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Have Obama and Bibi Made Up?

If the past few weeks are any guide, it looks like the open feud between Jerusalem and Washington is over

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(Photoillustration IvyTashlik; original photo Shutterstock, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, and Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty Images.)

On Friday, Bibi Netanyahu’s government announced it was planning additional settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. European capitals have demanded an explanation from Israeli diplomats, and the U.K. and France have contemplated summoning home their own envoys in protest. But the White House’s criticism has been fairly muted. “We oppose all unilateral actions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday, “as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations.”

To be sure, the White House is somewhat constrained in criticizing Israel for “unilateral actions” after Mahmoud Abbas went to the United Nations’ General Assembly to declare Palestine an independent state. And with delicate negotiations over the fiscal cliff foremost on the president’s agenda, the administration seems loath to give Republicans an opportunity to attack President Obama over Israel.

Still, the reticence is striking. Compare the White House’s language this week to its response in March 2010 when Israel announced that 1,600 new East Jerusalem housing units were approved during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit. The administration went ballistic. At the president’s instructions, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chewed out Netanyahu on a 45-minute phone call, which was conveniently leaked to the press. The administration “condemned” the “insulting” action, using language rarely used by one ally to describe the actions of another.

Some predicted that a second-term Obama would exact a certain amount of revenge against a world leader who openly challenged and even lectured him in the White House—but it appears the opposite has happened. The administration was strongly supportive of Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense, and the fact that it happened after the presidential elections was proof of Bibi’s good sense of timing and that Obama recognizes Israel as a strategic asset, not merely as an electoral chip. If the past few weeks are any guide, and with Netanyahu almost certain to win again in January, it looks like the dark ages of Obama-Netanyahu warfare may have ended.

“They are both smart and disciplined enough to want to repair the relationship somewhat,” said Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Both Bibi and Obama realize that they are going to have to face the problem of Iran together.”

***

The years 2009-2012 may have marked one of the lowest moments in U.S.-Israel relations—a period full of snubs, including Bibi being called to the White House and left alone with his staff as the president ate dinner with his family, constant reproaches, and even insults.

So, what changed? The fact is that there are just too many important issues that Washington and Jerusalem need to work together on in the immediate future. If the peace process per se is no longer at the top of the list, regional experts and former policymakers I spoke with agree that the two need to cooperate on establishing some sort of road map for the future of Palestinian-Israeli relations. Most important, the allies need to work together on the region’s most pressing concern: Iran’s nascent nuclear-arms program.

Some have argued that Israel’s recent campaign against Hamas commanders and its long-range missile arsenal in Gaza may have been a test-run for a more extensive attack against Iranian nuclear sites. If so, Operation Pillar of Defense suggests that the pattern looks something like this: Israel pulls off the military campaign while the United States does the diplomatic and political work. With Gaza, that amounted to keeping the Europeans quiet and the more delicate act of reminding Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi that Egypt’s national interests are best served by keeping the peace with Israel. Any campaign against Iran is going to involve yet more coordination, if not camaraderie.

Abrams agrees with the conventional wisdom that the military and security relationships between the two countries are as strong as ever. “But both Obama and Bibi recognize that the two governments need an improved relationship at the political level,” he said. “Pillar of Defense was an opportunity to show they can and will, and with Iran around the corner it becomes more important. But we’re not talking about a friendship here.”

Aaron David Miller, who served as a Middle East adviser to Democratic and Republican secretaries of state, put it more strongly: “It is the most dysfunctional relationship between a U.S. president and an Israeli prime minister,” he told me. “There have been other dysfunctional relationships, like Carter and Begin, Bush 41 and Yitzhak Shamir, Bibi and Clinton. Circumstances turned them into functioning relationships,” said Miller. “But Obama’s view of Israel is somehow unique. He was born after the occupation and functioned in an academic environment where being good on Israel is not necessary. He doesn’t have that spontaneous ‘I’m going to side with Israel’ that Clinton and Bush 43 had. He’s the first post-Leon Uris Exodus president.”

