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Tuesday, December 09, 2014
Obama’s Threats Won’t Hurt Netanyahu
Few savvy observers took Secretary of State John Kerry at his word earlier this week when he piously proclaimed that the United States had no thought of attempting to intervene in Israel’s elections. The animus bordering on hatred felt by President Obama’s inner circle toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a secret. But it didn’t take long for a leak to an Israeli newspaper that is among the PM’s most rabid foes to dispel any doubts about the administration’s hopes that it could somehow derail his bid for a fourth term. The report from Barak Ravid, Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent that the White House held a meeting whose purpose was to plan possible future sanctions against Israel to punish it for continuing to build homes for Jews in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement blocs, is a shot fired over Netanyahu’s bow. But the real question here is not so much Obama’s desire to see the prime minister defeated, as it is why anyone in the administration thinks this gambit will succeed now after the same tactics have failed repeatedly before.
The Haaretz report makes it clear that the administration is looking ahead to another two years of escalating confrontation with Israel. The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of interest in negotiating, let alone signing a peace agreement that would end the conflict. Nor do the construction of homes for Jews in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem or even in the settlement blocs that everyone (including President Obama) knows would remain inside Israel if peace were ever achieved constitute any sort of obstacle to a two-state solution.
But the administration still clings to the illusion that the problem is Netanyahu and settlements rather than a Palestinian political culture that makes peace impossible and PA head Mahmoud Abbas’s incitement to violence. That means it is entirely possible that, as Ravid breathlessly predicts, the administration will no longer make do with bitter denunciations of Israeli actions in the future but will, instead adopt measures intended to punish the Jewish state. That might take the form of refraining from vetoing anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations Security Council or other actions intended to downgrade or undermine the alliance between the two countries.
But the notion that picking yet another fight with Netanyahu will hurt his chances of reelection tells us more about the administration’s continued inability to understand Israel than anything else. After all, President Obama has repeatedly tried to do this throughout his first six years in office. But every time the U.S. attempted to use Jewish building in Jerusalem to attack Netanyahu, the only result was that the prime minister’s political standing at home increased. Though the PM is under attack right now from both foes on the left and a crowded field of rivals on the right, there seems little reason to believe that his policies on Jerusalem or even on negotiations with the Palestinians has rendered him vulnerable. All the polls agree that Israeli voters appear poised to elect a Knesset that is even further skewed to the right than the existing government that was lambasted by American critics for being not interested in concessions to the Palestinians.
As even Ravid notes in the conclusion to his piece, Netanyahu always gains when he can portray himself as standing up to foreign pressure on security issues. The reason for that is that, unlike the Obama administration and Israel’s liberal critics abroad, the Israeli voting public has been paying attention to what the Palestinians have said and done during the last 20 years of peace processing. Israel has tried to trade land for peace and gotten more terror and no peace. At the present moment it is inconceivable that any Israeli government of any stripe would withdraw from the West Bank in order to make way for what could be an even larger and more dangerous version of the Hamas terror state that currently exists in Gaza.
It is true that the decimated Israeli left and their liberal American supporters such as the J Street lobby believe that the Jewish state must be saved from itself by heavy-handed U.S. intervention. Indeed, it is only by international pressure designed to thwart the verdict of Israeli democracy that their misguided agenda might be implemented. But it boggles the mind as to how anyone, either in Israel or the U.S., would think that the Israeli voting public would regard efforts to thwart their judgment in this manner as a good reason to vote against Netanyahu. Indeed, the commitment of the U.S. to a policy of heavy-handed pressure is the best argument for Netanyahu continuing in office since he is the country’s only major political figure with the experience and the tenacity to stand up to such treatment from the country’s sole superpower ally.
The three months between now and the election constitute a political eternity and Netanyahu cannot take his victory for granted even if the polls indicate he is the only possible choice for prime minister. But if Obama and his friends at Haaretz imagine such leaks will lead to Netanyahu’s downfall, it’s clear they have learned nothing from the past six years of such efforts.