Analysis: Rahm Emanuel and electoral interference

Barely a week passed and talk of a honeymoon between Netanyahu and Obama has turned into talk of a divorce.

US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
US President Obama with PM Netanyahu at White House 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
Well, that was a short honeymoon.
The honeymoon in question, of course, being the one between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama that lasted for the duration of Operation Pillar of Defense.
Obama, in a move that surprised many who thought he would “take revenge” on Netanyahu for the widely held perception that the prime minister favored Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the US elections, backed Israel during the military operation, saying loudly that Israel had the natural right to defend itself from Gaza rockets.
Obama’s rhetorical support was critical, setting the tone for others in the international community. Israeli officials said the support Obama gave Netanyahu over the phone was even stronger then what was heard in public. Despite reports to the contrary, the officials said Obama did not warn Netanyahu against launching a ground incursion into Gaza.
Barely a week passed and talk of a honeymoon has, at least in the media, turned into talk of a divorce. First came the announcement in Jerusalem Friday of construction in the settlements and planning in the E1 neighborhood, in response to the Palestinian’s upgrade at the UN, and then came leaked comments by Chicago Mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.
“Netanyahu bet and lost,” read Yediot Aharonot’s lead headline on Monday, quoting what Emanuel reportedly said in a closed session at the Saban Forum Saturday night in Washington.
According to the report, Emanuel – citing the May 2011 meeting between the two leaders in which Netanyahu rejected Obama’s call that the pre-1967 lines be the baseline of Israeli-Palestinian talks – said the US president is no longer willing to be treated with disrespect by the prime minister.
“It is unbelievable what happened there,” Emanuel was quoted as saying about that meeting, which could be dubbed “The Lecture,” due to the US media’s portrayal of Netanyahu having “lectured the president.”
“This is unforgettable. That is no way to behave.”
Emanuel said Obama would no longer tolerate this type of behavior, and called Israel “ungrateful” given the scope of aid it gets from the US.
He also criticized Netanyahu for his settlement construction response to the Palestinian move at the UN.
But Emanuel is no neutral observer and does not come to the Netanyahu brief with hands pure as snow. There are officials – both in Israel and in the US – who place the sorry state of Obama- Netanyahu relations during the first two years of the two men’s tenures in no small degree at Emanuel’s doorstep.
According to this narrative, Emanuel came to his post in the Obama administration with a bellyful of Netanyahu – left over from his days as senior adviser to former US president Bill Clinton, with many in the Clinton administration blaming Netanyahu for the failure of the Oslo process – and was determined from day one as chief of staff to show Netanyahu who was boss.
After all, Emanuel – the son of an Israeli who himself did a brief volunteer stint on an IDF base during the 1991 Gulf War – knew what was good for Israel. According to this telling of events, he was a key voice behind Obama’s decision to ambush Netanyahu at their very first White House meeting with a demand for a total settlement freeze, a move that effectively ended any chance of negotiations with the Palestinians and poisoned the atmosphere between the two men.
It is no coincidence, perhaps, that the tone of the relationship between Obama and Netanyahu began to change dramatically for the better in the late summer, early fall of 2010, as Emanuel was leaving his job as chief of staff. (He departed the White House on October 1, 2010.) What is ironic about Emanuel now slamming Netanyahu for interfering in the US elections is that he seems to be doing the very same thing in the Israeli elections.
There is no doubt that the perception among many is that an isolated Israeli government, which does not seem able to have close ties with the current US administration, is an Israeli government the Israeli public will not want to return to power.
No coincidence, therefore, that Emanuel made his comments, that they were leaked out, and that they then found their way to the front page of Yediot Aharonot, a paper as anti-Netanyahu as Israel HaYom is pro-Bibi.
The Chicago mayor, obviously, does not want to see another Netanyahu term.