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Published on: March 15, 2010
The Israel Crisis

The war of words between the Obama administration and the Israeli government continues to heat up.  “This was an affront, it was an insult, but most importantly, it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told the world on NBC yesterday. Axelrod of course was […]

The war of words between the Obama administration and the Israeli government continues to heat up.  “This was an affront, it was an insult, but most importantly, it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region,” White House senior adviser David Axelrod told the world on NBC yesterday. Axelrod of course was referring to the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to move ahead with permission for the construction of 1600 units of housing in East Jerusalem.  Continued Axelrod: “For this announcement to come at that time was very, very destructive.”

Axelrod’s comments followed Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s angry 43 minute telephone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Saturday, and her call was a follow up to Vice President Biden’s sharp rebuke on his visit.

This is the most sustained reaction of the Obama administration to any action by any foreign government during its first year in office.  In an administration which prides itself on a disciplined, unflappable approach to international affairs, the decision to emphasize the depth of its anger was clearly a deliberate step.  The emotions are hot, but the decision to make these feelings public and in such a pointed fashion was deliberate and cool.

Obama_Biden_White_House

It was also the right thing to do.  This decision by a relatively low-level Israeli body (more like the Chicago zoning commission than the Department of State) may, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli officials insist, have taken them by surprise.  But the timing could not have been more destructive and insulting if it had been deliberately planned.  New York Times columnist Tom Friedman thinks that Vice President Biden should just gotten in his plane and flown home; that was my reaction as well.  The Obama administration had no choice but to respond strongly; otherwise the administration would have looked weak and irresolute and the repercussions throughout the world could well have been grave.

The President of the United States cannot afford to look like a patsy; for Israel’s sake as well as for the many others who depend on American support for their security around the world, any American president needs to be seen as a figure who commands respect.  Israel’s actions left the Obama administration looking foolish and weak; like it or not, Israel must now do more than say it is sorry.  It must help fix the damage it caused.

Things are not, quite, as bad as they look.  Approving new housing projects in Jerusalem, as in any municipality, is a long and complex process and there are many decision points along the way.   Construction won’t start tomorrow, and this particular decision isn’t the end of the road.  There are opportunities for face-saving compromises here — if the Israelis are willing to make them.

The administration wants more.  Israeli ineptitude (to put the kindest interpretation on what happened) put the United States in an impossible position; out of sheer self respect the Obama administration will need concrete signs from Israel that demonstrate Israel’s understanding that the president of the United States cannot be treated in this way.  For the sake of the bilateral relationship, for the sake of Israel’s own security, this moment needs to be marked.  The White House will not be happy with an outcome that Prime Minister Netanyahu can paint as a political success back home.

This latest dispute is the second serious breach between Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government and the Obama administration.  The first came last year when Washington demanded a complete halt on all construction in all settlements, including East Jerusalem.  This was asking something that the Israeli government could not do — and it was a demand that Washington could not enforce.  The Obama administration paid a price for its overreach and its miscalculation, and Israelis were not slow to press their advantage home.

Last week it was the Israelis who stepped over the line, and it is the Israeli side that needs to figure out how to get the relationship back on track.  But the Obama administration will need to play its cards carefully; if it pushes too hard it could lose the moral and political upper hand once again.  We will see how this works out.  Neither country and neither government will benefit from a long, bitter and inconclusive public spat.  The administration’s goal should be to get the peace process on track, not to score points.

Unfortunately, the US-Israel relationship isn’t the only important international relationship the Netanyahu government has flubbed.  Last January deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon committed one of the most grotesque diplomatic blunders in decades when he summoned the Turkish ambassador into his office and staged a deliberately humiliating and provocative dressing down.  Ayalon was soon forced to issue a groveling, humilating apology — but kept his job.

The conventional response to all this, which I share in large part, is to blame the factionalism and extremism of Israeli domestic politics.  Proportional representation ensures that even small groups with extremist views can elect enough members to the Knesset that Israeli governments have to do business with them.  Religious politics, the settler lobby, immigrant parties and other groups can and do use the fractured parliamentary system to impose their agenda on the country at large.  Unsavory and incompetent individuals come to hold great power in Israeli politics, and prime ministers have to indulge them, appoint them to senior posts, and hope and pray that they don’t cause too many train wrecks in Israel’s foreign policy by outrageous decisions and clownish diplomacy.

Israel by rights should be in even worse shape than it is.  Even more than the United States, it is a nation of immigrants, as Jews from all over the world sought refuge there.  Traumatized European survivors of the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of penniless refugees forced out of Arab countries after Israeli independence, hundreds of thousands fleeing the wreckage of the Soviet collapse, black Ethiopian Jews, and many others have had to build a new society and a new state under constant threat of terror and conventional war while facing non-stop criticism from all over the world.  That Israel would be a flawed and divided society was inevitable; that it would grow into a dynamic and lively democracy with one of the world’s most innovative economies was not.

Jewish_Immigration

Israel has a hard row to hoe.  Decades of hostility and terrorism have taken their toll on Israel’s political culture and, with the shadow of Iran’s nuclear program lengthening by the day, Israelis live against a background of tension and anxiety that it is hard for others to understand.  A diet of bitter criticism from those (like the Europeans) who judge Israel in crisis from their own safe havens does not help.  The anger, frustration and bitterness that many Israelis feel sometimes boils to the surface.  Yet precisely because their state is exposed to so many threats Israelis must keep their cool.

