Domestic Politics Plays On Foreign Affairs

Domestic Politics Plays On Foreign Affairs

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


The discomfort or even dislike that Prime Minister Netanyahu has for President Obama continues, although it is more graciously and more gently expressed than previously. This is true with respect to Iran, to settlements, and to American Jews. It seems to continue to be based partially on genuine security concerns but also largely on domestic considerations as well. The danger in all of this persistent domestic maneuvering by Netanyahu is that it could produce serious repercussions after November, unless Obama truly has as tough a skin as he appears to demonstrate against all his political challenges and that he also has the sincere commitment to Israel’s safety and security which he continues to express. It is, of course this side of his personality which panics his critics and skeptics.

Have the Israelis been so freaked out by the President’s “flexible” comment to Medvedev about having more time to respond to the Russians after November concerning missile defense systems?  Does that suggest he can be more “flexible” towards what he will tolerate from Iran after November as Israeli hardliners fear? Alternatively, does it mean that Iran should realize that Obama, post November, will be able to confront Iran more openly and aggressively when he does not have polls and voters pushing and pulling him? This is why all the media was scurrying about trying to interpret the same set of “classified” facts about Pentagon war games scenarios that was released. Unfortunately, as is the case for the American President, in Israel domestic politics plays a major role in decision-making even when it is wrapped up in issues involving remembering the Holocaust and even Israel’s existence.

The fact that there is even a discussion of future settlement expansion at this time is reckless on the part of the Israeli Government. Although the current discussion has been confined to the matter of expansion of existing settlements, why must Israel chose now to move the issue forward. Is it a response to the J Street conference in Washington; or the Kadima elections; or Bibi’s sense that it is time to begin revving-up his own re-election engines for his 2013 campaign; or is it to continue to blow smoke in the face of the Obama Administration?

Finally, it seems that Netanyahu has decided that it is his job to intensify the feeling among the pro-Israel community that they need to be more forthright on Israel’s behalf by opposing an Obama re-election in November.   All the denials notwithstanding, it seems this type of direct or indirect interference in U.S. domestic politics should only be fair game if the Israeli Government permitted American Jews a similar say in Israeli decision making. No one is holding his/her breathe for that to happen any time soon.

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