A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
March 14, 2010 Crisis in US Israeli Relations?
Making sense of the events in the last few days between the Obama administration and the Israeli government is not at all simple; as is trying to understand the long-term consequences of these events. The Netanyahu government had hoped that when they apologized to Vice President Biden, the affair would be behind them. They were surprised, however, when after the apology, Secretary of State Clinton had 40 minute call to Netanyahu (the full contents of which are not known, but by all accounts it was not a friendly call.) By last night in Israel, it was clear that we are amidst a serious crisis in American Israeli relations.
That crisis was ratcheted up this morning when President Obamas closest advisors, David Axelrod, accused PM Netanyahu of deliberately orchestrating the announcement of the building approval in East Jerusalem. Most Israelis observors were astonished, not even Netanyahu's most severe critics in Israel believe he would have deliberately orchestrated this event; most do not believe he was even had prior knowledge of it. If Axelrod truly believes what he said, it shows his total lack of understanding of Netanyahus level of incompetence and the dysfunctional Israeli government structure. There are those in Israel who are convinced that despite his denials, the announcement was deliberate on the part of Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, who has moved Shas slowly, but steadily, to the right.
Joining the chorus of criticism of Natanyahu today was Thomas Friedman whose New York Times article Driving Drunk in Jerusalem was highly critical of Netanyahu and the Israeli governement. In an appearance on "Meet the Press", Friedman stated that the American reactions was not a reaction only to this specific incident, but a response to a long list of Israeli actions that effectilvely insulted the US government-- Each time an American envoy arrived in Israel, they were greeted by a new settlement or a new announcement. Was it ever deliberate on the part of the governement? Probably not, but almost never was an Israeli government willing to pay the domestic political price for insuring that it did not happen.
The current crises was no doubt exacerbated by two factors: one, the fact that it was widely known Netanyahu considers Obama weak and boasts about how he managed to manipulate him. If I have heard about this, its no great reach to believe President Obama has been well briefed on the topic. Whether you are supporter or an opponent of President Obama, no President of the US can afford; especially one fighting two wars and trying to take actions against Iran to allow such a perception of himself to continue-- especially from the one ally that is most dependent on you. Finally, the Israeli media has been heavily reporting a story that in a recent meeting of the US Joint Chiefs, the feeling was that Israel's actions and the inability of the US to get the peace process moving could cost US lives. Whether you accept the question of full linkage or not, there is no doubt there is some linkage between the views of the US and the action of the Israeli government.
This, of course, brings Netnayahu to a much larger dilemma. Can Israel, in any way, afford a breech with the US, as the Iranian confrontation reaches a final showdown. There was a disturbing article in today's New York Times Debate Grows on Nuclear Containment of Iran" g Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Sanger then goes on to describe the arguments, made by the likes of Zbigniew Brzezinski, who claim that Iran can be contained in the same way that China and the Soviet Union were contained.
Stangely absent from the article was the view from Israel. The view of the realist, that although Iran is an extreme actor, it is not suicidal. Unfortunately, history has taught the Jewish people that anti-semitism is not rational. It was not rational, and ultimately suicidal, for Hitler to divert resources from fighting the Russians to killing the Jews, but he did it any way. Can Israel rely on deterrence? I am glad I do not have to make that decision. The only chance of handling the challenges from Iran can only come from the closest coordination between the United States and Israel- a strategy that is greatly endangered at the moment. The greatness of Ben Gurion was the fact that while he was a visionary, he was also a great pragmatists. It's now up to Netanyhu to show he can live up to the great burden of insuring Israel's survival. To accomplish that, he might have to make rhetorical statements that would be very difficult for him politically and ideologically. No statements or any resulting lack of action (new buildings) will endanger the state. The failure to do so might.
On a different, but related note, Michael Steinhardt had an excellent article in Friday's Wall Street Journal, entitled: Refugees and Israeli Palestinian Peace ? Steinhardt calls on President Obama to tackle the refugee issue. His main argument, with which I would agree is that with all the other aspects of the conflict, the settlement is clear- though some points are still to be negotiated. When it come to the question of the refugees, it is not clear that any settlement Israel would be willing to make will be sufficient to satisfy the Palestinians. Since this is the heart of the conflict, if you can not settle this issue, then the conflict cannot be settled in this generation, and then the only thing left to do is conflict containment. What that would mean, I am not sure, but the article is worth reading since the basic premise is 100% correct.