It is deeply unfair, but Israelis have to be smarter, more flexible and more self-controlled than other people just to survive.

In this latest crisis in the relationship with its most important ally, Israel has already shot itself in the foot and handed a great political victory to those in the administration who would like to see the two countries less closely associated.  Israelis need to understand that putting the president of the United States in a humiliating position undercuts the strong support it enjoys in American public opinion.

This is particularly true because Israel’s strongest supporters in the United States today belong to the Jacksonian school of American foreign relations.  Jacksonians are honor-focused; they react very negatively to insults against the dignity and honor of the United States.  While President Obama is not a Jacksonian favorite, he is the President of the United States, and gratuitous foreign insults to him and his administration do not go over well among the millions of Jacksonian American gentiles who today form the bedrock of Israel’s American support.

The stakes are high.  American support for Israel is based on broad public sympathy for Israel; if public opinion shifts against Israel then American policy sooner or later will follow.

The Israeli government groveled to appease Turkey’s justified wrath after Danny Ayalon’s blunder.  It doesn’t need to grovel now, but American public opinion, and the Obama administration, need to see real evidence that Israel cares what Americans think.

“We love Israel,” a famous American evangelical leader once told me after a conversation with Netanyahu.  “But it’s not a blank check.”

Israel has enough enemies already; it needs to think a little harder about keeping its friends.

[Photo: “Safed Environs, Israel” by Capa, The Alfred and Ingrid Lenz Harrison Fund]

show comments
  • nadine

    WRM, Since when has an American government taken the position that Jerusalem is a settlement, or that building in a neighborhood which is destined to remain inside Israel under every proposed treaty is new settlement construction? Why should it be more controversial for Israel to build in Ramat Shlomo than for Palestinians to build in Ramallah?

    It is not as if Israel promised not to build in Jerusalem, just the contrary. Only a few months ago Israel made a unilateral concession on the orders of the Obama administration to freeze construction in the West Bank, and (not for the first time) we see how Israeli concessions lead only to more demands, not any reciprocal concessions.

    Why is Israel always expected to do more than it has promised, while nothing is expected from the Palestinians, not even to sit at the table and negotiate? This weekend Abu Mazen just named a public square after a terrorist who massacred 38 Israeli civilians, and nobody says ‘boo’. It’s not even ‘unhelpful’.

    The Obami think this deliberate over-reaction of anger will help them. I think they are wrong on three counts:

    a) Far from aiding peace talks, they have just supplied Abu Mazen with another great excuse not to negotiate (he can hardly be less angry than Obama, can he?), so there will be nothing this year but Fatah-ordered riots and no negotiations at all

    b) This fits into Obama’s pattern of bullying allies and appeasing enemies. As more Americans perceive this, and perceive the depth of Obama’s animosity towards Israel, an animosity which he plainly does not feel for Al Qaeda or the Taliban, they will understand that his campaign claims to be pro-Israel were always false.

    c) Obama’s hopes of looking stronger internationally will be dashed when yet again he is shown to be all talk and no action. He is not really going to break the US-Israel alliance and risk the pro-Israel vote when Democrats are already on life-support in many districts.

  • LuizdoPorto

    Mr. Mead, true as it is that those Jacksonians are not the sort of people that enjoy the sight of a U. S. administration being slighted, if you look at this in the context of your own “Patagonian Pander” post and the fact that the theatrical reset with Russia has had null results so far and that the Iranian regime is still persuing nuclear weapons (with sanctions no closer) and Hugo Chavez is still threatning Colombia (a joke he may be – war threats are never funny) without a peep from the White House you will get a different argument that many Jacksonians, some Hamiltonians, and others, won’t hesitate to make.
    That this is just an example of what a policy of punishing your friends and cajoling your (self-declared) enemies gets you.

  • Herb

    I usually agree with you, Mr Mead, including your thoughts on the Middle East. But in this case, I think that you miss something. Obama’s whole life history points to his leftist politics, and being a man of the left, he has to be anti-Israel. His close association with the likes of Rev Wright, Rashid Khalidi, and others of similar ilk should be enough to at least suspect this. He usually tries to hide it, but he has looked for an excuse to pounce, and he has found it. There is no doubt in my mind that he will ride it for all its worth, and he will have the full support of the State Dept, something George Bush always lacked.

    Obama has has not minded one bit looking weak when it comes to Russia, Iran, Venezuela, and so on. Why is it that Israel is the only country in the world which brings his wrath, and all over a building permit for building in an area that everyone knows Israel wants to keep in any settlement. There are at least 20,000 Jews living in this area already, and no Israeli government will push them out. It is clear that Obama has treated Israel in a way that he would treat no other country in the world; this undercuts all the unshakeable bond rhetoric. He has demanded absolutely nothing from the Palestinians, and their leaders know that they only need to sit back and wait. That is the message that Obama has sent to them since he took office. All the pressure will be put on Israel. Now the question is how Israel will react. They must be very nervous, and the US will take that into consideration and push all the harder for more concessions.
    If I am wrong, that would make me happy, but I would bet the house.

