At the recent meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, the president could not have been more effusive. They had an
“excellent” discussion, Netanyahu’s statement was “wonderful,” and the USIsrael
relationship is “extraordinary.”
Hard to believe this is the same
The US president wants to improve relations with Israel for
Obviously, he doesn’t want to be bashing Israel in the
period leading up to the November elections. Polls show that for Americans, his
administration’s relative hostility toward Israel is its least popular policy.
But there is more to this trend.
What Obama wants is to be able to claim
a diplomatic success in advancing the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,”
perhaps the only international issue he can so spin. Keeping indirect talks
going and, even better, moving them up to direct talks is his goal. So he wants
Netanyahu’s cooperation for that.
The same point holds regarding the Gaza
Strip, where Obama wants to claim he has defused a crisis he has called
“unsustainable.” And he also wants to keep the Israel-Arab front calm while he
deals with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, seeking above all to avoid crises and
confrontations and to keep up his (bogus) bargain of trading flattery for
So here’s the deal as he sees it: Give Israel some US support
in exchange for modest steps that the administration hopes accomplishes its
goals. Israel will concede on some things that don’t appreciably hurt its
interests in order to maintain good relations with the US.
revised the list of goods it permits into the Gaza Strip, the details of which
were all agreed on beforehand with the US. The Obama administration will support
Israel on Gaza generally, including endorsing its independent investigation of
the flotilla issue.
As the Israeli government explained it, the new list
“is limited to weapons, war material, and dual-use items.”
defining dual-use items using an international agreement, the “Wassenaar
Arrangement on Export Controls for Arms and Dual-Use Goods and Technologies,”
and thus this should be acceptable to Western governments.
material will be carefully monitored and allowed only for specified projects.
Israel will keep out dualuse goods including construction materials (concrete
and pipes, for example) that can be used by Hamas to build bunkers and
At present, there are 45 such projects approved by Israel. The
Palestinian Authority must also approve each one (thus, in theory, the buildings
created would strengthen its popularity and influence, though this is probably
wishful thinking). These include school and medical buildings, water and sewage
systems, and housing. If Israel determines, through its multiple
intelligence-collecting sources, that the material is being misused to benefit
Hamas or its military strength, the supplies would be stopped.
States will proclaim that the alleged humanitarian crisis is over and the people
of Gaza are doing just fine, ignoring their being subject to a terribly
repressive dictatorship. Hamas will denounce the concessions as insufficient and
continue efforts to smuggle in weapons, consolidate its rule, and turn Gaza’s
children into terrorists. This is the contemporary Western idea of a diplomatic
AS I’VE pointed out before, once Israel concluded that there
would be no Western commitment for overthrowing the Hamas regime, it might as
well go to a containment strategy. This Western policy is terrible but Israel is
merely recognizing the real situation and making the best of it. Obama was
quoted as saying: “We believe there is a way to make sure that the people of
Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its
legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to
Really? How exactly are you going to do that? I know what Obama
thinks: The people prosper, the middle class gets stronger, the masses demand
moderation and then comes Hamas’s downfall.
This is a view of
revolutionary Islamism and the workings of dictatorships that boggles the mind.
It is the mindless idea that prosperity brings peace and moderation, and that a
regime ready to torture, murder, and indoctrinate people will be easily
There is the possibility of the US government and other Western
countries subverting Israel’s position by engaging Hamas (as Russia did lately)
but that line can probably be held for the next few years at least. Various
Western media and activist groups can try to keep up the notion that the Gaza
Strip is a hell on earth (because of Israel) and people are starving. There will
be no truth to this, of course, but there was no truth to it before and that
didn’t stop them. But their task will be harder.
OBAMA PRAISED Netanyahu
just as much on the “peace process.” The president said: “I believe that Prime
Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for
Remember that quote when Obama turns on Netanyahu again after the
November elections. As for risks, we’ve had enough of those, thank you very
But Netanyahu’s goal was to make Obama happy with the minimum of
risk. Israel will extend its building freeze on the West Bank and east Jerusalem
in exchange for the Obama administration’s commitment to endorse its
predecessor’s acceptance of Israel retaining “settlement blocs” as part of any
peace agreement with the Palestinians.
In other words, if a diplomatic
settlement were ever to be reached then borders would be shifted to allow Israel
to annex some relatively small areas with a large number of settlers. This would
not only improve Israel’s security situation in the event of a peace agreement
but also greatly increase support for a flexible policy within
Continuing to freeze will present a domestic problem for
Netanyahu but he can hold his coalition together, if necessary, by adjusting it.
Parties are constrained from walking out of the government because if elections
were held today, Netanyahu would win in a landslide partly at their
Another thing Netanyahu wants is for Obama to escalate pressure
on Iran regarding that country’s nuclear weapons’ drive. The new sanctions,
thanks to Congress, are going to hurt Iran and undermine support for the regime
there. It’s not enough, of course, to stop the program. Still, when Iran does
get nuclear weapons, Israel will need the United States to take a strong stand
in containing Teheran.
DOES ISRAEL’S government trust Obama? Of course
not. Israelis in general are under no illusions about Obama’s view of their
country, his willingness to battle revolutionary Islamists, or his general
reliability and toughness.
There is a possibility of Obama turning to a
much tougher stance on Israel after the congressional elections are
with a plummeting popularity at home and many domestic problems, perhaps
will have more on his mind than playing Middle East peacemaker.
Palestinian Authority is so uneager for a peace agreement that anything
says on the subject is most unlikely ever to be implemented. And it
the Obama administration has at least some sense that it isn’t going to
Israel-Palestinian peace agreement so it doesn’t want to look foolish in
this a high priority and then failing.
Thus, Israel’s strategy is as
follows: try very hard to get along with the administration, seek to
happy, and avoid confrontation without making any major irreversible
or taking serious risks. Have no illusions, but keep the US government
on Iran as much as possible.
The next Congress will be more likely to
constrain the president and who knows what will happen in future. A
freeze might be ended on strong grounds the next time. It is quite
Iran, Syria, and other radical forces will so assault the United States
trample on its interests that Obama will be forced to alter course. And
always the 2012 presidential election.
This, then, is the best policy for
Israel to follow considering the more unattractive options. And for the
foreseeable future, Obama will play along.
It isn’t neat but it is real
world international politics.The writer is director of the Global
Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East
International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at