Obama and Israel: Making the Same Mistake Again and Again

The Bible says that the Jews are descended from twelve brothers, and they have always acted that way. Throughout recorded history, Jews have spent almost as much time fighting each other as they have fighting their enemies. Yet each time they are attacked from the outside, they coalesce and support their brothers like a close-knit family. And that pattern goes double for the multi-party world of Israeli politics.

Last time I checked, there were twelve different political parties that received enough votes to be part of the Knesset, and many of those parties are part of the governing coalition. The different parties, though they may be serving in the same government, remain very partisan. When you add to that the fact that cabinet ministers have a lot more independent authority than what you would see in an American president's cabinet, you can see how the results become very wild at times. But when their nation is under attack, either militarily or simply via international political pressure, the various parties in an Israeli cabinet coalesce to fight off the threat.

If Barack Obama bothered to take the time to understand the "soul" of the Israelis, he might be much closer to restarting talks between Israel and the Palestinians than he is today. His own arrogance, however, and his refusal to believe that anybody would not see the world as he does, prevents him from achieving progress in the region. Obama's arrogance is so strong that last week, he made the exact same mistake on the settlement issue as he made just four months ago.

This past November, I wrote this about the initial Obama/Clinton settlement-bashing:

"The entire settlement issue was caused by the Obama administration's arrogance. What the President and his advisers perceived as a minor concession (a settlement freeze) was for Israel a grave sacrifice. This was a major error by the Obama administration. Their insistence on a freeze and their constant public berating of the Jewish State has turned the Israeli population against Obama, especially the Israeli left, whom Obama would look to for support.

His public blasting of Israel has weakened his support among American Jews, who initially bought into his promise that he was a friend of Israel. The news that Obama was breaking a Bush-era pledge to Israel regarding natural expansion in existing settlements only made things worse.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began lowering expectations on negotiations and praised what Israel is prepared to do -- namely, refrain from constructing new settlements in the West Bank, but impart no limits on construction in East Jerusalem -- as an "unprecedented" concession. "

There is nothing the president would like better than to weaken the Netanyahu coalition. If not to weaken it to the point of total collapse, Obama would be content at least to bring it to the level where Bibi is forced to make room for Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party to join the government. Back in November, Obama's one-sided, heavy-handed criticism of Israel, especially on the issue of Jerusalem, caused the Israeli people to rally around the Netanyahu government and actually increased their support of it.

If any of the above sounds familiar, it should, because it was all played out again this past week. Israel indeed screwed up with the timing of the announcement of 1,600 housing units while the SCHMOTUS (Joe Biden) was in town. I would venture that many if not most Israelis would say that Obama was justified in his initial criticism of the Prime Minister. But they would also say that the moment Netanyahu apologized, the criticism should have started to ease.

Instead, just as they did in November, the administration whose motto is "never let a good crisis go to waste" saw an opportunity to weaken the Netanyahu coalition.

Accordingly, Obama increased the pressure. He sent David Axelrod onto American TV to bash Israel, saying that she was not serious about making peace, and directed Hilary Clinton to make a phone call/lecture to the Israeli PM. More than one week later, Obama is still trying to make Bibi look bad by canceling a weapons sale to Israel. 

Another thing Obama doesn't understand is that the majority of Israelis oppose halting construction in east Jerusalem. So just as in the case of last November, the combination of increased pressure on Israel and relaunched attacks on an issue that seemed settled months ago served to do the exact opposite of what Obama was looking for: It united the Israeli people behind Netanyahu and against the U.S. president.

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis' initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. Source

Compounding Obama's mistake is the fact that the Palestinians have seized upon the American overreaction as an excuse to start rioting. Assuming that they had the support of the U.S. president, they figured that if Obama could beat up on Israel, then why couldn't they? The resulting riots are being called in some Israeli circles Obama's Intifada, placing the blame for the disturbance squarely where it belongs: on the head of the American president.

In less than six months, President Obama has manufactured two political crises against Israel, a strategic ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. Each of the crises set back rather than advanced his goal of moving the "peace process" ahead. Both crises could have been avoided with a little understanding of the people with whom he is dealing. 

The President of the United States is an arrogant man. He doesn't seem to care what may drive the decisions of others, which means that he is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. It was Albert Einstein who is credited with saying, Insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That's a lesson the U.S. president would be well-served to learn.