  • Dimitry

    Well, you have a point, but there are two problems with your premise:
    1. US knew perfectly well that the constraction in E. Jerusalem will continue, since the agreed upon moratorium clearly excluded it.
    2. This public dressing down (you mention Israel’s dressing down of Turkey, but advocate US’s of Israel and forget Turkey’s own far greater insults to Israel) so clearly reeks of double standards it is frightening. US didn’t react when it was insulted far stronger by everyone and his mother (starting with the Russians, the Chinese and ending with the Syrians, whose President openly mocked H. Clinton in a press conference after US sent a delegation there), and it didn’t react. It didn’t go into full spittle mode like now (which long since turned into a debate more than about timing of the announcement, which is the worse hypocricy), it didn’t even utter one word. It didn’t say one word of condemnation when the PA made it look foolish for months by refusing to come to the table (flaunting public entrieties and deadlines set by US President). It asked the Palestinians (only after Israeli request) not to honor a major terrorist (who, incidently, killed two US citizens, too). The PA postponed the ceremony and went ahead with it the moment Biden left. Don’t think for a moment that the Israelis don’t see this. Yes, Israel needs a US and if the incident were to end after Biden’s public rebuke, Netanyahu would have paid in public opinion. Now, after this display of double standards and an extraordinary reaction not given to US worse enemies, the already low opinion of Obama in Israel will sink to new lows, and Israelis will rally behind Natanyahu in their support for E. Jerusalem (which already existed before). US needs Israel’s cooperation and trust if it wants to move anything forward. Its actions (which can be interpreted as backing out of an agreement, something that happens the second time in one year) will not earn that. Not to mention all the crap floating around about “israeli actions endangering US troops”.

    So, I understand your points, but I thik that the admin had already overplayed its hand. And sadly, I think it did so in part on purpose.

  • Herb

    One addition to my earlier comment. It is also likely that Obama is using this as a means to apply extra pressure to Israel regarding Iran. Since this would not be said openly, it is a way for Obama to make the point more strongly: if you think we are mad now, think what happens if you attack Iran. After all, one of Biden’s missions to Israel was to discuss Iran.
    The harsh tone from the administration could also be an attempt to fracture Netanyahu’s coalition. From Obama’s standpoint, he can accomplish much in one swipe.
    But there is one other thing to think about. Is Obama taking a big risk in doing this so openly when Americans support Israel over the Palestinians by about 5 to 1? He might actually wind up weakening himself domestically. So why is he so willing to risk that?

  • Dimitry

    As a small addition to what I previously wrote, this over-the-top reaction of the US admin is bound to have on serious conseqence — it would raise the chance of Israel going it alone against Iran, without asking US. Not a very pleasant eventuality, imo

  • Matt

    I agree with the other comments thus far, and think it would be very helpful for you to clarify why this constitutes a grave insult to the office of the presidency but the other slights mentioned by other comments were not.

    It would also be helpful if you could explain why this was an “insult” at all. As others mentioned, Israel has never promised to not build anywhere in Jerusalem, this and other Israeli governments have stated repeatedly that they see Jerusalem as indivisable, and previous peace proposals have all included the affected neighborhood within Israel.

    So… what gives? What makes this such a terrible insult?

  • nadine

    Herb, Obama may not understand how popular Israel still is in America. Obama has governed as if the Left had a majority, instead of 20 – 25% of the voters.

    Today’s multi-cultural left loathes Israel and deliberately turns a blind eye to whatever the Palestinians do. Non-Western people who are ‘oppressed’ by Western people (they count Israelis as Western) have a permanent excuse for any behavior, up to and including mass murder.

  • Neville

    Israel has to take risks routinely in order to survive, and I thought this was a smart one. Obama couldn’t seem to figure out how attempting to micromanage Israel’s actions could get him caught in a disadvantageous situation, so Israel’s best move was to serve up a demonstration before he found a way to do some real damage.

    Given your own recent compelling analysis of the foundations of US-Israeli relations, this seems like a great piece of terrain on which to arrange a spat, from Israel’s perspective. Obama would have to do a lot of very hard work to shift the US public’s views on Israel based on just a few building permits in Jerusalem, and there is lots of evidence that he has zero interest in doing anything like that. Plus, any attempt to move in that direction either on the sly or without adequate preparation has a lot of political downside for him.

    This is a major investment by Israel, not in making Obama look weak to others (assistance will be available to help him save face), but to wake him up to just how weak he really is. It’s is a bit like throwing cold water over someone who is drunk, because the way he’s acting now he’s just as likely to hurt himself as he is to injure you.

    It’s a dangerous game, but Israel is obliged to live dangerously. It would be interesting to know how many times other US allies have wished they could administer this sort of shock to Obama over the past 12 months (starting with the British).

  • Norm

    Richard Fernandez, aka “Wretchard”, had an interesting piece of commentary over at Pajamasmedia here: http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2010/03/14/this-land-is-mined/#more-8305

    His key point is here: “The perverse nature of the “peace process” is driven by the unstable strategic environment of the Middle East. The existence of fundamentally undemocratic and aggressive states like Syria and Iran, coupled with the multiplicity of nonstate terrorist actors like Hezbollah and Hamas, is incompatible with the survival of a state like Israel, which for historical reasons is paranoid about its existence. It’s a puzzle in which the pieces won’t fit until they are machined down to slot in. No lines drawn on a map, no handshakes on the White House lawn, no pious statements of goodwill alters the key fact that something has to be the grinder and some parts have to be ground down.”

