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Europa Quotidiano, Italy

Obama and Netanyahu:
A Complicated Relationship

By Guido Moltedo

Translated By Micaela Bester

23 January 2013

Edited by Kyrstie Lane

Italy - Europa Quotidiano - Original Article (Italian)

On Monday, Barack Obama’s second term started in grand style, saluted by an enthusiasm less crazed than four years ago but, as compensation, encouraged by the highest “approval ratings” in the polls since he has been in the White House.

Yesterday’s vote will assign the leadership of Israel for the third time to Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, accompanied by the likely success of Naftali Bennett, head of Habayit Hayeudi, the new party which crosses Likud on the right and finds widespread support among the colonists. So, on the one hand is a stronger Obama, a president no longer conditioned by the hassle of having to be re-elected; on the other hand, a Bibi even more determined to pursue those “muscular” politics that, during the first Obama term, fueled a growing and evident contrast between America and Israel, to the point that the Israeli premier openly supported Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the presidential race. His friend and financer, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, invested $100 million in a campaign directly aimed at the electoral defeat of Obama. The same Adelson actively supported the Bibi campaign through the free daily Yisrael Hayom, the most widespread newspaper in Israel. Furthermore, according to this newspaper, Obama would seek to “interfere in the Israeli elections.” If he did, he obtained the opposite result, seeing that Likud is strongly for the intransigent (and soft, with regard to colonists) positions of Bibi on the Palestinian front and on the Iranian front, provoking open disagreement with the American administration and Europe.

It is a fact that no love is lost between the heads of the two historically linked countries. Between the two there is a “dysfunctional relationship,” a “complicated relationship,” as Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, who recently collected the confidences of Obama on Bibi and on Israel, observes. According to the U.S. president, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.”

At every announcement of a new colony Netanyahu conducts his country along a course which leads it to almost total isolation. And with regard to the relationship with the Palestinians, Obama considers Bibi “a political coward… an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise”, according to Goldberg.

Obama does not intend, with such rhetoric, to put the weight of his presidency into play by committing himself to strenuous (and futile) political and diplomatic labor aimed at restoring enthusiasm to the Israel-Palestine negotiations. In his first term, the dossier was entirely managed by Hillary Clinton, who did little or nothing. In his second term, new Secretary of State John Kerry will take care of it, animated by a strong interest in re-tackling the issue. But he is regarded with suspicion by the Israeli government, almost as much as his future colleague at the Pentagon, Chuck Hagel, is considered an enemy of Israel. And in fact, the very choice of Kerry and Hagel has further stiffened the Israeli management with regard to Obama.

All this leaves us wondering about a period never seen before, of irreducible misunderstandings between the two strategic allies. Will it really be thus? Or will political realism prevail? The voice of a special appointment of Bill Clinton or Colin Powell to the Middle East allows us to imagine a more positive scenario. Thus the hypothesis, supported strongly by the Washington Post, of a reset of U.S.-Israel relations by a coalition government of Likud, not with the extreme right, but with the forces of the center-left. If he does not do so, “Netanyahu could find himself isolated both within his own government and internationally”, according to a “Washington Post” editorial.



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