Commentary Magazine


Topic: up Bibi’s Coalition

Obama Officials: Relax, We’re Just Trying to Break up Bibi’s Coalition

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with White House officials today and posted this report.

So what is the goal? The goal is force a rupture in the governing coalition that will make it necessary for Netanyahu to take into his government Livni’s centrist Kadima Party (he has already tried to do this, but too much on his terms) and form a broad, 68-seat majority in Knesset…

Obama knows that this sort of stable, centrist coalition is the key to success. He would rather, I understand, not have to deal with Netanyahu at all — people near the President say that, for one thing, Obama doesn’t think that Netanyahu is very bright, and there is no chemistry at all between the two men — but he’d rather have a Netanyahu who is being pressured from his left than a Netanyahu who is being pressured from the right.

So here we have on record the Obama administration saying 1) that it is trying to topple the government of a democratic ally (if only we could try this in Tehran!) 2) that it believes it has such mastery of Israeli politics that publicly bludgeoning Bibi will result in such a shakeup, and that 3) even if the hoped-for new government is formed, the White House thinks it’s a good idea to go on record stating that the Prime Minister they will have to deal with is stupid.

This is pretty amazing. And it’s more evidence that not only is Obama ignorant of how Israel and the Middle East work, but that he refuses to do any on-the-job learning. He is pushing forward with his failed strategy of a year ago, only this time with a bigger hammer. He appears to be unconcerned with the importance to the Israeli public of his reversal on the terms of the settlement freeze, which the White House was praising just a few months ago. He clearly does not understand one of the basic lessons they teach in Peace Process 101 — that Israel does not take risks for peace when it feels threatened, especially not when it feels threatened by the United States. Obama clearly doesn’t understand this, although I remain skeptical that all of this is really about the peace process.

So, Obama has made new, unrealistic demands; Netanyahu has rejected them; and now the world waits to see what Obama is going to do in response. Meanwhile, he has chased the Arabs even further up a tree, encouraging them to raise their demands while undermining Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to join talks. Lesson definitely not learned from the previous go-round.

And it’s particularly rich that Obama’s people told Goldberg that they think Bibi isn’t very smart. Remember what the president himself admitted to Joe Klein a few months ago about his management of the peace process?

This is just really hard. … I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.

He’s still not anticipating.

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