    This administration is leaning to grind the Israeli piece into shape, but the Muslim pieces of the puzzle have clearly stated their preference to grind the Israeli piece out of existence. By leaning on Israel without compelling the Muslim parties to renounce a Palestine from the Jordan to the sea, the administration is enabling these eradicationist fantasies.

  • Mike M.

    “any American president needs to be seen as a figure who commands respect.”

    Unfortunately for President Obama, he just barely commands the respect of Americans, much less the respect of people around the world.

    He is now openly being jeered by Muslims in the streets of his brief childhood home of Indonesia before he has even shown up there, and the U.K. media are openly expressing their dismay that the anti-British Obama has brought American-British relations to their lowest point in 100 years.

    Remarkably, Obama has squandered his good will even faster than President Bush did, and that is truly saying something.

  • Jon

    I strongly disagree. These Jacksonians will throw this administration in the Potomac at the first opportunity.

  • Peter

    You are day dreaming, Mr. Mead, if you think that the bulk of those in the Jacksonian school are upset with the way Israel treated Barack Hussein Obama.

    From a Jacksonian point of view, in this dust up between Israe and Obama, the president loses. Fact. What the polls if you need confirmation.

  • Dave

    You all fanatic lunatics… The US has always been your staunchest allies.. don’t forget who sends you BILLIONS of dollars every year, who supplies you with the latest military technology and equipment, and who fights your enemies for you (Iraq, Iran, etc.).. this is the respect you give our president of the US?? You have underestimated his power and tenacity.. I have always been a proud supporter of Israel, but now I have totally changed my opinion with your pathetic remarks and blaming this situation on us and degrading our president.. We were putting more pressure on Iran (appeasing Israel), but we needed to show progress on the Palestinian front to get all Arabs on board, and Israel totally blew it. Man, I can’t believe you all are being so indignant towards YOUR Strongest and Best Ally. Sure, it’s convenient for you to paint our president as a leftist who is anti-Israel, since he is disagreeing with you. The truth is he is still a highly popular president who surrounded his administration with jewish individuals—sounds like a weak anti-israel president to me… I detest your responses.. To think it isn’t a calculative insult during Biden’s trip is baffling..

    Watch me go to the anti-Semitic viewpoint like all your neighbors.. are you that prideful and blind?

  • http://tvshogal.blogspot.com DangerGirl

    Pure garbage from Mead. Waste of internet space. I agree 100% with Nadine. As for Jacksonians & honor – please Obama and his administration of liars & theives have no concept of the meaning honor, let alone how to behave honorably.

    Kissing the ass of our enemies while ragging on Isreal over increasing housing in Jerusalem – which is NOT a settlement proves how unhonorable Obama and his ilk are.

  • mark

    Obama should bring its wrath on israel because we give the israeli gmvt 3 billion dollars a year and guarantee its security. We have always used our veto power in their favour, and have ensured that international talk about its nuclear weapons is limited.
    The worldwide US image is therefore strongly linked to israel’s, especially in the muslim world.

    Some people talked about double standard, (Herb…). Don’t compare Israel to Russia or China. The latter are regional superpowers, and the US requires their cooperation for numerous things. Israel, on the other hand, is just a tiny nation of 6 million that is currently a great burden for America.

  • fw

    I agree with Walter on this one. If Israel accepts our support, it has to honor our requests, even if unfair.

    I would only note that Israel offered an excellent deal to Arafat, which he rejected without counter offer, and then did one better when Olmert offered them a more generous deal, a few years ago, which they rejected out of hand. The Palestinian diplomats actually boast about rejecting these offers. See MEMRI’s translation of Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian diplomat, proudly talking about rebuffing both Barak and Olmert.

    http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/3241.htm

  • http://tvshogal.blogspot.com DangerGirl

    Unhonorable = dishonorable. Mead’s piece has me so infuriated I can’t type properly.

  • fw

    Jeffrey Goldberg pays Walter a well-deserved compliment today, for his wisdom, friendship and insight.

  • UtterlyDisgusted

    Israel: We’re confiscating more Palestinian land to build Jews-only settlements. (Jim Crow wasn’t really that bad. Apartheid is fine.)

    Obama: That isn’t helpful.

    Israel: So? What you gonna do about it, black boy?

    Obama: I’ll … say so.

    Israel/AIPAC: How dare you, you anti-Semite! You do not want to declare your loyalty to anything we do and subordinate US interests to Zionist greed, that’s fine. Our Israel-firsters and prostitutes in Congress always come through; they will keep the money and political support flowing.

    —–
    Read Chas Freeman: This time apartheid has western complicity.

    http://mondoweiss.net/2010/03/chas-freeman-this-time-apartheid-has-western-complicity.html

  • UtterlyDisgusted

    Israel is “a lively democracy”? Yes, a democracy for Jews, much like Apartheid South Africa was a “lively democracy” for Whites/Africaners. The zionist enterprise has always been a settler-colonialist (i.e., racist) enterprise. 20% of of Israalis live as second class citizens, because they do not have the right genes/religion, while their fellow natives in the occupied territories are being slowly murdered, starved, and driven off their land to make room for colonizing settlers — all while Mead and others cheer them on. Those pesky native Palestinians, how dare they resist!

