Israelis and Americans are going through a couple of bad patches with Barack Obama.
The two issues are as different as they could be, but are united in reinforcing distrust of duplicity at the top.
Americans'' problems are currently focusing on the limping roll out of what is linked directly to the President via its popular label of Obamacare. In particular, lots are remembering a presidential promise that they could keep their present insurance if they liked it, as they read the letters of cancellation received from their insurance companies.
One horror story has come to my mail box from a couple with one child whose policy was cancelled, and found that the best deal available would cost them $10,000 for the annual premium, with a $10,000 annual family deductible.
To be sure, health is expensive, and in a country of private hospital rooms and profit-making health insurance companies it is widely known to be more expensive than anywhere else.
Israelis who want to be fully insured may find that they pay something like that American premium, but with tiny deductibles and virtually no paper wars with insurance companies. All in our experience has been done with the swipe of the plastic HMO membership card, and co-payments in the range of $5 for a visit to a specialist or an exam with a sophisticated device. No co-pay for a visit to a family physician or blood tests.
Our problems with the Obama-Kerry team focus on what appear to be dire threats about Palestinians, and duplicity with respect to Iran.
Kerry predicted a third intifada and intolerable international isolation if Israel continues construction in the settlements and does not exhibit greater flexibility toward the Palestinians.
That irks on several dimensions. Both Americans and Palestinians heard that Israel would continue building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem and other West Bank areas beyond the 1967 lines, as part of the prisoner release that was the Palestinians'' price for coming to the table. Neither Americans nor Palestinians may have signed on formally to such a deal, but in a diplomatic context they heard and implicitly accepted the linkage between construction and prisoners.
Now the Obamans are returning to their posture--more assertively antagonistic than those of previous administrations-- that Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem are among the "settlements" that are illegal and a barrier to peace.
Kerry''s threat of greater international isolation suggests that his administration will join the isolation, or at least not oppose it. Perhaps Obama himself sees merit in the Palestinian campaign of boycotts, disvestment and sanctions.
An explicit charge of duplicity focuses on Iran. We''re hearing and not believing for the nth time the presidential promise that Iran will never be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. Now we''re also hearing that Obama and Kerry described for Israeli officials the tough demands they would make of the Iranians, and that there would be no lessening of sanctions without an appropriate Iranian action. However, they had already offered the Iranians much softer terms and had begun to lessen the administration of sanctions before the onset of negotiations.
Weekend meetings between Kerry and Netanyahu ended with descriptions that they were "very tough." The participants did not slam the door to the meeting room as they left it, but they were pointed in avoiding any photo op or description of what had happened. Unnamed ranking Israelis came as close as they ever had to saying that the Americans lied to them. Netanyahu has been explicit is saying time and again that what the Americans are offering to Iran is "very bad . . . a very, very bad deal," and that "Israel would not consider itself bound to such an agreement."
Would Israel actually tip over the table with a massive attack while talks are still ongoing?
The threat is out there. Perhaps the failure of this round of talks--despite predictions of imminent success--reflects the role of Netanyahu as bad cop on American and/or European governments. No Israeli is actually in the room where negotiations occur, but repeated threats toward Israel by key Iranians gives Netanyahu something like the status of an observer who might become active.
Saudi Arabia has jumped in on the side of its Israeli ally, warning western governments that they will pay a heavy price if they do not sober up to the Iranian reality.
France insisted on a hard posture toward Iran, showing that Israel has room to maneuver among western governments. Obama weakened his authority by waffling toward the Russians on Syria, and now has to convince Israelis that he did not lie to them about Iran.
He also has to convince Americans that he did not lie to them about health insurance.
At this unhappy time, Israel''s policymaking cadre is about to change.
Remember Avigdor Lieberman? The tough talking Jew with a heavy Russian accent is about to return to the position of Foreign Minister, with obvious roles in dealing with Iran and Palestine.
Among the possibilities--
- Will Lieberman be his old self, substantially to the right of Benyamin Netanyahu?
- Or has he gone through a transforming trauma, associated with years of police investigations and months of a criminal trial?
- How should we view his willingness to align with SHAS leader Ariyeh Deri?
- Does this mean that Lieberman is abandoning his Russian constituency and his promises about easing conversion and civil union for hundreds of thousands having problems with their claims of being Jewish?
- Or does it mean that Deri is maneuvering, now free from Rabbi Ovadia Yosel of blessed memory, and moving toward the secular center of the political spectrum?
Send your expectations. After an appropriate time for testing, should we still be alive and kicking, we can judge one another''s wisdom.