Nurtured in the Saul Alinsky-style, ACORN-esque tactics of organizing revolution under the banner of "social change," Barack Obama, as a young community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s understood early on the importance of a crisis and how to ride the waves of an emergency to effect the fundamental transformation of society.
As the nation’s chief executive, President Obama has demonstrated a particular specialty in the use and perpetuation of crises to push through policies that the public otherwise might not willingly accept, including the wildly unpopular healthcare law, immigration reform, and the first-term "stimulus" legislation. It is therefore unsurprising to detect the international export of the Obama’s “crisis” game plan to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A dispassionate look at the sequence of events shows that the Obama administration has generated an unprecedented crisis in US-Israeli relations, a crisis utilized at every twist and turn by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rivals, most notably those within his coalition, to try to shake up the country’s leadership. There is more than a hint of White House interference in helping to agitate the coalition drama that provoked Netanyahu’s hesitant decision last Tuesday to dissolve parliament and schedule early elections that could potentially see the prime minister unseated.
Before divining the Obama administration’s fingerprints on the events that led to Netanyahu’s predicament, the immediate question is just what about the Israeli premier makes him so problematic for this White House. The answer is fraught with policy implications that cut to the very heart of Obama’s dangerously myopic, academic view of the world and America’s place among friend and foe.
Unforgivable to the US president is Bibi’s stubborn refusal to acquiesce to the concept of a sweeping, final deal with Iran that many experts believe will leave the mullahs perpetually within months of a nuclear weapon. Never mind that Iran has numerous times threatened to wipe Israel off the map and is a main state sponsor of the Palestinian terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Obama is more than annoyed at Netanyahu’s Congressional activism of lobbying for tougher sanctions on Tehran at precisely the same time the US administration is working with European allies to extend sanctions relief until next June 30, as the deadline for nuclear talks was yet again postponed until that date. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Iran of using the drawn-out negotiations as a smokescreen to develop an illicit nuclear infrastructure.
Also problematic for the White House is the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian “peace” talks, with rhetoric from the Obama administration indicating that the US largely blames Netanyahu for the collapse of the negotiations. In the Alice's looking-glass lens through which Obama views the Middle East, the sturdy legs of the bargaining table broke because of Netanyahu’s decision to build Jewish homes in sections of Jerusalem that will most likely remain under Israeli sovereignty in any future deal. Also, like every other prime minister before him who engaged in these kinds of negotiations, Netanyahu had dared to insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, an understanding that Israelis see as central to peaceful co-existence.
Never mind that Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of freezing Jewish construction in the West Bank and sections of Jerusalem and even released Palestinian terrorists as “good will gestures” to help jumpstart talks with an intransigent Palestinian leadership.
Using a different lens on Palestinian complacency, the White House is blind to such infractions as Abbas’s decision to walk away from the talks and instead seek unilateral recognition at the United Nations; the near daily anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in the official Palestinian media; the role of Abbas’s Fatah organization in helping to guide riots currently rocking Jerusalem; the question of whether or not Abbas, amid Hamas gains in Gaza and the West Bank, even represents the Palestinian people; and of course the Palestinians' long history of walking away from every other major international attempt to broker peace.
The White House has singled out Netanyahu as standing in the way of Obama's utopian vision for a new Middle East and Persian Gulf. What better way to bypass this obstacle than aiding in Netanyahu’s removal from office?
Let’s look at the clues. Netanyahu’s decision last week to disband his coalition came when he dismissed his finance minister, Yair Lapid, and his justice minister, Tzipi Livni, both of whom have not disguised their ambitions for the country’s highest office. Tellingly, both took advantage of the steady stream of US criticism toward Netanyahu by leading an escalating public campaign in which they repeatedly accused Netanyahu of causing this dangerous rift in relations with Israel’s most important ally.
Case in point. In October, Israel’s Ynet news website reported that a request by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to meet with US Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice during his visit to Washington had been denied by the White House. This reported move is highly unusual, and was a nearly unprecedented snub of Netanyahu’s government. It helped to set off a firestorm against Netanyahu in Israel, particularly among the center and the left, with Livni and Lapid leading the charge.
Also in October, in what can only be viewed as an orchestrated campaign, the US espoused uncharacteristically harsh language to oppose a plan for Israel to build 2,610 new homes on empty lots in Givat Hamatos, a Jerusalem neighborhood in the eastern section of the city where Palestinians want to build a future state.
Immediately following a meeting between Netanyahu and President Obama in October, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki and White House spokesman Josh Earnest took the Israeli leader’s delegation by surprise when they released nearly identical statements slamming the Jerusalem construction. They warned the housing plans could distance Israel from its “closest allies,” a clear euphemism for the US, and questioned whether Netanyahu was interested in peace. Netanyahu for his part said at the time that he was “baffled” by the US criticism, stating the American position “doesn’t really reflect American values.”
As if on queue, Lapid and Livni raced to endorse the US condemnation and accuse Netanyahu once again of damaging US-Israeli relations. That month, Lapid took further issue with Netanyahu’s plan to build roughly 400 homes in Har Homa and about 600 in Ramat Shlomo. “This plan will lead to a serious crisis in Israel-US relations and will harm Israel’s standing in the world,” Lapid said.
In another seemingly orchestrated development, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in October described relations between the US and Israel as a “full-blown crisis” and reported that senior Obama administration officials had called Netanyahu “chickenshit” on matters related to the so-called peace process. Goldberg gratuitously added that Bibi is a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat.
This level of speech in a diplomatic confrontation between putative allies is close to unprecedented. The Atlantic published a comically ruder exchange, but it was between enemies.
Lapid jumped on the puerile and vulgar remarks to release a vaguely nuanced criticism of Netanyahu: “I said only a few days ago that there is a real crisis in the relations and it needs to be dealt with responsibly,” he said, while faux-lecturing US and Israeli officials on the “need to tackle the crisis behind the scenes.”
Adding more fuel to the anti-Bibi firestorm, Ha'aretz reported last week the Obama administration had held a classified discussion a few weeks earlier about possibly taking more proactive measures against the “settlements,” including mulling sanctions or punishing Israel at the United Nations. While the State Department dismissed the claims as "unfounded and completely without merit," the Ha'aretz article is already providing more fodder to target Bibi.
Here’s the kicker. In March, an informed diplomatic source in Jerusalem told me that representatives of the Obama administration held meetings with Lapid to check him out politically and to discuss the kind of prime minister he would make if he won elections in the future. The diplomatic source said the Obama administration identified Lapid as a moderate who would support Israeli-Palestinian talks. While the alleged meeting might have been as innocent as getting to know the powerful finance minister, the claim does fuel the perception of Obama administration tentacles working surreptitiously to change the political order in the Jewish state.
At the end of the day, this political interference could backfire monumentally. Obama’s support among the Israeli populace is dismal. Just last week, The Jerusalem Post reported on a poll that showed the number of Israelis who believe Obama had either a “positive” or a “neutral” view of Israel has fallen sharply. Israelis largely see Iran as their single greatest existential threat and seem to react positively to Netanyahu’s tough stance against the US-led negotiations. And remarkably, Netanyahu has the quiet support of the Egyptian and Saudi governments for his regional policies. It remains to be seen if Israelis are ready to entrust their security to a relative political newcomer like Lapid or the perpetually evolving Livni in the face of mounting threats that even now engulf the Jewish state in all directions.
(Originally published in The Jerusalem Post)
Aaron Klein is a weekend radio talk show host, author, and staffer for WorldNetDaily and columnist for The Jewish Press.