  • Luke Lea

    Mead bserves that “Israel’s actions left the Obama administration looking foolish and weak.” I felt the same about the way China treated Obama at the tail end of Copenhagen. Is Obama in danger of becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of American foreign policy? I hope he doesn’t decide he has to prove his manhood by doing something aggressively foolish.

  • nadine

    fw, so Israel is a servant and not a sovereign country because they accept support from us. But the Palestinians, Egyptians and Saudis, who all receive one helluva lot of support from the US, have no obligations and can ignore us. That is what you are saying. Obama spent a year trying to cajole the Palestinians. They said no. He asked for help from Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They said no and lectured him. None of these Arab regimes would even still likely exist without our support. But only Israel must obey. Care to explain why?

  • fw

    I think one of the reasons that criticism of Israel can be so blisteringly is that it exploits the withering, and often excessive criticism leveled at it by its own recent historians, the so-called revisionists. They rejected the old narrative about making the desert bloom, in favor of an Edward Said-inflected story about brutal colonial oppression.

    Someday, and there are already traces of it, though they get very little attention, there will be Palestinian historians who look at their own country through the same kind of pitiless lens, and there will be another story than the Saidesque interpretation that has so much currency in the academy and on the Left, and extreme right these days.

  • Dave

    nadine,

    very simple.. we do a helluva lot more for Israel than any other country.. money, military equipment, fighting their wars, and protecting their interest all the time.. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Palestine heed to many of our requests.. again, we do a helluva lot more for Israel, and we expect just a little something (stopping settlements is not that huge of a request).. we’ve eliminated Sadaam and now taking on Iran.. a little cooperation would be appreciated.

  • Jake

    Seriously, France and China just dumped on the US, and in the end all the hoopla over the weekend was just over Israel and how they made an annoucement to continue building in Jerusalem (cause you know- the only people who can build there are the Pales, right?)

    In the meantime, record unemployment, more than 1.6 million houses that are under water, and all this lip to a country about building 1600
    units in a city that is currently lived in by people representing over 2 dozen different religions? Seriously- doesnt he have his own domestic issues to worry about..I guess not.

    I wish Obama would talk like this to the bankers of AIG. Or how about to BOA who is kicking people out of their homes.

    Pure and simple Carterism.

  • keevan d. morgan

    you have to love these israel = apartheid comments.

    you can’t even display a cross or a star of david in saudi arabia, and most arab countries have explicitly or by making like miserable for them expelled all their jews, yet israel, where all religions can be practiced freely and where its arab citizens are more free than in any arab land, is condemned as an advocate of apartheid.

    do copts have full rights in egypt? no.

    can bahai’s or jews worship freely in (non-arab, muslim) iran? no.

    could i fill up many more paragraphs going arab country by arab country to the same effect.

    israel equals apartheid? what a sick allegation.

    keevan d. morgan, esq., chicago

  • Dave

    Carterism, Socialism, Communism, or Nazism to describe our president really just dumbs down the argument. Again, we do so much for Israeli’s interest in the Middle East–taking out Sadaam, comfronting Iran, and protectin Israeli’s viewpoints at the UN and through the media. A two-state solution has to be the goal for both United States and Israelis interest. The US has been building an alliance with the middle east countries to both confront Iran and build a viable two-state solution, and all the good-will and sweet the US built goes out the window when Israel announces expansion in eastern Jeruselum. Come on, the whole world has condemn this act, and yet you staunch supporters of Israel can’t see how wrong you are.. you think you maybe quitely biased… you think

  • Zev

    Walter, fine enough analysis as it goes, but remember that Israel has its own version of “Jacksonians.” The Israeli Prime Minister has personally apologized (not an everyday occurrence in world diplomacy), but with each successive and excessive US accusation and demand, the Israeli Jacksonians are getting riled up, and are limiting Netanyahu’s options.

  • Roy

    Dave, I think it’s absolutely correct that cooperation is obligated, and that Netanyahu is dead wrong on this one.

    I guess I would disagree that Egypt, Palestine and Saudi Arabia, which by itself could feed, clothe and house every destitute person in the entire region with its ever-expanding oil riches, are in any way helpful to the United States. The Saudis subsidize jihadis, to keep them off of domestic soil, while relying on our protection of their oil fields, which they use their monopoly over as a lever to make the rest of the world compliant.

  • jl

    WRM, I have to disagree with you on this one.

    Joe Biden’s condemnation should have been sufficient to defend US “honor”.

    What the Obama administration is doing is making a hypocrit out of itself and showing that it can not be trusted to remember even recent history.

    It was just in Oct/Nov that Clinton rightfully acknowledged the unprecedented concession of a settlement freeze everywhere EXCEPT Jerusalem. Now, building in Jerusalem is an affront, an insult, an outrage!

    Not only that, but the administration spent more than a year coaxing the Palestinians to come to some sort of talks. Israel left an open door “come speak to us”, but the Palestinians would not come near. FINALLY, the US convinces the Palestinians to lay down their demands for a Jerusalem freeze and come to proximity talks, and within days have done a 180 and cancelled all that hard work — once again allowing the Palestinians to walk away.

