It's been a terrible week for tough love. One of the worst. First the Goldstone report was left to twist in the wind by the Obama administration, by Europe, by J Street and by the ghost of the Israeli peace camp. Then, at Tuesday's "summit" in New York, President Barack Obama gave his clearest signal yet that he was caving in to the Netanyahu government on the peace process, dropping the idea of a "freeze" on settlements for the softer, kinder call for "restraint."
This has been a great week for Israeli war-lovers and settlers and an atrocious one for Palestinians, peaceniks and human rights advocates. And the person to blame, above all, is Obama.
I'm worried about this guy. He has wonderful goals, but he doesn't seem to have a clue as to how to achieve them. When somebody tells him "no," he's stumped. His instinct is to retreat into his Ivy League professor's mode, turn up his nose, say to himself, "I'm not going to sink to that level," walk away and go on thinking his deep thoughts.
That's fine for a professor, but not for a leader. In a leader, that translates as an unwillingness to fight. It translates as weakness. And the worst reputation a leader can get, the one that can destroy him like no other, is one for weakness.
THAT'S THE reputation Obama is getting - especially in Israel. We're laughing at this guy now. Look, Binyamin Netanyahu stared down the president of the United States! The settlers have stopped worrying. All is well again in our little "villa in the jungle," as Ehud Barak, the government's man of the Left, likes to describe this country.
And if Israel is happy - 21st century Israel, that is, Israel the right-wing monolith - then the Republican Party is happy, too. We're allies, Israelis and Republicans. If we stare down Obama, the Republicans are encouraged, and vice versa.
In the campaign to cripple the Obama administration, to destroy his presidency, Israel is doing much, much more than its share. As noted, this past week has been especially fruitful. We lobbied the US State Department into shooting down the Goldstone report, and now the Obama administration is effectively an apologist for alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. We wore down Middle East envoy George Mitchell on the settlement freeze, and now it may only be a matter of time before we see "hilltop youth" building a new outpost called Havat Obama.
We're making the president of the United States look pathetic. He's becoming a national joke. And the Republicans are laughing along with us.
THIS CANNOT go on. Obama, for the sake of his presidency, cannot allow this to go on.
Which is why I'm optimistic that he won't. Obama didn't come this far and didn't set such lofty goals to be hamstrung, to become a lame duck, so soon after entering the White House. He may not be a gut fighter, but he's too ambitious, too smart, and he's surrounded himself with too many barracudas to let the likes of Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Shas and the settlers do him in.
The spin around here is that he's learned his lesson. He's learned that it was a mistake to insist on a total settlement freeze, a mistake to think he could dictate terms to us, a mistake to think he could change the Middle East with the force of his personality. From now on, goes the local consensus wisdom, Obama will be more patient, he'll go along to get along; after all, if he doesn't, Bibi and Co. will teach him another lesson.
I also believe Obama has learned something from this bruising experience, but not what Israelis think. Instead, he's learned that there is no meeting point between him and the Israeli government on the peace process, that one of them is going to have to give in, and God help him if he's the one. Obama's learning that if he allows the most right-wing government in Israeli history to dictate his Middle East policy, that policy will fail utterly and his presidency will suffer the most devastating blow.
He's learning that at some point in the not-too-distant future, he's going to have to either bend Israel to his will or admit defeat in the Middle East and get blamed for the next war.
There are lots of ways he can bend Israel to his will. George Bush the Elder did it with money - by holding back $10 billion in loan guarantees as a penalty for settlement construction, then releasing the money after settlement construction was frozen. I'm sure Rahm Emanuel can think of dozens of ways to squeeze the eminently squeezable Bibi Netanyahu. All that's required is Obama's go-ahead.
He's not there yet. But he's getting there. He'll have no choice.
SO AS disappointed as I am in Obama, I'm not giving up on him by any means. He's still new in the job, and he has certain strengths that should serve his purposes well. He's a quick study, especially when it comes to learning from his mistakes. He rebounds from adversity. He's patient.
True, it's been a miserable week. It's been a miserable year, in fact. But from a strictly realpolitik view of US-Israeli relations, I still think there's a decent chance that in the end, tough love will conquer all.