Paradoxically, what may be the tie that binds Bibi and Obama is not a policy success, but a failure. The difference between now and 2009, said Tamara Cofman Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs in the Obama Administration until she left to run the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in March 2012, is the relative importance of the peace process to the actors on the ground. “With Operation Cast Lead there had been a major war in Gaza, Hamas was degraded, and the question was: How do you shape this in a positive direction? Bibi was elected and made the Bar Ilan speech talking about two states for two peoples, and Obama took him at his word,” Wittes told me.

What changed the dynamic between Washington and Jerusalem, she said, “is that they tried with the peace process and failed. The administration has made a realistic assessment of where the two parties are and adjusted expectations to match.” In other words: It’s clear to the United States and Israel that the Palestinian leadership is not ready to make a deal right now. (And even if it was, it’s unlikely the majority of the Israeli electorate would be willing to go for it.) That’s essentially what Clinton said this past weekend at the Saban Forum in Washington. “If and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations to solve the conflict,” Clinton told a room full of senior American policymakers, Israeli officials, and journalists, “President Obama will be a full partner.”

It was reminiscent of Jim Baker’s “when you’re serious about peace, call us”—except more polite, said Wittes. The chances of such an agreement that would bring an end to the conflict are slim to none, said Aaron David Miller; “Israeli elections are likely to strengthen Bibi. And the Palestinian national movement, split between Fatah and Hamas, is like Noah’s Ark: They’ve got two of everything. Two leaderships, two visions, etc.” The question then, said Abrams, “is that if you believe a comprehensive settlement is not going to happen, what do you do? Do you help Fatah, strengthen the Palestinian economy? How do you prevent the collapse of the P.A.?”

Some Israelis at the Saban Forum, like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, argued that the goal now should be “to make the status quo as strong as possible, and reinforce it,” according to Wittes. “Secretary Clinton clearly expressed a very different perspective—that the status quo is not sustainable. So, where are we headed here? If the U.S. says there is nothing going here and we have other fish to fry—like the pivot to Asia—what is our desired end state? That is the conversation that needs to happen now.”

But Asia isn’t the other fish to fry—it’s Iran. That, ultimately, is the essence of this Israeli-American reset. Four years ago the White House was pushing the peace process in spite of what American allies—Israel and Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia—told the newly elected commander in chief. Four years later, Obama seems to have finally internalized that message.

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evasmagacz says:

With most of Democratic Party election funds ( and Republican Party, for that matter) from ideologically comitted Zionist Jewish donors, humiliation of being shown a middle finger by Israel comes with territory.

disqus_WfzSYkYFLk says:

Obama “was born before the occupation”? He was born in 1961.

This article is delusional. First, Obama just allowed the UN to vote affirmatively on the PLO terrorists application for observer status as a nation.. Second, Obama/Clinton told Bibi that if he went in to Gaza the US would stop supplying spare parts for Israeli aircraft. Third, Obama/Clinton are actively supporting Livni to re-enter Israeli politics to fight against Bibi. Third, Egypt is had moved completely to a totalitarian Islamist government and the White House has made hardly a peep. Fourth, the Senate just voted to increase sanction on Iran and Obama has said he will veto it. I could continue. The real question is why are so many Jews so delusional and frankly suicidal when it comes to supporting this administration; and please, Hillary is just as bad as Obama

PhillipNagle says:

Once again I must put forward the never answered question, why are the 1948 cease fire lines so much more legitimate than the 1967 cease fire line?

Shalom,

Muhammad outlawed Chess playing, because he couldn’t make out the moves and the fact that the Queen was dominant on the board. Its because of this Muslims cannot understand that Life is one long Chess Game.

Power Elite (PE) agent Lord Herbert Samuel (Jew)was one of the first to refer to the establishment of a “new world order” (House of Lords, May 16 and August 7, 1918). As a member of the Milner Group that controlled British foreign affairs from the beginning of the 20th century until WWII, Samuel in 1921 appointed Hajj Amin al-Husseini as Mufti and head political administrator of Arab Palestine. Lord Alfred Milner, who was in charge of executing PE member Cecil Rhodes’ secret “scheme to take the government of the whole world,” on June 27, 1923 in the House of Lords said regarding Palestine that there “must always remain not an Arab country or a Jewish country, but… an international country in which all the world has a special interest—I think some Mandatory Power will always be required.”