    The whole exercise is so counter-productive it is depressing. Rather than bolster the American image in Arab/Palestinian eyes, all this does is make the Israeli government rightly doubt American fortitude.

  • Roy

    This is only tangentially related, but another amazing story, getting DNA vindication, about the semitic roots of another people who have claimed ancient Hebraic lineage.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8550614.stm

  • Adam

    Many Americans, myself included, regret voting for Obama. He is not what he claimed he would be. He was all talk and his actions and policies will be a disaster for this great nation. Oh, if we could only turn back the clock to November 3, 2009 and know what we know now, McCain would win in a landslide. Maybe a Republican Congress can find an excuse to impeach Obama before his term is out. I am shamed to have this incompetent leftist in the White House!!
    As for Israel, she will have to wait until this guy is ousted and a real president who respects Israel is elected.

  • peter

    Of course, how fortunate we are to have Mdm. Clinton as SoS. One suspects she is particularly adept at dressing down narcissistic middle-aged male heads of state. Experienced at the very least.

  • Jack

    See,

    I told everyone in a previous post that the US State Dept new what Mead would say.

    Mead is on message for the Obama administration.

    So I don’t expect Mead to observe that the current White House only shows Jacksonian resolve when it comes to a) its allies and b) its domestic political opponents.

  • northwest dc

    Interesting post, from a writer who comes at this from different sides. (intelligently in favor of a two state settlement, unfairly critical of W&M). I think some of the Jacksonians won’t like to the US pushed around by Bibi et al. If it were just Obama, maybe, but Hillary and Biden are perceived as centrist. And America is not as racist as it once was–and Israel is becoming increasingly so, esp. the settlers and part of the current govt. Bit by bit, Americans are realizing that. These innocent Jerusalem settlers are people who compose songs to praise Baruch Goldstein.

  • Jeff

    Dave, you say “we’ve eliminated Sadaam and now taking on Iran.. a little cooperation (from Israel) would be appreciated.”

    OK, US eliminated S Hussein. So what? Do you think GW did it because Israel asked him to?

    And, “now (we’re) taking on Iran”?! That has yet to be seen. Don’t expect Obama to really DO something militarily there do you?

    As far as a “little cooperation”…wasn’t it Israel in 1991 that refused to retaliate, at the request of the US President who didn’t want any Israeli response to upset his anti-Iraq coalition, when all those Scuds were launched? And, more recently, wasn’t “disengaging from Gaza” cooperating for the sake of another US idea for peaceful gestures?

  • John Heaney

    I think it likely that Israel was sending a message:
    “Don’t show up here with your usual peace message which has gone and continues to go nowhere, but makes you look good. Here is a tiny sample of reality. Can we start to build a peace around that?”

  • cyril

    Any countrey that trusts the US state dept …Well what can one say.. The British have just finished paying the 3bill the US lent in the 2nd war 2005,,,,,,,The Us only came in in 1941.. Russsia was in good buy GERMANY…..It took the attack on pearl harber to have THE US become a UK alie. And they only entered WW1 in 1917 when the war was wone. The USSR and the JEWS lost 35 million sauls how many did the US lose 500.000. Putin was correct Russia saved everybody with there blood not US money. What douse this have to do with israel .. Remember the adedge keep your friends close and your enermies closer. The US could haved saved the Jews in the war many times thery chose to keep silent…And The ussr saved all the jews moving east. Lets not forget who turned the boats of refugees away in th 1930..s.. America only suoppoted Israel out of guilt.. GD will laugh lastst read your bibles.

  • Mark

    Most of the people who posted here are completely insane! You keep saying that Obama loves our enemies but hates Israel? Maybe in your deluded parallel universe. Did Obama reduce US aid to Israel? Nope. Did he reduce economic/scientific cooperation between the two countries? Nope. He is simply trying to send a message to his ally not to take steps that will endanger negotiations. He is also trying to motivate Israelis to see the danger of giving in to its right-wing elements. What’s wrong with that? You say he does not pressure our enemies but only Israel. How the hell would you know this? Were you present at the conversations Obama had with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and so on? Did he tell them that the US and Israel would no longer be allies? Nope. Get back to planet earth and have a serious discussion on foreign policy.

  • Peter Burman

    Why isn’t the US equally outraged about the PA honoring a terrorist who killed 38 civilians, including 13 children. The same day Biden is screaming at Israel, the PA is dedicating a new town square and statute to this female terrorist, thereby inciting future violence and continuing a culture of death and terrorism. Why isn’t the US (and the rest of the world) mad about that? That story was covered only in the NYT and Washington Post. No other papers anywhere in the world covered it.

  • n

    This may be a reason why the US should start to pressurise israel to get its act together:

    http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/03/14/the_petraeus_briefing_biden_s_embarrassment_is_not_the_whole_story

  • ConsDemo

    Actually, the Administration should go farther. It is about time the US ends its blind unquestioning support of Israel. Our interests are not synonymous. I don’t think West Bank settlements benefit Israel, but its up to them if they want to do it. WB settlements certainly serve no American interest. They only feed the Arab rage that is directed at both Israel and its benefactor, the United States. The attacks of 9/11 were, in part, motivated by US support for Israel. Enough is enough, Israel is not worth American blood and treasure. We should go our separate ways.

