There is an Obamalyptic tone at the White House. The president put the all the chips he owned in domestic politics on the table for a health care bill opposed by more than 60% of polled voters, and now he has thrown all his foreign policy chips into the pot in order to humiliate a close American ally for whom the American public has overwhelming sympathy. One has the sense that the Obamoids fear that their tenure in power will be brief and that they want to do the most to alter the world before the peasants march on the castle and burn them out.
As Jackson Diehl put it in a now-viral meme on the Washington Post blog, the White House treated Netanyahu like an “unsavory dictator who had to be kept at arm’s length.” He was sneaked in the back door; there was no photo opportunity, and no final statement.
Although the Israeli government has clamped a blackout on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meetings with President Obama and aides David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the content has leaked out through various channels. Israel will either stop housing construction in its capital city per Obama’s orders, or the United States will offer a final version of a “peace agreement” between Israel and the Palestinians and shove it down Israel’s throat.
I have independently confirmed the substance of the following report from the Debka website:
A high-ranking US official categorized the current crisis in US-Israeli relations as the most acute in 54 years, ever since 1956 when President Dwight Eisenhower gave David Ben-Gurion an ultimatum to pull Israeli forces out of Sinai – certainly more serious than the impasse over the Madrid conference between the first President Bush and Yitzhak Shamir in 1992.
A US presidential notice condemning Israel and predetermining the shape of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would be tantamount to a US diktat and put the lid on negotiations, direct or indirect, because Israel would be dragged to the table in handcuffs to face an Arab partner who would accept nothing less than the terms Washington imposed in advance on Israel.
Such a notice would put a clamp on the close dialogue which has historically characterized US-Israeli ties – to the detriment of Israel’s international standing.
[Jackson Diehl in] The Washington Post laid the blame for the crisis squarely on President Obama, whom it accused of treating Netanyahu “as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arms length.”
The WP went on to say: “Obama picked a fight over something that virtually all Israelis agree on, and before serious discussions have even begun. ”A new administration can be excused for making such a mistake in the treacherous and complex theater of Middle East diplomacy. That’s why Obama was given a pass by many when he made exactly the same mistake last year. The second time around, the president doesn’t look naive. He appears ideological — and vindictive.”
What is the administration thinking?
First of all, as I explained earlier this week, the administration envisions a strategic alliance with Iran to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, in which Iran will be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons — just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Zbignew Brzezinski proposed in a 2004 report for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Second, Rahm Emanuel — who ushered the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to the infamous 1993 Rose Garden handshake with Yassir Arafat — appears to think that he’s doing Israel a favor by forcing a settlement. The American left is still stuck on the Oslo fantasy of the earl 1990s; the Israeli public, after having tried Oslo and gotten Intifada and terrorism, knows better.
Obama’s gamble is enormous. So far he has gotten a free pass on foreign policy as the inheritor of a mess left behind by the Bush administration, while domestic problems — above all the 20% rate of under- and unemployment — took precedence. But Israel is the single most emotional issue in foreign policy, and the Gallup Poll reports that American support for Israel is at the all-time high reached briefly during the First Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets rained on Tel Aviv.
“[Former Secretary of State] James Baker said, ‘Screw the Jews, they don’t vote for us,’ and Obama is saying, ‘Screw the Jews, they’ll vote for us anyway,” a prominent American rabbi said this week. The mainstream Jewish organizations, who overwhelmingly supported Obama and share his domestic agenda, are in such a state of shock over the outcome of Netanyahu’s visit that it will take them some days to begin to blink.
The world is a radically different place than the liberal Jewish majority imagined it was, and Obama is a radically different man. It is quite possible that they will throw Israel under the bus for fear that an open attack on Obama at this time would contribute to a Democratic debacle in November. However Jews vote, they are less than 3% of the electorate, but a collapse of US relations with Israel would energize evangelical and other Christian voters against Obama.
Netanyahu is in a bind: never since 1956 has the United States put a gun to the head of an Israeli government, and that was over the joint Anglo-French-Israeli occupation of Suez, not about urgent Israeli security concerns. Creating a Hamastan within easy rocket range of Tel Aviv and Israel’s major airports would threaten Israel’s existence. Hamas rocketeers firing behind a human shield of civilians (just as Hamas has done in Gaza and Hizbollah in Southern Lebanon) would leave Israel the choice of reoccupying territory at the cost of many civilian casualties, or permitting ordinary life to become intolerate. That is precisely what Israel has said.
As Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren told Charlie Rose March 19, “Keep in mind the Israeli people are going to be asked to make extraordinary risks here. We withdrew from Lebanon. We withdrew from Gaza, we got rockets. To create peace with the Palestinian we`re going to have to withdraw from territory that is immediately adjacent to our major population state centers. We have to be assured that when we do that we`re not going to get Gaza again, we`re not going to get Lebanon again. We want to be assured that we`re going to have real peace.”
The future of Israel well may be fought out in the November elections. This is not a drill. This is the real thing. Obama is exposed and vulnerable. If the Democrats are not punished for shifting America’s foreign-policy loyalties away from Israel and towards Iran, Israel’s long-term security position will deteriorate.