President Obama is attempting to use a mistimed announcement by Israel of its intention to build housing units in East Jerusulem as a means of pressuring Israel into making major concessions to the Palestinian Authority. Israel has apologized for the timing of its announcement, but the White House is demanding much more in the way of atonement.
Obama’s ploy has drawn strong criticism from mainstream American Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC — outfits that certainly don’t make it a habit to speak harshly about the American government. And now, the White House’s approach has been criticized by the editors of the Washington Post.
The Post comes at the issue based not on the equities, but on its standard for assessing nearly all matters pertaining to Israel — whether Obama’s conduct is advancing or retarding the “peace process.” To me this is a warped perspective because the peace process is an illusion.
But the Post’s perspective is an important one because it purports to reject what Obama is doing even on its own terms (the Post assumes that Obama is trying to advance the cause of peace, not simply letting off steam after a tough year by venting against a country he can’t stand; I’m not so sure). If Obama’s actions fail to garner support even from those who would like Israel to do at least some of what Obama is demanding — and from an institution like the Post that is more than willing to criticize Israel — then the administration has little hope of winning over mainstream Israelis and Americans for its crusade against the Netanyahu government. And without such support, that crusade is likely to be as unsuccessful this year as it was early last year when Obama and Hillary Clinton attempted to browbeat Israel into making concessions.
In fact, it is the lesson from last year that forms the basis for the Post’s criticism of the administration. The editors write:
Mr. Obama risks repeating his previous error. American chastising of Israel invariably prompts still harsher rhetoric, and elevated demands, from Palestinian and other Arab leaders. Rather than join peace talks, Palestinians will now wait to see what unilateral Israeli steps Washington forces. Mr. Netanyahu already has made a couple of concessions in the past year, including declaring a partial moratorium on settlements. But on the question of Jerusalem, he is likely to dig in his heels — as would any other Israeli government. If the White House insists on a reversal of the settlement decision, or allows Palestinians to do so, it might land in the same corner from which it just extricated itself.
Only this time, Netanyahu may not be quite as willing to bail Obama out as he was before.
The Post continues:
A larger question concerns Mr. Obama’s quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government. He is not the first president to do so; in fact, he is not even the first to be hard on Mr. Netanyahu. But tough tactics don’t always work: Last year Israelis rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu, while Mr. Obama’s poll ratings in Israel plunged to the single digits. The president is perceived by many Israelis as making unprecedented demands on their government while overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders. If this episode reinforces that image, Mr. Obama will accomplish the opposite of what he intends.
It’s impossible to see how Obama’s petulent, opportunistic conduct is consistent with any other image.