President Obama sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today for what most observers speculated would be a tough series of talks. The two world leaders have frequently clashed, often in public and most notably over the Iran nuclear deal that Obama considers the cornerstone of his foreign policy legacy. Netanyahu attacked that agreement in an address to Congress earlier this year, which received a chilly reception from the White House.
Still, it was all smiles today, along with a warm handshake and expressed desire for peace. Left unsaid was that Obama had already pulled the rug out from under the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Aaron David Miller writes:
This week the Obama administration once again declared the peace process, and hopes for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, closed for the season. White House officials stated that an agreement between the two sides “isn’t in the cards” during what remains of the Obama presidency.
Having worked on the peace process for Republican and Democratic secretaries of state, I can’t recall a single administration that ever made such a statement.
This was not the first time President Barack Obama authorized such a declaration; he made a similar statement in March this year. But the timing now — just before the arrival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and with roughly a year to go in Obama’s presidency — is curious indeed. It’s a stunningly honest admission, particularly for a president who set such high goals seven years ago.
It may be, as Miller goes on to speculate, that Obama is simply acknowledging that short-term peace in an increasingly volatile Mideast is a pipe dream. More likely, I think, is this was another slight at Netanyahu, whose leadership the president views as an impediment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian riddle. And so the tension between America and Israel drags on. That tension itself isn’t unprecedented—Eisenhower and Reagan both had more dramatic flash points with Israeli leadership—but Obama’s rhetoric certainly is.
I’ve written before that, thanks to the Iran deal and other issues, America and Israel are genuinely diverging on matters of policy. That split is being exacerbated by personality—both the obstreperous Obama and the strident Netanyahu. Ultimately, the big loser here seems to be Israel, which is, however reluctant we are to admit it, a small fish swimming alongside a shark, dependent on the United States for standing and security.
Netanyahu may be winning at home, stoking the passions of reactionary young voters and overplaying the menace posed by Iran while underplaying the one posed by Sunni jihadists. But he’s losing his already-tenuous credibility among world leaders, who generally support the Iran deal and deplore Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. Future American and Israeli will need to smooth over the relationship. This president—and this prime minister—seem unlikely to do so.