It approached the mythic stories of conflict between giants. Or maybe between a giant and a midget, or David and Goliath. Perhaps just a street brawl among ruffians.

Whatever image, and whoever is defined as giant, midget, David, Goliath or a ruffian, it occupied the pundits until a shooting of a right wing activist, and then the killing by the police of the likely shooter set off Jerusalem in another of its periodic excitements.. 


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An article in Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg began the lastest the Bibi-Barack tiff.


His headline is :The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here." And the first sentence, "The Obama administration's anger is "red-hot" over Israel's settlement policies, and the Netanyahu government openly expresses contempt for Obama's understanding of the Middle East." 


The most quoted passage is a line attributed to "a senior Obama administration official," who in the parlance of journalism's rules of quotation may have been the President himself, even though a later statement by the White House denied and condemned the comment. 


"The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit.”


Here I need help. "chickenshit" is not one of the expressions I remember learning on the Highland School playground. "Chicken" I do remember, as well as the latter part, but not the combination.


We've seen the expression explained as "afraid." However, anyone who thinks that is Bibi hasn't noticed what the IDF did to Gaza recently. Or maybe it is yet another reflection of the White House's distance, both geographically and intellectually, from the Middle East.


The heart of Goldberg's article is this


"The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached. For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process."

 And for those who enjoy political nastiness, there is


"Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.”


Goldberg writes as an American. He distances himself from the aspirations of John Kerry, but focuses much more on American attitudes toward Netanyahu than Israeli attitudes toward Obama. He also shows concern for American Jewish nervousness about Israeli actions, without probing their nervousness about White House policy.


When Goldberg describes Bibi as the junior partner in the squabbles, he is correct in terms of the countries they lead. However, Bibi had passed through the positions of fighter and officer in an elite combat unit, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Prime Minister while Obama was going through the stages of student, community activist, and junior member of the state and then national legislatures. 


Among the lessons of Obama's presidency is the self-imposed weakness of the US in using the primary to presidency route to elevate inexperienced and uninformed individuals to the head of government and aspirations of leading the world. Prior to Obama, George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and John Kennedy also illustrated the problem.


We can quarrel about the wisdom of Bibi and his underlings in challenging the US leadership.


We can also speculate, and quarrel about the wisdom of the recent uptick in Bibi's actions and comments as being directed not only toward Israelis or the international community, but to US voters in the week before the Senate and House elections. The Prime Minister has stopped talking about two states. He is cooperating more with Naftali Bennett than with Yair Lapid or Tsipi Livni. He asserts the right of Israel to build throughout Jerusalem (i.e., within its definition of the city's borders) and the major settlement blocks. And he has gone back to a theme about Iran's nuclear program, although without the explicit threats he has made in the past.


Barack Obama is not doing well on his home ground. His popularity is close to an all time low, with less than 50 percent of Americans approving his performance. Predictions are that the Republicans will add to their majority in the House and gain a majority in the Senate.


However, commentators are ignoring history when they refer to the President as the least successful in recent memory. George W. Bush did even worse, getting somewhere below 40 percent approval rates. Indeed, all Presidents since Harry Truman (when polling became serious) showed a decline in approval while in office, except for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton. Moreover, the majority party generally loses seats as the result of mid-term elections.


All that is in the nature of politics. The candidate who wins an election does so by attracting support. Then the realities of government do their work, and the individual's charm is seldom strong enough to overcome popular disappointment.


What about Israel and the US? Or how important is the personal nastiness involving the politicians at the top?


Especially prominent in recent months have been Bibi and Barack, John Kerry and Mosh Ya'alon.


One should not discount those at the top, but neither should one think of them as making all the decisions, or even all the important decisions of their governments. Economic, military, and political realities, as filtered through the professional cadres, shape more of what each government does. Political leaders may speak and then swallow the words expressing their personal feelings, as they go along with the contrary actions that the professionals say are essential.


Just to cite a few examples from the recent dust-ups.


Bibi's proclamation about building throughout Jerusalem may set the tone, but there are years of actions necessary by various governmental bodies at the national and local levels (which neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Housing control) before land is allocated, plans finalized, bids open to contractors, and building begins.


On the American side, the White House and State Department may cringe and criticize, but someone close to the top is making the points that the IDF is essential to the defense of Western values in the Middle East; that the Palestinians are not angels; and that Israel has other options if pushed to the wall by the US.


Dispute is part of both the domestic politics and foreign policy of Israel as well as the United States. Israelis recognize that the US has wide responsibilities, and must speak in ways to gain support--or soften opposition--from those antagonistic to Israel. 


The American Jewish community is involved in the contretemps, whether or not individual Jews feel comfortable. That community has Sheldon Adelson and many who applaud his actions, along with even more who cannot contemplate voting against a Democratic candidate.


To date, both Bibi and Barack have left to their underlings, or to "unnamed senior sources," the most severe criticism of the other. That, too is part of the game. As long as it lasts, it permits getting along even without going along.




 



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