Obama and Netanyahu Have Put Aside Their ‘Dysfunction.’ For Now.

US President Barack Obama (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, May 20, 2011. Obama announced on Thursday in his long-awaited speech on the 'Arab Spring' revolts that territorial lines in place before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war should be the basis for a peace deal, a move Netanyahu has long opposed. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
July 25, 2014, 1 a.m.

The cur­rent crisis in Ga­za has fea­tured close col­lab­or­a­tion between Pres­id­ent Obama and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Net­an­yahu, a united front that is a tri­umph of na­tion­al in­terest over per­son­al pique and that is all the more re­mark­able giv­en the six-year his­tory of an­im­os­ity between the two lead­ers.

These men really don’t like each oth­er and have done little to hide their enmity since Obama took of­fice in 2009. In the past week, they seem to have put that on hold, con­ferred fre­quently, and al­lowed little day­light between the Amer­ic­an and Is­raeli po­s­i­tions.

But don’t think the hard feel­ings have gone away. This re­mains one of the most openly dys­func­tion­al re­la­tion­ships between two ma­jor al­lies any­where in the world. “Ac­tu­ally, I’m not sure ‘dys­func­tion’ is quite the right word,” said Mitchell Bard, dir­ect­or of the non­profit Amer­ic­an-Is­raeli Co­oper­at­ive En­ter­prise. “They des­pise each oth­er.”

In­ter­est­ingly””even re­fresh­ingly””neither side really tries very hard to deny the ten­sion in the Obama-Net­an­yahu per­son­al re­la­tion­ship. In­stead, White House press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est stressed the big pic­ture. “The U.S.-Is­rael al­li­ance is built upon dec­ades of close se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion and deep ties between our people,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “Any dif­fer­ences in opin­ion pale in com­par­is­on to the pri­or­ity the pres­id­ent places on main­tain­ing this strong re­la­tion­ship.”

Is­raeli Am­bas­sad­or to the United States Ron Der­mer gently chided NJ for ask­ing about this at a press break­fast this week hos­ted by The Chris­ti­an Sci­ence Mon­it­or. “The press fo­cuses all the time on the dif­fer­ences that ex­ist,” he com­plained. “We know that you are al­ways go­ing to fo­cus on ten­sion, and there have been times when we have not seen eye to eye with the ad­min­is­tra­tion on dif­fer­ent is­sues.”

Even for a dip­lo­mat, though, that is a re­mark­able un­der­state­ment. Al­most from the day of Obama’s in­aug­ur­a­tion in 2009, he and Net­an­yahu have clashed on policy and demon­strated how very dif­fer­ent they are in style and tem­pera­ment. In 2010, the ten­sions sur­faced dur­ing the prime min­is­ter’s vis­it to the White House. In 2011, Net­an­yahu pub­licly scol­ded and lec­tured Obama at the White House. Also in 2011, an open mi­cro­phone at the G-20 sum­mit in Cannes cap­tured French Pres­id­ent Nic­olas Sarkozy and Obama dis­cuss­ing Net­an­yahu. “I can’t stand him. He’s a li­ar,” said Sarkozy. “You’re tired of him””what about me? I have to deal with him every day,” re­spon­ded Obama. In 2012, Net­an­yahu did everything but wear a Mitt Rom­ney pin, leav­ing no doubt he would prefer that the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee beat Obama. And the pres­id­ent re­turned the fa­vor when he gave an in­ter­view a week be­fore the Is­raeli elec­tion, in which he was highly crit­ic­al of the prime min­is­ter. Jef­frey Gold­berg, who in­ter­viewed Obama for the art­icle for Bloomberg, re­por­ted that the pres­id­ent viewed Net­an­yahu as a “polit­ic­al cow­ard.”

Des­pite the verbal shots, both men were reelec­ted. Both were angry. But both came to real­ize that they would have to rise above their mu­tu­al enmity, that the al­li­ance was more im­port­ant. “Both of them re­acted to the elec­tion res­ults,” said Bard, who formerly ed­ited the Near East Re­port, the weekly news­let­ter of the in­flu­en­tial Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. “Net­an­yahu re­cog­nized he was go­ing to have to deal with Obama four more years, and Obama re­cog­nized there is not much chance that Net­an­yahu would be un­seated. And that has forced them to work to­geth­er and to be a little more sens­it­ive to each oth­er’s con­cerns and to try not to take meas­ures or make state­ments that would in­flame the re­la­tion­ship.”

