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October 28th Bibi vs Obama Administration

by Marc Schulman


Henry Kissinger once remarked that Israel has no foreign policy. Rather, it only has domestic politics. This fact was proved true, once again, in the last two days.  Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office announced that he was moving along the design program for new housing in East Jerusalem and other places.  The United States and the European Community condemned the announcement in the strongest terms, claiming that these actions would hurt any chance of bringing about peace.  Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu responded by saying that all those who criticize the building plan in Jerusalem are disconnected from reality and are hurting chances for peace.

What makes this recent exchange all the more inexplicable is the fact that then when the original announcement was made, it was clear to political observers in Israel that the announcement would not result in one building being built. Rather, it was a merely a step in a long bureaucratic process that Netanyahu announced to try and satisfy his right wing voters.  The reality is that Netanyahu’s government has made many announcements and, in fact, has not built any more than those governments before him. He has actually built much less over the years.

Here is the number of building starts done by the Israeli government in the West Bank outside of Jerusalem:
2008  - 2324
2009 - 2963
2010 - 730
2011 - 1088
2012 - 1100
2013 - 2500


So, why the sudden fight? It seems very strange, on many levels. On the American administration side, its seems counterintuitive that the White House would get into a fight with the Israeli government just a week before the mid- term elections over a nonexistent issue.  Of course, this has come a week after Israeli defense Minister Bougie Ya’alon was publicly embarrassed by a White House leak that stated that he had been denied meetings that he wanted.  

On the Israeli side, it makes no sense to get into a fight with the American administration during a time when critical negotiations are taking place with Teheran over their nuclear program. And, more so, the government in Jerusalem is worried that Israel’s interests are not being taken into account in those negotiations. Furthermore, we are at a juncture when America’s diplomatic help is critical to blunt Palestinian diplomatic efforts. Doesn’t it seem ludicrous to get into a fight at this time?

So, how can we explain this? On the American side, the only explanation is that the White House was simply unable to restrain its anger at Netanyahu for his latest action. The United States seems to see Netanyahu’s move as purely provocative, and have little patience for his domestic political concerns. More so, Netanyahu seems to even be ignoring Israel’s own political interests.  

Why has Netanyahu picked a fight at this time?  First, he is clearly most concerned with a challenge to his leadership from the right.   Maintaining his position as the leader of the right is Netanyahu’s foremost goal.  Second, he might have decided that President Obama is such a lame duck President that he no longer has to worry about potential backlash from the United States.  Of course, he does that at his own risk since history has shown us that Presidents quickly become lame ducks in domestic affairs, but when it comes to foreign affairs they retain much of there power until their very last days in office.  Finally, there are some observers in Israel who believe that Netanyahu actually provoked this crisis to aid the Republicans.  He initiated these activities in the hope that a spat between Israel and the administration would convince some of Israel’s supporters in the United States to vote for the Republican candidate over the Democratic one in next week’s elections, thus helping the Republicans achieve victory.  

Which explanation is correct? Probably only his wife could truly know! But, it is probably some combination of all three reasons.  Whatever the reasons actually are, the current situation is not healthy for either Israel or the United States.

Meanwhile Tel Aviv tonight was completely closed down.  No it was not missile fire or a terrorist attack, but rather the annual 10 Kilometer night run in Tel Aviv.  Thousands of runners took over the streets of Tel Aviv.  At every kilometer marker a different D-J or band was playing to mark the runners progress. 

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