Jeff Dunetz, who used to write under the pseudonym Sammy Benoit, is the editor of the political blog The Lid.
The Bible says that the Jews are descended from twelve brothers, and they have always acted that way. Throughout recorded history, Jews have spent almost as much time fighting each other as they have fighting their enemies. Yet each time they are attacked from the outside, they coalesce and support their brothers like a close-knit family. And that pattern goes double for the multi-party world of Israeli politics.

Last time I checked, there were twelve different political parties that received enough votes to be part of the Knesset, and many of those parties are part of the governing coalition. The different parties, though they may be serving in the same government, remain very partisan. When you add to that the fact that cabinet ministers have a lot more independent authority than what you would see in an American president's cabinet, you can see how the results become very wild at times. But when their nation is under attack, either militarily or simply via international political pressure, the various parties in an Israeli cabinet coalesce to fight off the threat.

If Barack Obama bothered to take the time to understand the "soul" of the Israelis, he might be much closer to restarting talks between Israel and the Palestinians than he is today. His own arrogance, however, and his refusal to believe that anybody would not see the world as he does, prevents him from achieving progress in the region. Obama's arrogance is so strong that last week, he made the exact same mistake on the settlement issue as he made just four months ago.

This past November, I wrote this about the initial Obama/Clinton settlement-bashing:

"The entire settlement issue was caused by the Obama administration's arrogance. What the President and his advisers perceived as a minor concession (a settlement freeze) was for Israel a grave sacrifice. This was a major error by the Obama administration. Their insistence on a freeze and their constant public berating of the Jewish State has turned the Israeli population against Obama, especially the Israeli left, whom Obama would look to for support.

His public blasting of Israel has weakened his support among American Jews, who initially bought into his promise that he was a friend of Israel. The news that Obama was breaking a Bush-era pledge to Israel regarding natural expansion in existing settlements only made things worse.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began lowering expectations on negotiations and praised what Israel is prepared to do -- namely, refrain from constructing new settlements in the West Bank, but impart no limits on construction in East Jerusalem -- as an "unprecedented" concession. "

There is nothing the president would like better than to weaken the Netanyahu coalition. If not to weaken it to the point of total collapse, Obama would be content at least to bring it to the level where Bibi is forced to make room for Tzipi Livni and the Kadima party to join the government. Back in November, Obama's one-sided, heavy-handed criticism of Israel, especially on the issue of Jerusalem, caused the Israeli people to rally around the Netanyahu government and actually increased their support of it.

If any of the above sounds familiar, it should, because it was all played out again this past week. Israel indeed screwed up with the timing of the announcement of 1,600 housing units while the SCHMOTUS (Joe Biden) was in town. I would venture that many if not most Israelis would say that Obama was justified in his initial criticism of the Prime Minister. But they would also say that the moment Netanyahu apologized, the criticism should have started to ease.

Instead, just as they did in November, the administration whose motto is "never let a good crisis go to waste" saw an opportunity to weaken the Netanyahu coalition.

Accordingly, Obama increased the pressure. He sent David Axelrod onto American TV to bash Israel, saying that she was not serious about making peace, and directed Hilary Clinton to make a phone call/lecture to the Israeli PM. More than one week later, Obama is still trying to make Bibi look bad by canceling a weapons sale to Israel. 

Another thing Obama doesn't understand is that the majority of Israelis oppose halting construction in east Jerusalem. So just as in the case of last November, the combination of increased pressure on Israel and relaunched attacks on an issue that seemed settled months ago served to do the exact opposite of what Obama was looking for: It united the Israeli people behind Netanyahu and against the U.S. president.

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis' initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu. Source

Compounding Obama's mistake is the fact that the Palestinians have seized upon the American overreaction as an excuse to start rioting. Assuming that they had the support of the U.S. president, they figured that if Obama could beat up on Israel, then why couldn't they? The resulting riots are being called in some Israeli circles Obama's Intifada, placing the blame for the disturbance squarely where it belongs: on the head of the American president.

In less than six months, President Obama has manufactured two political crises against Israel, a strategic ally and the only democracy in the Middle East. Each of the crises set back rather than advanced his goal of moving the "peace process" ahead. Both crises could have been avoided with a little understanding of the people with whom he is dealing. 

The President of the United States is an arrogant man. He doesn't seem to care what may drive the decisions of others, which means that he is doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. It was Albert Einstein who is credited with saying, Insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That's a lesson the U.S. president would be well-served to learn.

Jeff Dunetz, who used to write under the pseudonym Sammy Benoit, is the editor of the political blog The Lid.

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