  • Zev

    Three points on the actual Israeli decision, the “timing” issue, and the image the US is projecting:

    1. The decision announced by the Israeli Interior Ministry was to give the go-ahead to a plan to build some further houses on empty land in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, which it (and Congress) sees as it capital. You might disapprove, but this isn’t exactly ground breaking or shaking stuff in itself.

    2. The timing of the Israeli decision might not have been particularly wise, but then again: The purpose of the Biden visit was widely reported to have been to personally forbid Israel from attacking the Iranian nuclear program. We have here an American ally whose destruction is explicitly threatened by an American enemy which is hard at work developing nuclear weapons. The American response for years now has been to tell Israel to postpone any actions and let the US deal with the situation. Yet Iran ignores one American deadline and ultimatum after another, and not only are we no closer to a solution, but as per a NYT headline last week, “U.S. Enriches Companies Defying Its Policy on Iran.” The only firm stand taken by the US is to forbid Israel from dealing with this existential threat (all while demanding Israeli concessions in other areas). But it’s Israel’s behavior we’re all focused on.

    (Shorter version of 1 & 2: “You’re not allowed to defend your own lives. What’s that? You intend to build some houses in your capital city? How DARE you insult us like that?!?!!!”)

    3. Now as has been pointed out, Israel “enjoys” US support. While the benefits of the relationship are hardly unidirectional, the US is certainly within its rights to attach whatever conditions it wants to that aid. (This can actually be debated, but I’ll grant this for the purpose of the discussion.) However, seeing the US repeatedly try to mollify its enemies while riding roughshod over its friends (and this case, while extreme, is hardly unique), one can’t help but be reminded of Churchill’s famous crack about Germany: “The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet.” Not quite what I imagined the “new chapter in America’s relationship with the world” to be.

  • AlexS

    I usually agree with WRM, not this time.

    But first re some of the comments referring to “Jewish only” settlements. I have Arab Muslim friends who live in some of these settlements — not work there, live there. IOW, they are not uniformly Jewish only. In Israeli Arab towns like Umm al Fahm or Nazareth, however, you will find no Jews.

    Now to WRM — it’s a 2 way street. Danny Ayalon’s behavior re the Turks was dumb, but what about how Erdogan treated Peres at Davos? Ayalon’s mistake was trying to be cute instead of issuing a straighforward rebuke.

    Same thing re Palestinian behavior — they have done nothing to advance the peace process since Obama came in, and neither have the Arab states done what Obama asked re “confidence building” measures. The Israelis instituted a 10 month settlement freeze that the admin praised at the time. But that was then, and it seems Israeli concessions have a rather short shelf-life.

    Where is Obama’s criticism of the PA, or of Syria for continuing to support Hamas and Hezbollah? Instead we reward them by returning our ambassador, despite no progress re the murder of Hariri, and despite Syria’s extremely negative behavior in Lebanon. We are rewarding Syria for destroying democracy in Lebanon!!!

    And where is the criticism of Jordan for recent inflamatory charges re Jerusalem?

    Attacking your ally and appeasing your adversaries is not the way it is done in the Middle East. All these things are well-noted in the region, and sends the message that Obama is not to be feared or respected. We will pay a heavy price for this perception.

  • Andrew P

    If Obama wants to command respect, he needs to do more than just talk. Immediately reducing the aid to Israel by a billion or two until they knuckle under and cancel the settlement is the only way Obama can avoid looking weak. Everyone sees Obama as weak. He has no respect from the Chinese or the Russians. He has to slap down the Israelis real hard to get back a little modicum of respect.

  • ben

    Is this article a joke ? It is very clear that the Obama administration reaction was something prepared in advance and waiting for any opportunity to be implemented.
    The problem is, they chose the wrong horse. Jerusalem is a consensus in Israel. Ramat Shlomo is not even thought as a “settlement” by anybody, it’s just a neighborhood of Jerusalem. Obama knew very well that the freeze does not include Jerusalem. And as you say yourself, the decision was taken by some sub-level zoning committee. What exactly was Netanyahu supposed to be guilty of doing ?

    The thing is, the only reaction they will get is that the Israeli public will unite behind Bibi and just hate Obama more if that is even possible. A US president who is so soft with enemies and so hard with loyal friends is despicable.

  • Evenu

    What “Israel Crisis”? Has there been a time, in the last 60 years, when Israel was NOT in crisis? Faced with existentialist threats, Israel is always in crisis.

    So, the question is: what’s America’s interest in this area … why not let Israel look after itself, which, obviously, it can. And, increasingly, America (and Obama Administration, in particular) is more trouble than help. There is nothing that the US says or does is going to persuade the Jewish State to mend its ways; ditto with the Palestianian leadership.

    This is a fool’s errant. It’s almost like we are there by sheer habit. A textbook case of mission creep…

    The US should either get though — or get lost!

  • Kennedy Smith

    Can someone please explain to me why The Peace Process is so essential? Seems to me the Israelis and Paelstinians do much better at actual peace (terror free for a whole year) when busybodies aren’t trying to corral them into a peace process. The very term Peace Process essentially means low-level war. Peace is a state of being. A process means there’s no peace.

    Oh, and don’t use the words “needs to” in describing what your opponents should do to make you happy. There is no “needs to”. Sloppy.

