Is the White House Emotionally Lashing Out at Israel?
By James Lewis
When certain kinds of people feel frustrated, they lash out at the nearest target. Speculation has been rife about the extraordinarily grandiose character of this White House. So far, most of its major initiatives, trumpeted with major fanfares on the international stage, have simply crashed. The danger is that a frustrated inner circle in the White House may be striking out at victims who cannot respond. This is particularly true for the recent coordinated and rageful attacks on Israel from the White House, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden, Jr.
Health care is stuck. Immigration “reform” is stuck. The economy is scraping bottom. The Copenhagen Treaty blew up. The president’s popularity has plummeted. Outreach to the Arab world hasn’t yielded any results. The Iranians are still going for their nukes. Nothing has been done about North Korean and Pakistani nuclear proliferation. Obama is pursuing Bush policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. The world is getting more dangerous every day, and the White House looks increasingly impotent in the face of fast-mounting danger.
In a White House of unprecedented ambition and grandiosity, this has to be very, very frustrating. Several pundits have called the mood in the White House “lugubrious,” “gloomy,” “indignant,” “funereal,” “moping” — sentiments befitting a “gloomy pessimist.”
When Veep Joe Biden visited Israel recently, housing bureaucrats announced the fourth stage of approval in a seven-stage process that would build 1,600 new apartment units in an existing Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem. Biden reacted with an instant diplomatic slap at Prime Minister Netanyahu, deliberately coming ninety minutes late to a dinner given in his honor. The White House was enraged, and the president apparently ordered a coordinated public critique of Israel by Biden, Hillary Clinton, and David Axelrod. The Western leftist press immediately jumped on its favorite scapegoat, from the New York Times to the London Guardian. Taking a cue from the Obama administration, Arabs throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem went on a violent rampage, threatening a recently rebuilt synagogue that was destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948.
If Obama intended this as a punishment for Netanyahu, it was utterly ineffective. The Israelis have pretty contentious politics, but the one thing that unites them is a common enemy. Obama was immediately accused of anti-Semitism by Netanyahu’s brother-in-law. The Left in Israel reluctantly fell in behind the Prime Minister. When rumors spread that Obama wanted to boost the opposition Kadima party, their stock immediately fell. People don’t like to be told what to do by foreigners, especially if they suspect an underlying enmity. Obama is a third-world socialist, and he therefore sees Israel (and the rest of the world) through the lens of post-colonial hatred of “imperialist” nations like Britain, America, and Israel. That’s why those apartments in Jerusalem are called “settlements” in the leftist press.
The Netanyahu government immediately apologized, pointing out that the building decision was made locally, perhaps even without notifying the Prime Minister at all, and that nobody in Israel ever contemplated giving up established Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem, even potentially
There are two possibilities. One is that Netanyahu was genuinely caught unawares. The other is that he knew what was going to happen. Regardless of which of those may be true, the result is a major setback for the Obama administration and any hopes it may have for another “photo-op peace agreement” like Bill Clinton’s photo-op Oslo agreement. As far as Israelis are concerned, Obama has just torn off the mask.
Netanyahu is now much more solidly entrenched than he was before the Obama spat. Obama has now backed off and has even sorta kinda apologized…or at least he’s claimed that the relationship with Israel is still strong and positive. That is false. This is a predictable breakdown in relations, and so far, Obama has gotten the worst of it. Any moves he makes after this point to mollify the Palestinians and Iran will be seen in the light of this uncontrolled emotional spat.
It is entirely possible that Netanyahu is strategic enough to want the Obama administration to expose its antipathy to Israel in public. Now he can try to exact concessions from the administration because Obama is no longer considered an impartial mediator. (He never was, in all probability, but letting the mask slip in public now makes it obvious to the world, including American voters.)
From a diplomatic viewpoint, this was a major mistake by Obama, Clinton, and Joe Biden. If they had to react to the 1,600 new apartments, they should have done so with dignity and balance. They didn’t. They blew it because they took a routine building announcement as a personal affront. As a result, Israel is more unified today than it was before Joe Biden came to visit.
There’s no way to know for sure what will happen next. One thing that’s clear is that Obama’s team is still immature, fumbling, and easily triggered to react in predictable ways. The Iranians know that. So do the Israelis. All the other shrewdies in the world are taking notes. If they were playing poker, Obama would be a marked man.