachimovich to win, but that looks exceedingly unlikely. His distaste for Netanyahu is nothing new. Recall, the president was famously picked up on an open microphone in November 2011 agreeing with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy who said he “cannot stand” Netanyahu and accused him of being a liar. Obama piled on his own opinion: “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day!”
According to the latest polls, Netanyahu is forecast to be comfortably reelected, though the new coalition may sit further to the right if he were to invite in the pro-settlement party the Jewish Home led by Naftali Bennett (which TheBlaze recently profiled here).
All this will make the next meeting between the two leaders interesting. The Jerusalem Post reports that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has invited Netanyahu to address its annual policy conference in Washington during the first week of March. With both leaders in Washington, it would be a strong statement were Obama not to make the time to meet with the Israeli prime minister.
On Monday, the Associated Press wrote an article examining Obama and Netanyahu’s relationship, headlined “Obama, Netanyahu: Bad blood between the key allies.” It quoted former State Department official and veteran peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson Center who says of the relationship: “It’s troubled. It’s the greatest dysfunction between leaders that I’ve seen in my 40 years in watching and participating.”
“I don’t think we are headed for a showdown…but the relationship will continue to be dysfunctional,” he added.