Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on election day about Arab voters was inappropriate, as he himself admitted by apologizing. But Barack Obama had no business commenting on what is an internal Israeli matter. You would think that after seven years of counter-productive Middle East policy, Obama would have learned his lesson. Not at all: in his case, nemesis nurtures hubris.
The Obama Administration is incensed at Israel these days. The President himself publicly reprimanded Israel’s Prime Minister for his election day comment, and expressed concern for the future of Israeli democracy. Obama’s Chief-of-Staff, Denis McDonough, declared at the J-Street conference this week that “an occupation that has lasted 50 years must end.” State Department Spokesperson Mary Harf stated that it is for Israel to “demonstrate commitment to a two-state solution” and hinted that the Obama Administration does not trust Netanyahu: “We just don’t know what to believe at this point”, she said.
Barack Obama’s concerns about Israeli democracy hardly sound genuine in light of recent revelations about his undercover attempts to influence the outcome of Israeli elections. Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff just revealed in The Times of Israel that a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity disclosed that the Obama Administration was directly involved in an attempt to topple the Israeli Prime Minister. On March 22, Republican strategist John McLaughlin declared on “The Cats Roundtable” radio show that “President Obama and his allies were playing in the election to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu”, using US taxpayers’ money to fund the V15 campaign against Netanyahu, a campaign guided by former Obama political operative Jeremy Bird.
Obama’s attempt to undermine Netanyahu went beyond V15. On March 6, less than two weeks before Election Day, Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea published a document revealing that Netanyahu had allegedly agreed to a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines with land swaps and Israeli recognition of Palestinian claims over East Jerusalem. In other words, that Netanyahu had agreed to concessions he publicly opposes. Who could possibly have leaked such a document if not the Obama Administration? Precisely because Obama was trying to turn right-wing voters away from Netanyahu with this leak, Netanyahu had no choice but to reassure those voters by declaring that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch. To echo Mary Harf, we just don’t know what to believe at this point: two weeks ago, the Obama Administration wanted us to believe that Netanyahu was a starry-eyed peacenik; now it is warning us that he is a peace renegade.
While the Obama Administration is lashing out at Netanyahu after unsuccessfully trying to prevent his reelection, the Palestinians keep getting a free pass. Obama has never demanded from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to demonstrate his commitment to the two-state solution, nor has he ever threatened to reevaluate his policy toward the PA, despite Abbas’ alliance with Hamas; despite the absence of elections in the PA since 2006; despite Abbas’ failure to respond to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace offer; despite Abbas’ rejection of Hillary Clinton’s 2011 peace proposal, and his rejection of John Kerry’s last year; despite Abbas’ outrageous charge of genocide against Israel from the UN General Assembly podium; despite the anti-Semitic incitement in Abbas’ state-controlled media; despite Abbas’ repeated declarations that no Jew shall be tolerated in the Palestinian state; despite Abbas’ insistence that he can waive his own “right of return” to Safed but not that of five million Palestinians to Israel. Indeed, Mary Harf has never expressed difficulty in figuring out “what to believe” between Abbas’ conciliatory statements in English and his bellicose ones in Arabic.
What Netanyahu explained in his NBC interview after being reelected makes perfect sense. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution. But for that, circumstances have to change,” he said. And current circumstances include Abbas’ alliance with Hamas, Iran’s warning that it will arm the future Palestinian state, and the fact that the Obama Administration lets the Palestinians get away with everything. So when Denis McDonough says that the occupation must end, it is for him to provide a credible alternative. And, absent US pressures on the Palestinians, there is no credible alternative. Dennis Ross argued inThe New York Times on January 4, 2015, that if the Europeans are serious about achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians, they should “stop giving the Palestinians a pass” and “raise the cost of saying no.” Well said, Dennis. But what about the Obama Administration?