Why Is Bibi Still Pressing Obama?

Why Is Bibi Still Pressing Obama?

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

One might have thought that Prime Minister Netanyahu has enough on his personal and domestic plate that he would not find time to persist in raising the alarm that as his farewell to Israel, Obama will propose either at the U.N. or in another forum his views of and for a Middle East peace. It can only be explained that Netanyahu is struggling very hard to keep his coalition together as it prepares to address the unknown Trump era.

First, the likelihood of Obama staking out a public position on the future of Israeli and Palestinian relations has been diminished dramatically as a result of the election. Had Hillary won, there might actually have been a greater possibility that Obama would have stepped forward for some closing remarks on Israeli-Palestinian front. Now Obama will have at least four years in which to enter the debate over the future of the Middle East without undermining or impacting on the policy initiatives of his own party’s new president.  

Second, for Obama there are numerous matters upon which he might well like to offer some closing remarks. It seems much more likely that he will speak out as his final soliloquy on healthcare or race relations or the environmental crisis than it would be on over his quest for Middle East peace. Similarly on foreign policy, Obama would be more likely to address his quest for reduced nuclear threats—even the Iran deal—or terrorist threats, before he would march into the thicket of the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations over which his Administration actually only had very minimal success.

Now that Jimmy Carter once again jumped into the fray in Tuesday’s New York Times –proposing that Obama as a farewell gesture should recognize a Palestinian State–Bibi no doubt expects this to be a further signal to the President.  Carter assumes that Obama needs to move soon in order for him and his Administration to stay relevant. Nothing could actually be farther from the truth, regardless of Carter’s personal commitment to this cause.

It is difficult to comprehend why Bibi still has obsessed over the possibility that Obama will launch a personal blast into solving Israel’s problems with the Palestinians. Perhaps after the U.S.–Israeli ten year, $38 billion military Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in September, there was a slight possibility that Obama would have said something in his final U.N. General Assembly address. To do so now, makes no sense for Obama.

Netanyahu is driven clearly by his right wing flank and coalition parties beginning with Naftali Bennett. These coalition elements are once again pushing Bibi for a more serious settlement expansion policy—even annexing the West Bank; clamping down on Muslim muezzin prayer calls; continuing to disobey the Court’s orders against the illegal settlement in Amona and its evacuation; pushing him not to engage Abbas; and demanding that he categorically blame terrorists for the tragic outbreak of fires.   

Pushing back against this litany of demands and seeking to avoid facing his own renewed personal as well as governmental crises, Bibi continues to rail out and instruct Obama. He has a need to show his Government hard-liners that he can be as tough and as irrational as they are. This may all be very distracting but it is terribly unconstructive for U.S.-Israel relations or for Israel’s growing tension with the American Jewish community. 

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