Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu must soon provide an answer to the demands President Obama lodged earlier this week. His answer is expected to be delivered shortly after the Passover seder, which takes place Monday evening.
The Jerusalem Post reports that Netanyahu met with his cabinet for five hours during which he maintained that Israel must not change its policy regarding East Jerusalem, a key sore point for Obama. However, it also reports that no firm decisions were reached.
As Noah Pollak points out, acceding to Obama’s demands seems like an unthinkable option. For one thing, Netanyahu’s standing in Israel would be undermined if he gave in to the unpopular demands of a president widely (and correctly) perceived as anti-Israel. For another, it’s unlikely that his government would permit Netanyahu to cave. Attempting to do so would destroy his coalition and lead to a political crisis.
Most importantly, if Netanyahu caves on this set of demands, it won’t be long before Obama presents another set. Netanyahu might as well ask Obama to write the “peace” agreement now and avoid the agony of serial humiliation.
Pollak contends, however, that standing up to Obama would also carry a steep price. He cites four possible harmful responses by the administration: 1) U.S. support for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood, 2) active U.S. opposition to a strike on Iran, up to and including the Brzezinski threat of shooting down Israeli aircraft, 3) Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the UN and Europe, and 4) an escalating administration campaign to portray Israeli “intransigence” as a threat to the United States’ regional and international security.
Obama may be willing to play some or all of these cards. But if he is, then he will be willing to play them to enforce his next set of demands too. Thus, unless Israel is prepared to let the U.S. dictate the terms of its national security, as well as its housing policy, Netanyahu should not be deterred.
Moreover, Obama is likely to oppose a strike on Iran under any circumstances. And Israel should not fret too much about ongoing White House criticism, particularly since Obama lacks the support of even congressional Democrats in his feud with Israel. A recent CNN poll showed that 80 percent of Americans consider Israel a friend or an ally. Thus, Obama is likely to be a party of one here in the U.S. in any ongoing feud.
Nonetheless, I expect Netanyahu to attempt to reach some sort of accommodation with Obama. I fear that Netanyahu has been uanble to process the fact that Obama isn’t playing by the old rules under which Israel was considered a U.S. friend and ally. Thus, I’m not confident that Netanyahu is prepared to play by new rules under which Israel largely ignores the U.S.president and goes it more or less alone, at least for a while.
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