A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman
March 24, 2010 Obama vs Netanyahu
t's very clear Prime Minister Netanyahu has seriously misjudged President Obama and the state of American politics. His failure to understand the US seems surprising to many. Netanyahu is identified as an Israeli politician who understands the US, as he spent many years living in the US, and was by all accounts, considering to live in the US. Yet, he has totally misjudged the current situation. The reasons why, however, are really not hard to see. Netanyahu has always been more closely aligned with Republicans, and specifically with NeoCons. If you listened to any of them (the NeoCons) in the past few weeks, you would think the Obama Presidency was over. Unfortunately, Netanyahu arrived in Washington a day after Obama’s greatest triumph, and during what clearly seems to have been a transition of his Presidency. In the first year of his presidency, Obama could be characterized as one who reached out and tried to be bi-partisan. However, it became clear when Senator Scott Brown won his upset election victory in Massachusetts, that his strategy was not working. As a result, Obama took a much more activist "take no prisoners approach" to Health Care Reform and it worked. Prime Minister Netanyahu expected to meet a diminished President. Instead he has met a reinvigorated one, and one who is insisting on getting his way.
It is not clear what the exact arguments are lie between Obama and Netanyahu, but for all I can ascertain the argument comes down to this: The US Administration is saying to Netanyahu... You cannot have it both ways. Either we are strategic allies, and allies do for one another, or we are not. If Israel wants our help, they need to be willing to help us and what we (the Americans) need are two thing: No provocative actions in Jerusalem and the continued sense that Israel, our ally, is willing to make whatever concessions are necessary to achieve peace.
I do not think the Obama administration is under any allusion that, if Israel only were to stop settlement activity, then peace will break out. However, the Obama Administration is of the opinion that it is good for the United States (and for Israel) if it always appear that Israel is the one that is pushing for peace. The feeling is that Netanyahu is not willing to play that role. In addition, the US feels that whatever the final status of Jerusalem is, it is the most contentious issue in the dispute and any “provocations” on Jerusalem can inflame passion more than anything else. The Obama administration is no doubt aware of the ongoing efforts by certain right wing groups to settle Jews in Arab parts of East Jerusalem (certainly not something that is designed to calm the situation.) Put all that together and add Netanyahu’s ill-conceived speech at AIPAC-- the line that got the most coverage – to US viewers was "building in Jerusalem is like building in Tel Aviv". Even if that line was true in fact, why in the world Netanyahu had to say it publicly is beyond me. Now his back is to the wall. Netanyahu is going to have to decide between completely alienating Israel’s closest ally, in a time of existential danger, or destroying his political coalition. Netanyahu cannot respond positively to the US demands and maintain his current coalition. To move forward, he will be forced to enter into a coalition with Livni and Kadima under terms considerably more beneficial to Livni than those he offered her last year. Let's hope he is willing to do it.