Commentary Magazine


Topic: neuralgia

No Way to Run a Foreign Policy

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

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