Commentary Magazine


Topic: thuggish president

Bibi’s Predicament

It should be clear by now that President Obama intends to pursue the “peace process” in the same way that he pursued health care — by ramming it down his opponent’s throat, in this case, Israel’s.

According to news reports, Obama has presented Bibi with a long list of demands, acquiescence to which would “resolve” the immediate Obama-created crisis and “allow” a move toward proximity talks (never mind that Israel has always been willing to hold direct talks). Obama thus places Bibi on the horns of an impossible dilemma: Both accepting and rejecting the demands carries immense costs.

Accepting the demands would be humiliating to Bibi. He would have to roll over and — in front of a global audience — expose his stomach to Obama like a defeated dog. This would surely please our thuggish president, but it would carry severe costs for Netanyahu: 1) He would be vilified in Israel and his domestic position imperiled. 2) Even if he wanted to roll, his government may not allow it; one or several of his coalition partners may abandon him. At a moment of critical national-security threats, the government might descend into crisis. Bibi knows that to allow this to happen in the decisive phase of the Iranian nuclear standoff would be supremely dangerous. And 3) Obama’s vindictive and outlandish behavior raises legitimate Israeli suspicions that the “proximity talks” would actually be a trap — and therefore Israel should reject the immediate demands as a way of forestalling the next round of bullying. Let us recall that just four months ago, the administration hailed the settlement freeze as an unprecedented concession; today Obama pretends that he never made the agreement.

So it appears as though Bibi cannot accept Obama’s demands. He will likely counter-offer by accepting some and offering compromise on others. But Obama, at least when it comes to the Jewish state, is in no mood to be trifled with and may insist on full compliance. And if Israel cannot or will not meet his demands, Obama has important cards to play. The four biggest ones are 1) U.S. support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, 2) active U.S. opposition to a strike on Iran, up to and including the Brzezinski threat of shooting down Israeli aircraft, 3) Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the UN and Europe, and 4) an escalating administration campaign to portray Israeli “intransigence” as a threat to the United States’ regional and international security.

By my reading, Bibi is in a very bad place right now. His options are either 1) total public humiliation and agreement to demands that could topple his government, followed by a diplomatic process that would force potentially lethal concessions on Israel, or 2) the U.S. preventing him from attacking Iran and removing the diplomatic shield that protects Israel from the deranged anti-Semitism of Europe and the Middle East (two increasingly indistinguishable regions).

There is a third scenario: Israel completely reshuffles the deck by attacking Iran.

It should be clear by now that President Obama intends to pursue the “peace process” in the same way that he pursued health care — by ramming it down his opponent’s throat, in this case, Israel’s.

According to news reports, Obama has presented Bibi with a long list of demands, acquiescence to which would “resolve” the immediate Obama-created crisis and “allow” a move toward proximity talks (never mind that Israel has always been willing to hold direct talks). Obama thus places Bibi on the horns of an impossible dilemma: Both accepting and rejecting the demands carries immense costs.

Accepting the demands would be humiliating to Bibi. He would have to roll over and — in front of a global audience — expose his stomach to Obama like a defeated dog. This would surely please our thuggish president, but it would carry severe costs for Netanyahu: 1) He would be vilified in Israel and his domestic position imperiled. 2) Even if he wanted to roll, his government may not allow it; one or several of his coalition partners may abandon him. At a moment of critical national-security threats, the government might descend into crisis. Bibi knows that to allow this to happen in the decisive phase of the Iranian nuclear standoff would be supremely dangerous. And 3) Obama’s vindictive and outlandish behavior raises legitimate Israeli suspicions that the “proximity talks” would actually be a trap — and therefore Israel should reject the immediate demands as a way of forestalling the next round of bullying. Let us recall that just four months ago, the administration hailed the settlement freeze as an unprecedented concession; today Obama pretends that he never made the agreement.

So it appears as though Bibi cannot accept Obama’s demands. He will likely counter-offer by accepting some and offering compromise on others. But Obama, at least when it comes to the Jewish state, is in no mood to be trifled with and may insist on full compliance. And if Israel cannot or will not meet his demands, Obama has important cards to play. The four biggest ones are 1) U.S. support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, 2) active U.S. opposition to a strike on Iran, up to and including the Brzezinski threat of shooting down Israeli aircraft, 3) Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the UN and Europe, and 4) an escalating administration campaign to portray Israeli “intransigence” as a threat to the United States’ regional and international security.

By my reading, Bibi is in a very bad place right now. His options are either 1) total public humiliation and agreement to demands that could topple his government, followed by a diplomatic process that would force potentially lethal concessions on Israel, or 2) the U.S. preventing him from attacking Iran and removing the diplomatic shield that protects Israel from the deranged anti-Semitism of Europe and the Middle East (two increasingly indistinguishable regions).

There is a third scenario: Israel completely reshuffles the deck by attacking Iran.

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