Such sheer desperation! They talk about dictators hanging on to their seats for dear life, but Benjamin Netanyahu takes the biscuit. He couldn’t bear the thought of his power dissipating so at the nth-minute he resorted to poking President Obama in the eye by announcing R.I.P. to a Palestinian state and pledging to expand Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem. In other words, all these years taken up with negotiating peace were an utter waste of time, bringing nothing but false hope. He’s a conman.
Worse, so as to woo undecided voters from the far right and religious groups, unwilling to relinquish “Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank to most of us) for peace, he sent out text messages and posted on social media that the Arabs are voting in droves. Those Arabs he spoke of just happened to be Israeli citizens that are supposed to enjoy the same voting rights as their Jewish counterparts. And now that he has garnered a fourth term in office, he’s backtracking as fast as he can, once again, pledging his commitment to a two-state solution. Unfortunately for him, nobody’s buying it. Strange that’s there’s no backlash from the right-wing for which the very idea of a Palestinian state is anathema; after all he reneged on his last-minute promise in a blink of an eye. Is that because they understand his new fervor for peace is mere flimflam, a sop to international community? People can, of course, change their minds on big issues over time, but someone who switches in days is either irresponsibly erratic or engaged in bare-faced lying.
Obama has clearly opted for the latter interpretation. In a break with protocol, he waited days to make the usual congratulatory call to newly-elected Israeli leader with, according to a White House spokesman, was far from warm. Obama told him that the US would “reassess” its relationship with Israel, which may remove America’s diplomatic shield from the Jewish state in the United Nations.
“We take him (Netanyahu) at his word when he said (a Palestinian state) wouldn’t happen…and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available so as to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama said. And responding to Netanyahu’s “Arab droves” warning, Obama described that “rhetoric” as undermining Israel’s best traditions and democratic principles. This Israel-US contretemps also comes at a time when relations between the two formerly tied-at-the-hip allies is fraught over Netanyahu’s attempt to sway Congress against Obama’s reach-out to Iran.
Palestinian supporters and activists are excited at the thought a change in US policy toward Israel may be in the pipeline. At last, there’s a chance that Israel’s long-held impunity from ever being held to account will be a thing of the past, some feel. However, I would caution that such exuberance might be premature. It’s a fact that there’s no love lost between the US leader and his Israeli counterpart on a personal level. It’s certainly true that Obama is seriously miffed over Netanyahu’s snub to official US policy vis-à-vis a two-state solution — and he was said to be seething over the Israeli PM’s blatant interference in his efforts to create a détente with Tehran. But if he is out to punish Israel, he’s in for a battle from all sides, notably the Republicans in Congress, a section of the US media, various right-wing think tanks, the powerful pro-Israel lobby able to make or break political careers, not to mention the American public. A Gallup poll, released in late February, found that 70 percent of Americans view Israel favorably as opposed to just 17 percent that viewed the Palestinian Authority favorably.
Netanyahu and Obama are never going to be buddies, but for the US president to go for his jugular, diplomatically speaking, he will become a target at home and may not win the support of some major European allies, such as Germany or France, which is home to Europe’s largest Jewish population.
Obama may talk the talk, but will he walk the walk, is the question? When he’s u-turned so frequently in the past, I’m not hopeful. Netanyahu is likely to receive some verbal raps on the knuckles and will work on lining-up his US supporters to give the White House a hard time. He’ll just bide his time over the coming 21 months until Obama and family vacate Pennsylvania Avenue. As US officials have been lining up to point out, things may be difficult right now, but a fundamental American policy shift vis-à-vis Israel is not and will never be on the cards.
LINDA S. HEARD