It is hard to imagine that U.S.-Israeli relations could have reached this point. But they have. The Washington Post aptly described where we stand: “Ties Plunge To A New Low.” In short, “relations with Israel have been strained almost since the start of the Obama administration. Now they have plunged to their lowest ebb since the administration of George H.W. Bush.” And there is no improvement in sight. After the public and private scolding by the vice president over the building of housing units in Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton continued the hollering, this time in a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu that was eagerly relayed to the media:
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades after the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced during his visit that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem.
Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”
As the Post points out, the relationship has been rocky from the get-go. (“From the start of his tenure, President Obama identified a Middle East peace deal as critical to U.S. national security, but his efforts have been hampered by the administration’s missteps and the deep mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”) Actually, it is the mistrust between Israel and the U.S. that is at the nub of the problem. We hear that the Obami intend to use this incident to pressure Israel to “something that could restore confidence in the process and to restore confidence in the relationship with the United States.” And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami are escalating the fight — making relations more tense and strained — to achieve their misguided objective, namely to extract some sort of unilateral concessions they imagine would pick the lock on the moribund “peace process.”
It’s mind boggling, really, that after this public bullying, the Obami expect the Israelis to cough up more concessions and show their faith in the American negotiators. And if by some miracle they did, what would that change? Where is the Palestinian willingness or ability to make a meaningful peace agreement?
In the midst of the administration’s temper tantrum, we find yet another reason for George W. Bush nostalgia: we used to get along so much better with Israel. Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams (who had the curious notion that a relationship of mutual respect and affection could encourage Israel to take risks for peace) writes:
The current friction in U.S.-Israel relations has one source: the mishandling of those relations by the Obama administration. Poll data show that Israel is as popular as ever among Americans. Strategically we face the same enemies — such as terrorism and the Iranian regime — a fact that is not lost on Americans who know we have one single reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. … the Obama administration continues to drift away from traditional U.S. support for Israel. But time and elections will correct that problem; Israel has a higher approval rating these days than does President Obama.
Very true, but alas, both American voters and the Israelis must endure at least another few years of this. When the Obami talked of restoring our standing in the world and repairing frayed relations with allies, they plainly didn’t have Israel in mind. They have, through petulance and complete misunderstanding of the real barrier to peace, made hash out of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Those who imagined we’d be getting smart diplomacy must now be chagrined to know how ham-handedly one can conduct foreign policy.