Why is President Obama so upset with Netanyahu?
In the past, going against the American administration was deemed to be bad for an Israeli leader. One of the factors cited in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defeat by Ehud Barak in 1999 was:
Second, despite the many similarities of view on the peace process between Barak and Netanyahu, the sceptical and all-important center-ground voters perceived Barak as the candidate better able to advance the process. The lack of international goodwill (especially from the Clinton administration) toward Netanyahu and the disillusionment over the government’s perceived stalling of the Wye memorandum were central to this feeling.
President George H. W. Bush’s antipathy towards Yitzchak Shamir is credited with helping get Yitzchak Rabin elected in 1992.
So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.
This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.
It didn’t work then.
When President Obama ambushed Netanyahu in 2011 with his support for Israel’s 1949 armistice lines (or what Obama called the 1967 borders) and Netanyahu lectured the President in return, Israelis supported Netanyahu!
President Obama likely felt – based on history – that in a fight between the President and a Prime Minister from Likud, the President wins, even in Israel.
As I noted the other day,
Two other polls are worth mentioning. Two weeks ago, IMRA reported a poll showing that 73% of Israelis believe that Israel must maintain a presence in the Jordan valley. In November (before the Geneva deal was finalized) a poll found that a majority of Israelis supported Netanyahu’s approach towards Iran.
It’s interesting that the two issues on which President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu disagree most sharply are issues on which Netanyahu represents the mainstream Israeli opinion. This is a point lost on Netanyahu’s many critics. He isn’t a right winger or an extremist.
But there’s another reason why Netanyahu’s stubbornness resonates with the Israeli public. A lot has changed since 1999.
In 2000 Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon. A few months later Hezbollah crossed the international border, kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers, with the apparent complicity of UNIFIL forces. For the next six years Israel tolerated cross border attacks until the threat became intolerable with hundreds of thousands of northern residents in range of rockets from Lebanon forced Israel to launch a war to degrade Hezbollah’s capabilities. UN Resolution 1701 was adopted to stop the war but Syria has continued to arm Hezbollah in violation of that resolution, including the apparent transfer of long range missiles to the Iran backed terrorist organization.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Israel also gave into American pressure and abandoned the Philadelphi corridor allowing extensive weapons smuggling into Gaza and allowed Hamas to run in legislative election. Once Hamas solidified its power by violently throwing out Fatah in 2007. In subsequent years Israel saw its southern residents bombarded by rockets from Gaza. This forced Israel to go to war in 2008 and again in 2012 to reduce the threat to its citizens from Hamas.
Of course there’s also the on again-off again peace process. Israel agreed to accept the PLO as legitimate. The PLO agreed to give up terror. It didn’t. In the subsequent 12 years roughly 1400 Israeli were killed by terrorism. By the end of 1995, over 90% of West Bank Palestinians were lived under the Palestinian Authority. In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a deal to Yasser Arafat, who turned it down. Then he started a terror war against Israel. Last year, Barry Rubin summarized the dynamic.
– The PLO, Palestinian Authority, and Fatah leader Yasir Arafat turned down an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem and around $20 billion in aid as a starting point in further talks.
– Arafat launched a five-year-long war of terror against Israel in which around 1300 Israelis were killed.
– When offered an even better deal by President Bill Clinton, Arafat turned it down.
– Even when besieged in his headquarters, saved only by U.S. intervention from total, humiliating defeat, Arafat still rejected compromise.
– In the 13 years since the Camp David meeting, the Palestinians have not pursued any serious negotiations.
– About half the territory and people the Palestinian Authority claims to negotiate for is not even under its control. It is ruled by Hamas, which advocates genocide against the Jews and is totally opposed to peace on any terms. Hamas would do everything possible to wreck any deal made by the PA, and Hamas has about 20 to 30 percent support on the West Bank.
– In the present climate of Islamist triumphalism, Hamas has more state support than the PA, and the PA is terrified of being “traitorous moderates.”
– The PA strategy is clearly to seek maximal recognition of a state without having to make a deal with Israel. Kerry’s recent offer of $4 billion — for tourism development! How much will the U.S. government pay off the PA for pretending to negotiate? — was turned down by the PA within 24 hours, even though they could use the money for the leadership’s Swiss bank accounts.
Israel on three occasions (actually more) has made concessions for peace. Each times it was repaid with violence. Not only that but when Israel fought back it was condemned not condoned for defending itself.
So who would Israel side with? With their Prime Minister who is skeptical that further concessions will bring peace? Or an American President who is trying to convince Israelis to ignore their experiences of the last 20 years?