Everything is Personal: How Jerusalem Lost Contact with Washington

Posted: June 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

cross-posted with FPW.

Is the Israeli government ready to come out of its shell and respond to President Obama’s Middle East plan?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced today at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting that he will present his answer to Obama’s speech in Cairo next week. The PM intends to hold his own “major diplomatic speech,” in which he will discuss “our principles for achieving peace and security.” According to Haaretz, the speech will probably be given in the Bar Ilan university near Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu will receive an honorary doctorate on June 16th.

In the past few weeks, Netanyahu has faced growing criticism– even from his supporters – for not preparing himself for the shift in the American administration’s policy. When Washington started sending signals – and later on, explicit demands – with regards to the settlements issue and the two-state solution, the Israeli government responded with panic. Instead of presenting his own vision of the future of the Middle East – even as some sort of lip service, just to get the Americans off his back – the PM made it seem like there is no partner in Jerusalem.

It is clear today that the new Israeli government has failed to appreciate the magnitude of the changes happening in Washington. Part of the reason is poor timing: the Obama team has been preparing a new policy since November. Netanyahu had just a month in office before he met the new president. One could guess that the fact that the first person to leave office after the Israeli elections was the Israeli ambassador in Washington didn’t do much good either.

But the roots of the problems run deeper. In the last few years, the Israeli officials, the Jewish establishment in Washington and, most notably, Netanyahu himself, moved closer and closer to the Republican Party, and especially to its Neo-Con wing, abandoning a long lasting policy of real bipartisanship by Israeli representatives and supporters.

Michael Oren, Israel’s new ambassador to the US, has been writing in recent years for the Israeli Neo-Con institute, The Shalem Center; the deputy Foreign Minister and former ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon, went out publicly against Barack Obama during the Democratic Primaries; and gambling Billioner Sheldon Adelson (“the richest Jew on earth”), a contributor to the Republican party and to former president George W. Bush, became Netanyahu’s most important supporter, political ally, and friend. The PM’s office in Jerusalem is even run by Nathan Eshel, a right wing man who was working for Adelson until the Israeli elections. As one Israeli pundit put it, Netanyahu has the perfect team to work with the American president, as long as that president is George W. Bush.

One should never overlook the importance of personal and ideological ties in international affairs. The political changes in both administrations – happening almost in the same time, but in opposite directions – led to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and a total lack of trust between Jerusalem and Washington. The fact that the Israeli Foreign Office was given to Avigdor Liberman, who has his own political agenda, didn’t help either. For the first time in decades, a US president presented a political agenda for the region without consulting, or even giving advance notice to, Israel. Netanyahu watched Obama’s speech on TV, just like everyone else.

It seems that today we entered the damage control phase. Netanyahu knows he still has the Jewish public in Israel on his side. According to a poll published in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Most people think the current crisis is the Americans’ fault, and that the new president is unsympathetic to Israel, to say the least. Netanyahu’s approval rating is still above 50 percent. But more than 50 percent of the Israelis also think that the government should do as Obama says – either because they support his Middle East vision (though the poll was taken before the Cairo speech), or, more likely, because they think their country just can’t afford a fight with Washington.

2 Comments on “Everything is Personal: How Jerusalem Lost Contact with Washington”

  1. 1 Carol Herman said at 2:23 pm on June 7th, 2009:

    Stop a minute. Let’s say you’re the Iranian Ahmadini-gag. He sees this. And, he notices how easy it is for the USA to deny there was ever any deal except that the Jews had signed off on “going back to their 1948 borders.” This means America is used to making treaties with American Indians. Not exactly the deals you’d make if you had all the experience muslims have had as business people. Besides, all that’s apparent is that Obama is PUSHING the SAUD’s plan. And, the Saud’s are Iran’s ENEMY. Don’t expect great results from stupid behaviors, where your country just can’t be trusted. Bibi’s okay. He just has to stay polite. And, repeat, “it’s the TERRORISM, STUPID!”

  2. 2 Eyck said at 4:34 pm on June 15th, 2009:

    I Cant Belive How Much Influence A Leader From Another Country Has Over Israeli Policy. If Roles Where Revearsed With The U.s. And Israeli The American People Would Stage An Armed Revolt.