Israel, Obama Has Never Been This Harsh: ‘Netanyahu’s Words Make Peace More Difficult’

The day before the vote of March 17, the Israeli prime minister affirmed that, “With me as prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state,” with the aim of getting the vote of the settlers on the right, the nationalists, the religious orthodox. These were words that, as the head of the White House affirms, “conflict with the most profound nature of Israel’s democracy.”

Whoever would have believed in, or hoped for a change of course in relations between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu after the Israeli election needs to re-evaluate. Saturday, in an interview with The Huffington Post, Obama said that the affirmations made by the Israeli prime minister in the last hours of the electoral campaign “made more difficult” the path to peace and “conflict with the most profound nature of Israel’s democracy.” Never in the past, has an American president gone this far to criticize the policies of an Israeli prime minister.

Obama waited two full days before calling Netanyahu to congratulate him for his victory in the election. This was a sign that Netanyahu’s “slight” in giving his speech to the U.S. Congress — he was invited by Republicans without first going through the White House — has not been forgotten. In the interview, Obama however reveals that the phone call to Jerusalem was not one of pure congratulations. On the contrary, the American president launched into a critique that was better articulated by what Netanyahu said in the electoral campaign, and went all the way to threatening the possibility that the behavior of the United States regarding Israel, especially in the U.N. Security Council, could change.

First of all, Obama complained to Netanyahu about the affirmations that went against the “two state” solution. “I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible,” explained Obama. The day before the vote, Netanyahu affirmed that, “With me as prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state.” This was an affirmation that had the clear aim of getting the vote of right-wing settlers, nationalists, the religious orthodox, and the prime minister, once he had won the elections, retracted his remarks, in a way, explaining that he was in favor of the two-state solution, “if conditions on the ground permit it.”

Obama shows that he has not enjoyed Netanyahu’s fluctuations in search of votes: “We took him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.” Obama goes further and explains that what Netanyahu has promised to the settlers and the religious right must not in any way be accepted by the American administration: “We can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.”

Obama’s harshest words can be found on the topic of the call — which many in Israel have labeled as “racist” – that Netanyahu made to the right-wing voters the day of the election. To convince them to go to the polls, Netanyahu rang the alarm about Arab Israelis “who go to vote in droves.” “We indicated,” Obama says this time, “that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions. That although Israel was founded based on the historic Jewish homeland and the need to have a Jewish homeland, Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly.” If this should not happen, explained Obama, in what is perhaps the harshest and most peremptory part of the interview, “not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also I think starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”

No American president in the past has ever used such harsh words against a legally elected leader of Israel, to the point of bringing into question the democratic and pluralistic nature of the political project underway in Jerusalem. In the Israeli capital, at this moment, among the politicians, in the media, and among the cultural and social elites, there is a debate going on about where this impatience, which is now clear, on the part of Washington could lead. Excluding that the U.S. could rethink its defense aid to Israel, $3 billion per year, the most probable hypothesis is that the U.S. administration could soften its opposition to recognizing the Palestinian state. The hypothesis, which a few months ago would have been science fiction, now seems like a possibility, especially if Obama’s personal relations with Netanyahu continue to get worse. For the Israeli government, at this point, a possible way out could only come from the feverish beginning of the next presidential electoral campaign in the U.S., and from the hoped-for arrival of a Republican president in the White House in 2016.

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t know who John Boehner or Netanyahu think they are, but they have disgraced themselves! I get sick when I think of Netanyahu standing at the podium addressing the US congress..

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