That ap­proach has been on dis­play this week as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been solidly be­hind Is­rael’s mil­it­ary op­er­a­tion in Ga­za, mostly keep­ing out of pub­lic view any hor­ror at the rising ci­vil­ian cas­u­al­ties in­side Ga­za. Both sides also point to the Iron Dome de­fense sys­tem that has kept the toll down in­side Is­rael. “As the suc­cess of Iron Dome in sav­ing Is­raeli lives has demon­strated, our se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion un­der this ad­min­is­tra­tion has been un­pre­ced­en­ted,” said Earn­est.

And Is­rael has no­ticed.

“On se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion, we are talk­ing about un­pre­ced­en­ted se­cur­ity co­oper­a­tion…. And we are ap­pre­ci­at­ive of the fact that we have been able to have the Iron Dome sys­tem that has been work­ing so well. In­tel­li­gence-shar­ing is very good,” said Dern­er. The am­bas­sad­or stressed that these mat­ters are more im­port­ant than bruised per­son­al feel­ings.

“For me, in the re­la­tion­ship between the U.S. and Is­rael, the rub­ber meets the road when Is­rael is forced to de­fend it­self and then the ques­tion be­comes, where is the pres­id­ent of the United States? And I will tell you now that this is the second time … where the pres­id­ent has been back­ing Is­rael’s right to de­fend it­self in the strongest pos­sible terms…. I don’t think that sup­port could have been any bet­ter than it was.” The oth­er time cited by Dern­er was Obama’s sup­port for the Pil­lar of De­fense op­er­a­tion, a mil­it­ary strike in­to Ga­za in Novem­ber 2012.

In the cur­rent crisis, Dern­er said he has talked “ba­sic­ally every day with either the White House or the State De­part­ment, a lot of times with both.” He said Is­rael sees “very broad sup­port for Is­rael’s right to de­fend it­self.”

No one finds that level of sup­port more strik­ing than Aaron Dav­id Miller, a key State De­part­ment ad­viser on the Middle East from 1978 to 2003. Work­ing closely with three Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­ents and two Demo­crat­ic pres­id­ents, Miller has called the Obama-Net­an­yahu re­la­tion­ship “the most dys­func­tion­al” ever. What has changed is that the two lead­ers have found a way to over­come the hard feel­ings. “It’s clearly,” Miller told NJ, “a dys­func­tion­al re­la­tion­ship on a per­son­al level, which has be­come very func­tion­al in large part be­cause of the nature of the U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tion­ship and a set of com­mon per­cep­tions of chal­lenges and threats even though there are dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to rem­edy them.”

He said the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has been “in­cred­ibly sup­port­ive of Is­raeli ac­tions over the course of the last 12 days.” But that does not mean dif­fer­ences do not re­main between the two gov­ern­ments. Am­bas­sad­or Der­mer ac­know­ledged dif­fer­ences on nuc­le­ar talks with Ir­an and the Middle East peace pro­cess. On neither is­sue is either side budging, al­though the White House holds out hope that pro­gress in the P5+1 talks with Ir­an may win over a skep­tic­al Net­an­yahu. The Is­rael­is re­main highly skep­tic­al. But even as ne­go­ti­at­ors try to ham­mer out the dis­agree­ments, the ap­proach taken this month by Obama and Net­an­yahu backs up Bard’s as­sess­ment: “These men know now they are stuck with each oth­er, and they are now look­ing for ways to co­oper­ate on the is­sues.”

What We're Following See More »
LEGACY PLAY
Sanders and Clinton Spar Over … President Obama
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”

THE 1%
Sanders’s Appeals to Minorities Still Filtered Through Wall Street Talk
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”

DIRECT APPEAL TO MINORITIES, WOMEN
Clinton Already Pivoting Her Messaging
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.

THE QUESTION
How Many Jobs Would Be Lost Under Bernie Sanders’s Single-Payer System?
19 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 11 million, according to Manhattan Institute fellow Yevgeniy Feyman, writing in RealClearPolicy.

Source:
WEEKEND DATA DUMP
State to Release 550 More Clinton Emails on Saturday
19 hours ago
THE LATEST

Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.

Source:
×