Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Obama Going To Turn Netanyahu's Broad Coalition Against Him? (With Updates)

The whole idea of Netanyahu's coalition was that it would give him a broad base that would allow him to stand up to Obama in presenting Israel's case.

But a broad base brings with it a broader range of interests and agendas too, not only in regards to the two state solution, but in regards to the "settlements" as well--and that brings with it some pitfalls as well.

Aluf Benn already noted last week:
Many people in Washington seemed to be more interested in the life expectancy of the current Israeli government than in Netanyahu's positions. To a large extent, the answer to that will be dependent on Obama: The more he pressures Netanyahu to "stop the settlements," the greater the prime minister's coalition problems. Netanyahu is in a trap: The more he tries to persuade Obama he can provide the diplomatic goods, the quicker his coalition will expire.
The main issue was supposed to be the creation of a second Palestinian state--something that was as dependent on the actions and competencies of the Palestinian Arabs as on the Israelis. Instead, the focus of the Obama administration now seems to be on getting Netanyahu to acquiesce on the settlements--a unilateral issue:
In the administration’s strongest words to date, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that Mr. Obama viewed a freeze of settlement construction as a critical step toward a peace agreement. “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”
And if the focus is solely on Netanyahu, so is the pressure--and the danger:
But the tenor of Mrs. Clinton’s comments on Wednesday indicated to some analysts that the Obama administration was unlikely to budge from its position, even at the risk of putting Mr. Netanyahu’s government into jeopardy.

“She is stripping away whatever nuance, or whatever fig leaf, that would have allowed a deeply ideological government to make a settlement deal that is politically acceptable at home,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “They’ve concluded, ‘We’re going to force a change in behavior.’ ”
Sure, now Obama is all about change.

Is there any other country that is as subjected--and as susceptible-- to US pressure as Israel?

While she is not the first U.S. Secretary of State to make demands of Israel about settlements — Condoleezza Rice did the same thing in the last years of the Bush administration — the comments by the formerly down-the-line pro-Israel Clinton escalated the dispute brewing between the two countries. The question remains, at what point will the same words publicly pass the lips of the president himself, something that never happened during the Bush administration. If it happens during Obama’s speech to the Arab world from Cairo next week, it will undoubtedly be interpreted as a signal of a major rift in the U.S.-Israel alliance.

If so, then Obama must be convinced he will pay no significant political price for slamming Israel, something leftist Jews have been saying all year. It might also mean that he is trying to break the Netanyahu government and hopes for it to be replaced by one more to his liking. [emphasis added]
At the same time, Tobin notes that if this is indeed Obama's intent, Netanyahu and his coalition are not necessarily in trouble:
A lot of the commentary about this possibility, both here and in Israel, seems to take it for granted that Netanyahu will have no choice but to buckle and if he doesn’t, he’s doomed. One should never try to predict what is going to happen in Israeli coalition politics but if that is Obama’s goal, I think he’s being a trifle optimistic. In the Knesset that was just elected the math doesn’t really add up for a left-wing coalition. And as much as Netanyahu knows that maintaining close ties with the United States is a paramount concern for any Israeli government, it simply isn’t true that he must swallow everything Washington sends his way. There will be a price to pay for saying no, but he can do it, especially when it is about something so unreasonable as a demand that no houses be built in places Israel has no intention of giving up.
See also Israel Has A History Of Being Able To Say 'No' To The US

UPDATE II: Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser overseeing Near East and North African affairs in the Bush administration, already wrote last month in The Washington Post:
Settlement activity is not diminishing the territory of a future Palestinian entity. In fact, the emphasis on a "settlement freeze" draws attention from the progress that's needed to lay the foundation for full Palestinian self-rule -- building a thriving economy, fighting terrorism through reliable security forces and establishing the rule of law. A "settlement freeze" would not help Palestinians face today's problems or prepare for tomorrow's challenges. The demand for a freeze would have only one quick effect: to create immediate tension between the United States and Israel's new government. That may be precisely why some propose it, but it is also why the Obama administration should reject it. [emphasis added]
So the question remains: Is the Obama administration trying to pick a fight with Netanyahu?

UPDATE III: Powerline also thinks that Obama is trying to pick a fight:
Gone at last is the administration's reluctance to boss other nations through "pre-conditions." When it comes to Israel, Obama is willing to dictate whether parents can build a nearby house for their grown children.

Why is Obama more willing to talk this way to our friends than to our enemies? There are two logical explanations. First, our enemies will throw these kinds of statements back in Obama's face, whereas our friends will listen politely, at a minimum. Second, for Obama Israel is an adversary, whereas Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. are mere annoyances.

I favor both explanations.

A third factor is also at work here, I think (whether or to what extent it is independent of the second can be debated). The U.S. wants to topple the Israeli government. Thus, it sees value in picking a fight with it.
When some criticized that Israel's lack of follow through against Hizbollah and Hamas made it appear weak, who would have thought that would apply also to the US?

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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