Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
There certainly was no meeting of minds neither between Netanyahu and Abbas nor between Netanyahu and Obama. Abbas’ U.N. speech last week was indeed infuriating and not constructive, but Netanyahu’s was equally ineffective; even if his overall points were inherently correct. His warning that the world community does indeed need to be wary of the growing threat posed by the Islamic State, but—he underscored—not at the expense of neglecting the danger posed by a potentially nuclear Iran, was not the most effective way to make his case. In addition, he showed only passing interest in reaching out for a peace with the Palestinians. Doing the same thing later at the White House apparently did not go over very well either.
Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu wanted to “make nice” with the other. As a result they both left the U.N. meetings disappointed, but Netanyahu had much more potentially to gain there and instead lost the chance to do so. It is not that Netanyahu’s analysis is not credible, but why not use your U.N. speech to be constructive, positive, and hopeful, especially when you have nothing to lose in doing so.
At the White House Bibi continued to exhibit the behavior of an ingrate. While he certainly expressed his appreciation for continued U.S. assistance, he showed no willingness to demonstrate to the President that he could control himself and his Government from taking steps which would only further exasperate, frustrate, and guarantee to annoy the Obama Administration; precisely when he was in Washington. There is no reasonable explanation for failing to control the public sign-off on Jerusalem housing construction just when he was visiting the States. The question is not always of the legitimacy, legal, and historical rights to this decision, it is a question of why now. Knowing the red flag that the entire settlement issue raises in the Obama White House, why time the announcement specifically when you are visiting the Oval Office.
This is not a new behavior pattern with the Netanyahu Government. There is a repeated disdain for Washington’s sensibilities. Playing to your domestic hawkish allies has consequences and Bibi continues to be unwilling to accept this reality. Israel’s international standing is suffering– even in the U.S.–not existentially but politically. As a result meaningless, hostile gestures which only get the back of your few political allies further enraged make no sense. Timing in politics is important—some might say everything–especially when decisions make no serious strategic or even tactical sense.