  • Dave

    So many lunatics and fanatics on this website… supporting Israel above their own country.. pathetic. The whole world knows Israel was wrong with this situation, and yet these several lunatics think Obama’s reaction is wrong, that he loves arab states more than Israel… please.. come back to reality. After all these lunatic responses, I really see we need to cut our ties with Israel, because these people our too fanatical. Expanding settlements is detrimental to the peace process. Why can’t they resolve the peace process and then expand their settlements, as oppose to make the US look like a fool. Friends don’t make their friends look weak and foolish.. you all are freaken blind

  • dmitry

    Despite the basic assumption in this article, the approval of the housing project is/was not an insult to US President, the US foreign policy, or even Joe Biden. It is obviously and simply being used as a pretext to “get tough on Israel” by the US State Department and Obama. Most likely, as other commentators have noted, it’s a combination of pressure to restrain Israel on the subject of Iran, to throw a bone to the Arab League and the PA as payback for agreeing to talk, and payback to Netanyahu for resisting earlier pressure on the topic of complete settlement freeze.
    As with all pretexts, if it’s not this occurrence, another would (and will again) be found, as long as there is the will to take umbrage.
    In this sense, Netanyahu is doing exactly the right thing – appear friendly and conciliatory so as to convey the impression of mollifying Biden and the Administration, while holding firm on the topic of construction in Jerusalem.
    Assuming that the Administration wants a pretext, the Israeli government and the public are far better off with the confrontation over a flimsy one – and on the subject that has a national consensus in Israel. As such, there is broad consensus in Israel on building in open fields in East Jerusalem being a good thing.

  • Dave

    Kenneth,

    Well, without any peace process, the entire region and world will continue to be outraged with Israel–pretty simple.. Can you please tell me how the peace process isn’t important–do tell? The peace process is having peace as the goal. The reason there has been relatively peace lately between Israelis and Palestinians is that the US has given the Palestinians hope for peace through this peace process. The US told them to stop firing the rockets and bombing the Israelis and peace will come… they relatively did that, and now the Israelis are messing up everything.

  • dmitry

    To follow up, I would think that this “crisis” can be used by Netanyahu to highlight to the Israeli polity and the voting public the degree to which Israel has been depending on the good graces of, and the financial assistance from the US. In his previous cadence, when faced with a high degree of pressure from the US, the current Prime Minister unilaterally initiated a termination of the US economic aid to Israel. This brought approbation from Congress and lessened the “banana republic” effect. I would hope he is able to do the same thing and unilaterally propose a 10 year plan to gradually wean Israel off the $$ Israel gets from the US to buy US weapons with. That would be met with gratitude by the Congress, Israeli nationalists and many US taxpayers.
    It would also put Ehud Barak in a trick position, him being a Defense Minister. Finally, it would enable the Israeli weapons purchases and sales other than from/to US

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Norwegian Shooter

    Wow, you touched a nerve there WRM! Congrats on your traffic.

    “The administration’s goal should be to get the peace process on track, not to score points.”

    “Scoring points” – applying WH pressure – against the Israeli government is the only way the peace process will get on track.

    “Proportional representation ensures that even small groups with extremist views can elect enough members to the Knesset that Israeli governments have to do business with them.”

    Yisrael Beitenu, the Israeli nationalist party founded by Avigdor Lieberman, has 15 seats, the third-biggest total. Shas is fifth with 11. These are not small groups, making up 20% of the population together, although some think they have extremist views. With Labor and Likud, the Israeli government doesn’t need any small parties to govern, although 2 have signed on.

    “Israelis need to understand that putting the president of the United States in a humiliating position undercuts the strong support it enjoys in American public opinion.”

    You haven’t proven this case. Was there “strong support” for Operation Cast Lead? Is there “strong support” for the Gaza blockade? Is there “strong support” for the 40+ year occupation?

  • telaviv

    Mead, usually i find your analysis accurate, but on this one i think you miss some points. biden should not have got up and left, you overplay the insult, and it was not even meant to happen. in any case you are fighting over small fry, over timing.
    http://www.tnr.com/article/world/the-crisis

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  • http://irotamahotel.com Irotama

    El conflicto en Oriente Próximo sigue activo y es una fuente constante de violaciones de los derechos humanos.

    Las preocupaciones de Amnistía Internacional en lo que se refiere a la población palestina de los Territorios Ocupados son muchas y afectan a aspectos muy amplios de su vida. Las restricciones a la libertad de circulación impuestas por el ejército israelí tienen efectos devastadores entre los palestinos. Generan pobreza y desempleo y dificultan el acceso a los centros de educación y de salud. Especialmente grave en este momento es la situación en la Franja de Gaza, donde los cierres prolongados y reiterados del paso fronterizo de Karni amenazan con acrecentar la crisis humanitaria.

  • rose ramadhan

    77. But seek, with the wealth which Allah has bestowed on you, the reward and happiness of the Hereafter. Do not forget your share (of the needs and provision) from this world, and be good (to others) as Allah has been good to you (by giving you more than what you needed), and do not seek mischief in the land. Allah does not like the mischiefmakers

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  • http://ck7oljf8oa.bravejournal.com/entry/85834 Hey little man

    In my house when I get bored, after that I simply ON my laptop and open YouTube website to watch the YouTube video lessons.

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