Commentary Magazine


Bibi’s “Note” to Obama

In a must-read and quite delightful column, Bret Stephens pens a Bibi Netanyahu “note” (not really, but it’s a doozy). The heart of it is this explanation for what’s wrong with Obama’s Middle East gambit:

Mr. President: Most Israelis don’t trust you, the way they trusted George W. Bush or [even] Bill Clinton. And let me tell you why that’s a problem.

When my predecessor Arik Sharon pulled out of Gaza, he didn’t do so through negotiations with the Palestinians. Those negotiations fail time and again, in part because the Palestinians figure they can hold out for more, in part because they’re cutting their own deals with Hamas.

So what Sharon did was negotiate with you, the United States. And what he got was a promise, in writing, that the U.S. would not insist on a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines in any final settlement agreement.

My problem is that Hillary disavowed that promise last year, and you did so again by treating a neighborhood in Jerusalem as a “settlement.” So when you pledge your commitment to Israel’s everlasting security, how can we take your word for it, or know that your successor won’t also renege? We don’t want to wind up like Belgium before World War I, relying on phony guarantees of neutrality.

Stephens/”Bibi” has some advice to Obama: start “building some serious trust with Israelis if you mean to give me the political tools to negotiate with the Palestinians.” No, Obama’s not going to drive Bibi from office, but he will, Stephens/”Bibi” argues, cause the Jewish state to  lose faith in the U.S. president where it matters most — on the Iran nuclear threat. (“Hillary gave a fine speech at AIPAC yesterday, but we all know that you’re already planning on containing a nuclear Iran. That’s not acceptable to me.”) Yes, “acceptable” is the word the Obami toss around like confetti, but it is fast becoming meaningless as the Obami’s actions appear utterly divorced from the preferred intention of depriving the Iranians of a nuclear weapon.

This is an argument of reverse linkage. You recall that the Obami were all about linking progress on the Palestinian issue to a successful effort to block the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, it was a non sequitur, but that’s what they said. In reality, the Obami’s Middle East policy is communicating a different message to Israel: you’re going to have to take care of Iran on your own. The U.S. is so enamored of getting along in the Muslim World and so unwilling to draw a line with the mullahs that Israel will/is faced with a choice: do nothing (which is the same as waiting around for the Obami to act) or take military action themselves.

By his recent verbal assault, Obama meant perhaps to paralyze Israel, creating uncertainty as to whether the U.S. would be with Israel if it came down to a military action against Iran. But Israel cannot be paralyzed into inactivity (for reasons amply stated by Alan Dershowitz on the same newspaper page). The result then of all the Obami carrying on is to create a less secure U.S.-Israel relationship and to spur Israel to act unilaterally. Unfortunately, that part isn’t fictional.

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