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(photo credit: AP [file])
I admit I was mistaken about the direction the relationship between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government would take. It seemed consensual that the two-state solution was on its way to the freezer with a tag attached: "See under 'solutionism.'" This would have placed the differences between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the level of principle. On the ground, Obama would avoid confrontation with Israel and work with Netanyahu to accelerate economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis.
Instead, Obama chose to embark on a collision course. Among Netanyahu's advisers there are some who believe that those who set Obama on this course are close advisers like Rahm Emanuel who think they understand Israeli society and politics and who have detested Netanyahu from the time they served in the Clinton administration. Whatever the reason, this confrontation apparently started from day one of Netanyahu tenure: when he visited the White House for the first time a month and a half after taking office, he already encountered a chilly reception.
This is unprecedented. Even during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, whom many compare to Obama, the first visits by prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and later Menachem Begin were warm and friendly, at least on the surface.
This strategy of confrontation from the outset was a mistake; Obama has been misled by his advisers. People like Emanuel and David Axelrod saw Israel in the context of a problematic domestic policy designed to suppress the American Jewish community and silence the so-called Jewish lobby. They had two goals in mind: to deter Israel from taking any initiative, especially against Iran, and to change Netanyahu's order of priority from Iran first to "peace in our time" in Palestine.
OBAMA AND his people thought that concentrated pressure on the settlements issue would do the trick - split the Israeli political system and society wide open and plunge the country into sociopolitical crisis. Toward that goal they had access to a vehicle that no ordinary ruler has in a conflict, whether with an adversary or an ally: Some of the leading voices and commentators in Israel harbor pathological hatred toward Netanyahu and are willing to collaborate in psychological warfare against the Israeli government. Because the settlements are not a consensus issue either in Israeli society or among Israel's friends in America, the Obama people thought they could create a rift between Israel and American Jewry.
Obama's calculations were wrong. Although the Israeli public is far from unified on the settlements, and many would dismantle them if this was needed for a final peace agreement, there is broad agreement with three current Netanyahu positions. First, the nuclearization of Iran is of the utmost urgency and may require military action. Second, the Palestinians have thus far proven incapable of establishing their own state based on the requisite security regime and implementation of the rule of law, meaning that any territory ceded to them will turn into a terrorist base and eventually fall to Hamas. And third, any Palestinian state that is ultimately created must not pose a threat to Israel.
By endorsing Palestinian statehood with these preconditions, Netanyahu in his Bar-Ilan University speech closed the last gap that separated him from most of the Israeli public. The public, which is not infatuated with Netanyahu, nevertheless rallied to his side because the unique and disproportionate pressure directed at Israel at this juncture in its history reeks of appeasement. The way Obama fixed upon Israel as an ugly vehicle for rapprochement with the Muslim world was simply too transparent.
Thus Obama, who initially was much admired by many in Israel, has failed in his attempt to create a political crisis here and instead reaped a harvest of hatred. These days he is despised in Israel, with his lack of moral fiber regarding Iran and the elections putsch there adding fuel to the fire. Both his policy toward Iran and that regarding Israel have exposed US weaknesses.
One outcome now emerging is a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt. Both countries are concerned about sharing a border with an Islamist fundamentalist regime in Gaza; both feel threatened by Iran; and both are disturbed by the destabilizing effect of Obama's initiatives in the region and elsewhere. Thus one positive outcome of the developments of the past couple of months is Egypt and Israel hugging each other tightly in the dark.
The writer is editor of the Makor Rishon newspaper. This article originally appeared in bitterlemons-international.org.