Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Bad Bet

Let’s hope that President Obama has learned a lesson this week: do not pick unnecessary political fights with Prime Minister Netanyahu. As Jonathan has pointed out, Netanyahu will return home the clear winner of the 1967 border controversy, a public-relations victory for the Israeli leader.

If Obama expected his preemptive statement on Thursday to put Netanyahu on the defensive, he bet wrong. The prime minister couldn’t have been more relaxed as he walked in to address Congress earlier today, joking with Vice President Joe Biden that he remembered when the two of them were considered the “new kids in town.” Whether intentional or not, Netanyahu was sending an implicit message to Obama that he and Biden have been in this game for a long time, and are more seasoned than the president when it comes to Middle East politics.

Netanyahu didn’t make news during his address, but he didn’t need to. The image of the joint Houses of Congress rising up and down in their seats (I lost track of how many times) for standing ovations was powerful enough on its own. They applauded his assertion that “the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers” in Judea and Samaria, and his declaration that the borders will not return to the 1967 lines.

Contrast this with the reception to President Obama’s argument that border negotiations should be based on the 1967 lines. Not only was his suggestion rebuffed by two of the most prominent Democrats in congress during AIPAC, but other members of his party also released statements harshly criticizing him.

The past week highlighted the massive bipartisan support that Israel enjoys in Congress. This may not be the last time Obama tries to promote anti-Israel policies, but it has certainly shown us that the Democratic Party will not be there to support him if he does.