While al-Husseini was in Palestine, Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt in 1928, and it has been from this organization that radical Islamic groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and al Qaeda have come (Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek have reported connections between al Qaeda and MB members Mamoun Darkazanli and Youssef Nada). Former CIA agent Robert Baer in Sleeping With the Devil explained how the U.S. “made common cause with the [Muslim] Brothers” and used them “to do our dirty work in Yemen, Afghanistan and plenty of other places.”

In the 1930s, the MB supported Adolph Hitler (distributing his Mein Kampf), and by 1936 with only 800 members began to oppose British rule in Egypt.
By 1938, the MB’s membership had grown to 200,000, and by the late 1940s to at
least a half million.

In 1933, when Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany, Young Egypt (Green Shirts) was also founded in October of that year by Ahmed Hussein who had been greatly influenced by al-Husseini. Young Egypt supported Hitler and the Nazis, and one of its early members was Anwar Sadat who helped the Nazis during WWII. In a September 18, 1953 letter to the Egyptian news daily Al Mussauar, he expressed his admiration for Hitler.

During WWII, President Roosevelt was no real friend of the Jews. In Secretary of State Edward Stettinius’ papers, he wrote that during FDR’s meeting with Stalin at Yalta (February 4-11, 1945), Stalin asked FDR if he intended to make any concessions to King Saud of Saudi Arabia.

And then Stettinius wrote:

“The President replied that there was only one concession he thought he might offer, and that was to give him the 6 million Jews in the United States.”

The outrageousness of this remark by FDR is perhaps rivaled only by the hypocrisy of his “Day of Infamy” speech regarding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, because two weeks earlier (Nov. 25) he had talked with Secretary of War Henry Stimson about how they “should maneuver them [Japan] into the position of firing the first shot”!

Papa493 says:

“Muslims cannot understand that Life is one long Chess Game.”
Rarely is nonsense so entertaining. I hope the author provides us with other gems of his research.

Papa493 says:

“Obama just allowed the UN to vote affirmatively on the PLO terrorists application for observer status as a nation..”
Yes, why didn’t Obama stop the General Assembly from voting. What is our military for anyway?

herbcaen says:

Dear Ms Smegma
This site is predominantly a zionist website. Therefore, you may be rendered najas (Shiite for theologically unclean) by visiting it. Visit Stormfront instead

I wish I could share Lee’s optimism. The true test will come a bit later when Obama, as he has done before, insists on forcing Israel, on behalf of his “good cop” Abbas friends, to retreat back to the ’49 armistice lines which make it 9-15 miles wide at its waist, where most of Israel’s population resides. First as senator and later as president, Obama is on record (quoted in my own book http://q4j-middle-east.com) as stating that Israel would be crazy–exact words–not to accept the Saudi Peace Plan. That plan calls for such a retreat–and for Israel to allow itself to be inundated afterwards by a gadzillion alleged Arab refugees. In the aftermath of the ’67 war, the final draft of UNSC Res.242 promised Israel it would never have to make such a retreat to the Auschwitz Lines. It was to get a territorial compromise in the disputed territories instead. The fight over the settlement issue is largely all about this. Obama’s support of Israel in its fight against the “bad cops” of Hamas will likely come at the expense of his expecting Bibi to cave to the demands of the alleged good cops of Abbas later down the road. Please see these next two for further explanation http://kabylia.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/sham-justice-november-29-2012/ and http://www.virtualjerusalem.com/blogs.php?Itemid=8673

Fed_Up18 says:

Truth has an Israeli bias, sweetie – suck it up!

Carrie says:

Wrong. Obama just outsourced his Israel punishing to Europe for the time being.

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Have Obama and Bibi Made Up?

If the past few weeks are any guide, it looks like the open feud between Jerusalem and Washington is over

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