Review & Outlook..
24 March '15..
You’ll have to forgive President Obama. The leader of the free world is still having difficulty accepting that the Israeli people get to choose their own prime minister, never mind his preferences.
The latest White House tantrum in the wake of Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election last week took the form of a speech delivered Monday by Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, in which he declared that “an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end.”
When a chief of staff speaks in public, especially as the keynote speaker at a scheduled event, the President has signed off. In this case the audience was also carefully chosen: the annual conference of J Street, a left-leaning Jewish lobbying group that has never met an Israeli concession it didn’t like. Which makes it all the more distressing that Mr. McDonough would talk about Israel in language usually associated with Palestinian terror groups.
Mr. McDonough’s remarks come amid other expressions of presidential pique—including last week’s unprecedented threat that Mr. Netanyahu’s re-election may mean an end to U.S. backing for Israel at the United Nations, and this week’s report in the Journal that the Israelis have been spying on the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. (Israel denies it, and we don’t condone such spying, but the U.S. also shouldn’t be keeping its allies and Congress in the dark.) Not to mention the more or less constant snubs and insults directed at the Israeli prime minister by unnamed Obama officials, with one calling him a “coward.”
Mr. Obama was counting on Mr. Netanyahu to be defeated in last week’s election, and the President did what he could to help that defeat along. But Mr. Obama’s overt hostility backfired. In the normal course of things, this would be the time for the White House to soften the rhetoric and seek to restore relationships.
Instead, the President and his team seem out for revenge. So while Mr. Netanyahu has clarified his comment about his opposition to a Palestinian state (he says he supports a two-state solution but now is not the time) and apologized to Arab Israelis for his remarks about their votes during the waning hours of the election, the President and his team have been escalating.
Perhaps this is a sign that the nuclear negotiations with Iran aren’t going as well as the President had planned, notwithstanding his willingness to let Iran preserve much of its nuclear infrastructure. So desperate is the U.S. for an Iran deal, the French look like hard-liners, hardly a consoling thought.
But these latest anti-Israel conniptions from the White House could well mean something else. Namely, that President Obama believes what he and his team are saying: that the Israelis are unjust occupiers, an obstacle to peace in the region and no longer worthy of the full support they have historically counted on from Uncle Sam.
Yet even if you believe the main challenge in the region is getting Israel to cede more territory to the Palestinians, that day won’t happen until Israelis feel secure. But Israelis can be forgiven for feeling the opposite with a raging civil war in Syria, Islamic State and an offshoot of al Qaeda operating near the Golan Heights, Iranian General Qasem Soleimani leading Shiite militias in Iraq, and a U.S. Administration sounding and acting as if Iran can be a more constructive partner for peace than Israel.
The main threat to Middle Eastern peace today—even beyond Islamic State—is the rise of an imperial Iran using its own troops or proxies effectively to colonize Arab capitals. The prospect of an imperial Iran on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power has all of America’s traditional Arab friends in the region now closer to Mr. Netanyahu’s position on the Middle East than to Mr. Obama’s.
“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made.” These were the words Mr. McDonough used in his speech about Mr. Netanyahu’s election comments.
But Mr. McDonough’s words might be easily turned around. In a day when the President’s chief of staff invokes the lexicon of Palestinian terrorists to describe Israel’s democracy, Americans and the world are left to wonder whose side the leader of the free world is on.