As John has noted, the Obama administration is contemplating the imposition of sanctions on Israel as a response to new settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. So says Haaretz, a reliable Israeli source. When asked about this report, White House press secretary Josh Ernest did not deny it. Neither did the State Department’s spokesperson Marie Harf.
At a minimum, then, President Obama wants Israel to believe that he is thinking about imposing sanctions. And it may well be that he is.
There should be little doubt that Obama would like to sanction Israel. It’s long been plain that he doesn’t like Israel and that he despises Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Sanctioning Israel wouldn’t be the only bizarre measure Obama’s animus has produced. I’ve always thought that his selection of hapless Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense was rooted in this mindset.
This is speculation, though. Let’s focus on what we know.
We know that Israel is holding early elections. We know that the U.S. Congress will be incensed by even the thought of U.S. sanctions against Israel. And we know that Obama is hoping to negotiate a lessening of (if not an end to) sanctions against Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy.
There was a time, not long ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister risked much politically by getting on the wrong side of a U.S. president. In those days, the imposition of sanctions by the U.S. might well have toppled an Israeli government.
But the Obama presidency has changed this calculus. Indeed, it probably has changed it to the point that Netanyahu could profit from a decision by Obama to impose sanctions. Like John, I suspect the White House will be weighing this prospect as it makes a decision on whether to impose sanctions.
The administration will also consider the reaction of the U.S. Congress, especially as it relates to the negotiations with Iran. It seems clear that imposing sanctions on Israel will increase the likelihood that Congress, in turn, will try to sanction Iran — a move that could undermine negotiations — and will not approve an agreement between the U.S. and Iran.
Presumably, the Obama administration understands this. That’s why I’m skeptical that, in the end, we’ll see U.S. sanctions against Israel.