What a difference a presidential election makes.
At the AIPAC policy conference in March 2012, while running for reelection, President Barack Obama said, “There should not be a shred of doubt by now: When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
Just prior to appearing before that AIPAC meeting, President Obama gave an interview to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, in which he said, “I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”
In the context of today’s events, Obama’s statements take on particularly sinister meanings.
What a difference a Knesset election makes. Instead of having Israel’s back as he asserted in 2012, when he needed Jewish votes and money, Obama now sounds like Henry II, who famously asked of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket, “Will no man rid me of this meddlesome priest?” — with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the role of Becket.
And try to remove the meddlesome prime minister the Obama administration did.
Prior to, and during, the Israel election, the administration overtly and covertly signaled that it would like to see “anyone but Bibi” (read, the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog) as the next prime minister.
For example, in October 2014, in another Goldberg Atlantic column (Goldberg seems to be an administration go-to person for hit pieces on the Netanyahu government), a brave, anonymous, senior administration official was quoted as saying, “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickensh*t,” a comment that started a round of commentary on the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations.
At the time, the Wall Street Journal’s foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens wrote,
The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached.
Stephens’ intel proved correct. Netanyahu did speak directly to Congress and, thus, the American people, this month, providing one of the catalysts for the current nadir in U.S.-Israel relations.
Additionally, the administration, which resisted anything that would look like regime change when it came to the stillborn 2009 Green Revolution in Iran, seems to have surreptitiously supported such change in Israel.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has launched a bipartisan probe into a State Department grant of $350,000 to the OneVoice Movement, which until last November was headed by a veteran diplomat from the Clinton administration. A subsidiary of OneVoice is the Israel-based Victory 15, an organization, according to JTA, “established in December with one goal: to replace Israel’s right-wing government with a center-left coalition.”
This is not to say that Netanyahu has not added fuel to the fire.
In addition to taking the administration to task for the Iran nuclear negotiations, Netanyahu gave his speech to Congress and, in the waning days of the Israeli campaign, walked away from the principle of a Palestinian state (a position he walked back after the election). He also sought votes by warning about his opposition drumming up Israeli Arab votes (the unified Arab slate will be the third largest bloc in the Knesset, after Likud and the Zionist Union).
The decisive victory for Netanyahu and Likud, which ran on national security issues, over the Zionist Union, which ran largely on domestic concerns, made Netanyahu even more “meddlesome” in the eyes of the Obama administration.
There are two major bones of contention between Obama and Netanyahu: an agreement with Iran over nuclearization and a Palestinian peace accord, both of which Obama considers legacy items. How else can he prove to the world that he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize, albeit prematurely awarded? Netanyahu and bipartisan sympathy for Israel in Congress are major stumbling blocks.
Obama has shown more personal pique than diplomacy. Sen. John McCain told Obama to get over his “temper tantrum.” The president waited two days before placing a congratulatory call to Netanyahu. The media is abuzz about how the United States is doing a top-to-bottom reassessment of its relationship with Israel, most significantly by letting the UN consider Palestinian statehood.
This demonstrates that, when it comes to détente or reconciliation, you are better off being this administration’s enemy than its ally. Just ask Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
Or Iran. The administration is begging for an agreement with a country which has “Death to America” as a slogan.
Meanwhile, the only democracy in the Middle East is told to stand in the corner until it yields its national security to Obama’s egotistical dream of reshaping the world and securing his legacy.