US tensions

Before jumping to conclusions regarding Israelis’ ability to recognize their own interests, Israel’s friends and critics should at the very least appreciate their legitimate concerns.

January 17, 2013 22:39
3 minute read.
E1 area linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim

E1 area linking Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim 370. (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)


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Perhaps the leak was not calculated to weaken Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies. Perhaps it was by chance that just one week before Israelis go to the polls, US President Barack Obama was quoted by Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg as saying that Netanyahu was “moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation” and that Israel under Netanyahu “does not know what its best interests are.”

True, if Obama did indeed criticize Netanyahu for announcing plans to build 3,000 homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in response to the Palestinians’ successful November 29 UN bid for non-member state status, he did so over a month ago. But sometimes it takes time for these sorts of potentially damaging comments to be made public.

Of course, if the leak was timed by sources within the White House or by Goldberg as a means of meddling in the Israeli election, it is a tactic worthy of condemnation.

At any rate the leak is unlikely to have much of an impact on election results. Voter movement among political parties with similar agendas keeps poll results interesting.

The Right bloc, however – Likud Beytenu, haredi parties and Bayit Yehudi – has consistently maintained its dominance with a majority of the 120 Knesset seats.

But Obama’s comments, if genuine (the White House has not denied the report) do appear to be a harbinger of tense relations between what is almost certain to be another Netanyahu-led government and the Obama administration.

In many important ways the ties between Israel and the US will almost certainly remain strong. Obama is, after all, a president who has assured Israel of his “unshakable commitment” to the Jewish state; he has meticulously maintained our strategic advantage in the region by providing military cooperation and funding for important projects such as the Iron Dome anti-rocket system; he has promised not to allow Iran to cross the nuclear-weapons threshold; and he has provided Israel with critical diplomatic backing, most recently by voting against the Palestinian UN bid and asking allies to do the same.

At the same time, Obama’s first term was not without its share of tense moments for Israel. Obama rejected Netanyahu’s pleas to give the Iranians an ultimatum on halting their nuclear weapons drive. He transformed the issue of settlements into an insurmountable obstacle to peace by making a construction freeze – including in consensus Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Ramat Shlomo – a precondition for talks with the Palestinians. With Netanyahu set to head another right-wing government coalition, we can expect more rocky times ahead.

But instead of claiming that Israel’s democratically elected government “doesn’t know what its best interests are,” perhaps critics should show a little more empathy for Israelis’ legitimate concerns.

Regionally, the Islamists are on the rise from Egypt and Jordan to Tunisia and Libya. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the only significant “moderate” element in Palestinian politics, is hopelessly unpopular and weak, while the violently anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic Hamas – as other Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movements across the region – is on the rise.

Official PA media, when not inciting against the Jewish state, is morbidly preoccupied with Yasser Arafat’s “assassination.”

Abbas, who like Arafat before him has rejected generous Israeli peace offers, is stubbornly unwilling to enter into negotiations unless Israel freezes all building beyond the Green Line, which includes neighborhoods that are an integral part of Jewish Jerusalem, and has done nothing to prepare his people for peace with Israel.

Under the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that Labor’s campaign has focused on socio-economics and has toned down talk of a negotiated peace with Palestinians – rightly seen by most Israelis as unrealistic at least under the present geopolitical circumstances.

Most Israelis understand that in the long-run, a two-state solution is probably the only way to keep Israel both Jewish and democratic. But can they be blamed for preferring short-term security to potentially explosive peace initiatives that have been tried and have failed? Before jumping to conclusions regarding Israelis’ ability to recognize their own interests, Israel’s friends and critics should at the very least appreciate their legitimate concerns.

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