According to the Jerusalem Post, Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, convened his nation’s consuls in the country for an emergency briefing and told them that last week’s dispute, which began with the announcement of new apartments being built in East Jerusalem, has become the “worst crisis” between Israel and the U.S. since 1975.
Given the escalation of American attacks on Israel’s government from a variety of sources in the last few days, it’s hard to argue with Oren’s analysis. Israel was in the wrong to have let such an announcement be made while Biden was in the country, but the escalation of the incident from a minor kerfuffle to a genuine crisis seems to be a conscious decision on the part of the administration. After all, had Obama wanted to be truly even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians, he could have treated the Palestinian decision to honor a mass murderer during Biden’s visit as being every bit as insulting as the building of apartments in an existing Jewish neighborhood.
Others have already started to dissect the administration’s motivation. As John wrote, pique and a lack of caring about the consequences play a big role in this crisis. The willingness to push back so disproportionately against Israel, to single it out for opprobrium in a way not customary to this administration even in its treatment of open foes (think back to Obama’s equivocal reaction to the stolen election and repression of dissent in Iran last summer) should also force friends of the Jewish state to return to a question that was much discussed last summer: Why has Obama decided to downgrade relations with Israel?
In 2009, relations between Israel and the United States were primarily characterized by a ginned-up dispute about settlement construction. Not only did Washington choose to make more of an issue about settlements than previous administrations had, it also escalated the problem by specifically rejecting past agreements with Israel regarding construction in those places which the U.S. had acknowledged that Israel would keep even in the event of a far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians. Even more troubling for the Israelis was a demand that construction of Jewish homes be halted in Jerusalem.
Though eventually, the Netanyahu government would give way and accept a temporary settlement freeze in the West Bank, it stood its ground on Jerusalem and won. By the end of the year, it appeared as though Obama had understood that his decision to test the Israelis was a failure. The hope that some in the White House had harbored about using their influence to topple the Netanyahu government had been unrealistic. Challenging Netanyahu on Jerusalem had strengthened his popularity. Distancing themselves from Israel had also not gotten the Palestinians to budge on making peace. Nor had it won the United States any extra goodwill in the Muslim world. It had just raised unreasonable expectations about Obama delivering Israel to them on a silver platter while motivating no one to greater efforts to cope with a real threat to both the United States and Israel: Iran’s nuclear program.
By the time of Biden’s visit last week, it had appeared that the administration had learned its lesson and was no longer placing any faith in the idea that pressure on Israel would do anyone any good. But the way they have gone off the deep end about an issue that was supposedly resolved last year makes you wonder how much Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have learned from their first year in office. Specifically, have they decided that this is an opportunity to make another push to get rid of Netanyahu by leveraging the dismay that Israelis feel about last week’s blunder?
The administration’s dispute with Netanyahu and with the mainstream pro-Israel community, which continues to support Israel’s democratically-elected government (as demonstrated by the statements from the Anti-Defamation League and the AIPAC condemning Obama’s overreaction), was never so much about boosting the non-existent chances for peace with the Palestinians as it was about changing the relationship between the two countries from one of close friendship to a more adversarial one. Hillary Clinton’s reported demands for more pointless Israeli concessions and the prospects for another year of non-action on Iranian nukes leave us with the same question we were asking a few months ago: When will Obama’s Jewish supporters face up to the fact that the man in the White House is no friend to the Jewish state?