March 20, 2015

Aftermath of the Israeli Election

Expect a defeated Obama to be as petulant as ever toward our ally.

Now that liberals’ hopes for a leftward turn in Israel have been dashed thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unexpected (and resounding) election victory, the question becomes just how an angry and chastened Barack Obama will react. Our Sore Loser in Chief waited until yesterday to congratulate the Israeli PM on his historic fourth term. We already know Obama supported the opposition led by Isaac Herzog and his Zionist Union Party, but now he will have to attempt to strike an Iranian deal with opposition both at home and with America’s long-standing Middle Eastern ally.

One initial reaction from the Obama administration dealt with the tactics used in the Likud Party’s victorious campaign. “[T]here has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged … that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” a scandalized White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest complained. “The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens.” In other words, Netanyahu’s win was RACIST!!!

Obama has a hammer, so every problem looks like a nail.

Perhaps the worst “sin” committed by Netanyahu in the closing days of his campaign, though, was his inaccurately reported abandonment of the two-state strategy favored by the United States and other allies. What he actually said was that a two-state solution almost certainly would not happen in the foreseeable future because conditions don’t merit it. “I’m talking about what is achievable and what is not achievable,” Netanyahu clarified Thursday. After all, it’s not the Israelis who reject peace.

Nevertheless, one White House official wistfully noted, “This screws up the peace process.” The official argued Netanyahu’s win would embolden the prime minister to establish more Jewish settlements in an effort to undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state.

Several experts in American-Israeli relations believe this disagreement between the two nations over the Palestinian issue may manifest itself at the United Nations, where the United States has often shielded our ally against the excesses of anti-Semitic rhetoric and resolutions. One senior White House official noted, “We are signaling that if the Israeli government’s position is no longer to pursue a Palestinian state, we’re going to have to broaden the spectrum of options we pursue going forward.”

These options could include the United States finally allowing the passage of resolutions condemning Israel’s settlements on areas considered Palestinian territory or calling for Israel’s blanket withdrawal from the West Bank. Another direction for the Obama administration would be to drop its opposition to plans for the Palestinian Authority to formally join the International Criminal Court in April.

In any case, the Netanyahu victory may allow for a more international route toward a two-state solution for the Palestinian conflict, meaning the United States may back Middle East peace plans imposed on Israel by the United Nations.

But there are others who want to rein in the Israelis as well, and they may use Netanyahu’s victory to justify their intentions. Last month, the European Union was reportedly considering new sanctions against Israel to spur them to action on Palestinian issues. “The assumption in Europe is that after the election Israel will have a rightist government, in which case it would be easier for them to advance these measures,” said one Israeli official. Sanctions would be targeted at European companies that work in settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, not necessarily at Israel.

The idea of additional settlements has also drawn the ire of the Obama administration. Earnest remarked last November that such a move – to build 2,500 new homes in East Jerusalem – would “distance Israel from even its closest allies.”

In terms of the relationship between the United States and Israel, March has been a tumultuous month. It began with Netanyahu’s stirring address to a joint session of Congress and continued with his surprising electoral victory on Tuesday.

Yet for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the supposed demise of the two-state solution, the larger difference between the U.S. and Israel remains the latter’s staunch opposition to Obama’s looming nuclear deal with Iran. Clearly, Obama was hoping to have a prominent obstacle out of the way, particularly as Netanyahu’s visit served to steel the spine of 47 Senate Republicans whose open letter to Iran reminded both the mullahs and the Obama administration of the Senate’s constitutional role in major agreements with other nations.

In his address to Congress, Netanyahu vowed Israel would act alone to defend itself if it had to. With his re-election, it appears even more likely that over the next two years our petulant president will do his part to make sure our longtime ally is more isolated than ever.

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