Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during his meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is a firm believer in the importance of messaging.
He is a firm believer in telling what he sees as the truth over and over and over again until at a certain time – and at a certain level – it will seep in.
This was how he acted when warning for years about a nuclear Iran, even when the world was skeptical that Iran was really trying to acquire nuclear arms. This was his modus operandi when he pushed at every opportunity for crippling economic sanctions against Iran, even when the world was reluctant to impose them. And this is his policy now as he continues to say repeatedly that Hamas is Islamic State, and Islamic State is Iran: All of them branches “of the same poisonous tree.”
That was the message he brought with him Sunday to the US. Or, as he put it in an interview with MSNBC, Israel and the US are fighting a common enemy, just on different fronts.
But a funny thing happened on the way to delivering that message: It was derailed by news Tuesday that Jews moved into homes they had purchased in Silwan in Jerusalem, and by Peace Now’s revealing – not coincidentally – just as Netanyahu was about to meet with US President Barack Obama, that yet another approval for the Givat Hamatos project had come through last week. This is a project in southern Jerusalem for which Israel has already been censured on numerous occasions in the past.
No sooner had Netanyahu’s convoy left the White House than the White House press secretary issued a blistering attack on the moves. Netanyahu was forced to respond, once again revealing gaps in American and US policies, knocking him off message.
The message that Netanyahu wanted to convey – that the US and Israel were fighting a common enemy – was muffled.
If the two countries are fighting a common enemy, an average American listener could justifiably ask himself after watching the evening news, why was the White House blasting Israel for building in Jerusalem? In Netanyahu’s briefing to Israeli reporters accompanying him, as well as in interviews to the US media on Wednesday and Thursday, it was telling that the first question often asked was not about Iran or Islamic State, not about Hamas or Hezbollah, not even about the prime minister’s remarks about seeking an alliance with Arab countries in the region, but rather about Givat Hamatos and Silwan.
The issue also clouded another message Netanyahu continuously tries to deliver: That the root of the conflict in the Middle East is not the settlements, but rather Israel’s very existence anywhere in the region. Indeed, he said as much Tuesday in a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. But when the White House issues a blistering condemnation of Israel for building over the 1967 lines, it reinforces the notion that – in fact – the main problem is not Israel’s existence, but rather its building policies in east Jerusalem and the settlements.
And the irony? The irony is that Netanyahu went to great lengths in the presence of Obama Wednesday to reaffirm his commitment to a two-state solution, something that does not win him many points with his political base at home. But instead of getting credit for this, he gets slammed by the White House.
Netanyahu set out to the US on Sunday with one message in mind, but discovered by the time he headed back on Thursday that even with all his considerable rhetorical skills, he was unable to control the message.
Other events, as they often do, inconveniently intervene.