The Obama-Netanyahu Cold War Isn’t Over, Just Paused – WSJ
Rarely has a bit of backtracking been more transparent than the Obama administration’s efforts to end its scuffle with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The good news is that President Barack Obama understands that public tantrums over Israel’s behavior are gratuitous and no substitute for a policy. The bad news is that little has changed in terms of the president’s low regard for Mr. Netanyahu and the gap between them on key issues remains wide.
It’s only a matter of time before the two resume bickering.
For one thing, White House efforts to tone down U.S. rhetoric, reach out to Jewish groups, and emphasize shared values reflects temporary expediency, not any fundamental change in the administration’s cold war against Mr. Netanyahu. Given that there is most likely going to be a nuclear deal, the administration has clearly won on the Iran issue–and there is no point in making matters worse with the Israelis. The issue now is how to ensure that Congress cooperates when the comprehensive accord is finalized. The administration isn’t going to win Mr. Netanyahu over to its thinking on Iran. But fighting with him certainly isn’t going to improve the congressional math in favor of an accord. For now, the best course is to cool it with the Israelis and get the Iran deal done.
The relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu has been stormy from the start. But dysfunction at the top of the U.S.-Israeli relationship isn’t new. Recall Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin or George H.W. Bush and Yitzhak Shamir; Bill Clinton and Mr. Netanyahu were hardly the best of friends. Amid the dysfunction in those pairs, though, each managed to rise above the upsets and find ways to cooperate in important matters. Not here. This dysfunction has gone on longer, been more public, and done more damage to trust and confidence than any previous pair in the modern period. I worked at the State Department for more than two decades and helped shape the U.S.-Israeli relationship under Republican and Democratic administrations, but I can’t recall a more fractious period.
You might think that the broader Middle East meltdown would generate more U.S.-Israeli cooperation. But there’s a better chance that friction will be the order of the day.
U.S. assurances to Israel regarding a completed nuclear deal with Iran will not overcome Mr. Netanyahu’s conviction that Tehran has managed to play its nuclear card in return for sanctions relief without giving up its path to a weapon.
Even if the new Israeli government avoids high-profile settlement activity, building in the West Bank and Jerusalem will continue while pressure builds from the Palestinians, Europeans and Arabs states for punitive actions against Israel at the United Nations and other international forums.
The Obama administration will increasingly feel pressure to do something about the Palestinian issue and to leave some kind of legacy, if not by articulating its own ideas on Palestinian statehood than in a U.N. Security Council resolution that embodies the same. That pressure will grow exponentially if there are serious outbreaks or sustained Israeli-Palestinian violence and confrontations.
The final 20 months of the Obama administration won’t be easy. The U.S.-Israeli relationship is too big to fail, particularly as the Arab world melts down and Washington needs friends. But neither does there seem to be much hope for a marked improvement at the top. Enjoy the time out between rounds–because sooner or later Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu will be back in the ring.