A “fated” but unnecessary clash

“Israeli Coalition Appears Fated to Clash With U.S.” — that’s the headline of a Washington Post story predicting big trouble between the Obama administration and the right-wing coalition government Benjamin Netanyahu is putting together, after failing to bring in centrist or left-wing elements. The Post notes, correctly I think, that Netanyahu himself may well be willing to make concessions on issues such as Israeli settlements and the economic measures taken against Palesetinians. But his partners — hardliners such as Foreign Minister-designee Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Yaalon, said to be the leading candidate for Defense Minister — are unlikely to concur.

Deep into its article, the Post mentions an alternative scenario. In it, Netanyahu would push through some concessions to Palestinians in exchange for meaningful help from Obama on the issue of main concern to Netanyahu and to Israelis — dealing with the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. To the extent that such a compromise is possible, having Lieberman and other hardliners in his government may work to Netanyahu’s advantage in dealing with Washington because it allows him to insist on U.S. cooperation in dealing with Iran without himself seeming like the “obstructionist.”

Which scenario will materialize? It depends on whether Obama is willing to apply to Israel the principles of diplomacy he seems to embrace when it comes to other, far less friendly governments. If Obama deals in good faith with Netanyahu, along the lines suggested above, he obviously won’t get everything he wants. But isn’t Obama the one who is always denouncing the arrogance of a diplomacy that’s unwilling to take the other party’s concerns into account? If Obama can send valentines to the Iranian leaders, it shouldn’t be asking too much for him to bargain with, rather than dictate to, Israel.

I fear, however, that the Obama administration is fated to clash with Israel. The temptation to seize upon the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to put together a right-wing government that can be demonized in the West gives him too good a pretext for making demands (without concessions) that he knows will be unacceptable to Israel. Obama’s intention would be to blow up Netanyahu’s coalition, even though it clearly commands majority support among Israelis, and replace it with a government he can push around on behalf of the Palestinians.

In part, I think, this approach would be based on the antipathy I believe Obama has towards Israel, coupled with his Reverand Wright-liberation theology style sympathy for the Palestinians. It might also be based, in part, on the desire to have at least one government he can kick around while he (along with the nation) takes his lumps from Iran, Russia, and other hostile nations he seems so eager to appease.

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