The good news is that George Mitchell is staying home rather than traveling to Israel today. If nothing, we’ve seen the danger in too much face time between the U.S. and Israel. The bad news is that the Obami are imposing three new conditions on Israel — they have the pretext, you see, after days of invented and exaggerated outrage. (1) Reverse the decision on Jerusalem housing units (what Israeli government could?). (2) Declare itself willing to discuss all “core issues” at the bargaining table, including the final status of Jerusalem (a demand that “could split Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government”). (3) Make a “substantial gesture” toward the Palestinians (because you can never humiliate Israel enough). One suspects the Obami have regime change — Israel’s — in mind.
The voices may now go quieter, but the behavior is the same — the Obami are seeking to corner Israel and demand of the Jewish state what it would never ask of the Palestinians. And they’d be delighted to force Netanyahu out in the process. As the Washington Post‘s editors write:
American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. Mr. Netanyahu already has made a couple of concessions in the past year, including declaring a partial moratorium on settlements. But on the question of Jerusalem, he is likely to dig in his heels — as would any other Israeli government. If the White House insists on a reversal of the settlement decision, or allows Palestinians to do so, it might land in the same corner from which it just extricated itself.
A larger question concerns Mr. Obama’s quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. He is not the first president to do so; in fact, he is not even the first to be hard on Mr. Netanyahu. But tough tactics don’t always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.
The editors also note that this is where we came in over a year ago — a failed and rather mean-spirited effort to wring maximum concessions out of Israel. Well at least the curtain has been pulled back and we know just how these people operate.
The American Jewish community has indulged the Obami up until now. Devotion to a liberal president (he’s pro-choice and will give us health care!) has trumped other concerns. It’s been interpreted by the Obami as a green light. At next week’s AIPAC conference, Hillary Clinton will speak and there will be ample opportunity to correct the impression.
Maybe three conditions need to be imposed on the Obami: no more unilateral demands of Israel, an apology for the “condemnation” language, and an end to the “summoning” and the scoldings. That should be the price of American Jews’ public and private support for Obama’s Israel policy — at the very least. It’s distressing that even that must be demanded.