It’s no secret that President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu don’t like each other. Obama has always said that he doesn’t support Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, which has always infuriated Netanyahu. Obama has called for Israel to accept pre-1967 borders with Palestine, which led to an awkward display of Netanyahu attempting to lecture the President on live television as to why this can’t happen. Obama wasn’t pleased to say the least.
There was also Netanyahu’s not-so-secret endorsement of Governor Romney in the 2012 presidential election. There was Obama’s criticism of the number of civilian casualties in Gaza when fighting erupted last summer. Finally, there was Netanyahu’s ultimate sign of disrespect to Obama: speaking in front of Congress against his wishes with the sole purpose of criticizing Obama’s route to nuclear disarmament in Iran.
So now that Netanyahu’s Likud party has secured enough seats in Israel’s Parliament to ensure his continued reign as Prime Minister, the question is what kind of relationship will Israel have with the United States moving forward?
Doing Anything to Win
On the eve of the March 17th election, Netanyahu was fearful of losing. Exit polls in Israel showed Netanyahu and Herzog, leader of the Center-Left Zionist Union Party, in a virtual tie. So Netanyahu in the last few days before the election attempted to ignite his base with some disturbing rhetoric.
First, he assured that there would never be a Palestinian state under his leadership if he were re-elected. Many in The White House were skeptical that Netanyahu was ever truly committed to a two-state solution, but he had always publicly stated he was. The White House now believes that Netanyahu showed his true colors in a candid moment of truth. Although Netanyahu quickly retracted this statement after re-election, centrists and left-leaning media outlets in Israel and the US lambasted this statement.
Next, there was a bizarrely racist comment about how his base should get out to vote because “Arab voters are heading out to the polls in droves.” This is the equivalent of Mitt Romney saying, on the eve of the 2012 presidential election; his base should get out and vote because black voters are heading out to the polls in droves. To have the president of the beacon of democracy in an otherwise authoritative region resort to such racist rhetoric is disheartening, to say the last.
Needless to say, the Obama administration was absolutely furious with both of these comments. Now, the administration is “re-assessing its options” with the Jewish State. Some of these “options” are things Netanyahu isn’t going to like.
The Recognition of the Palestinian State
The US has always supported Israel more than any other westernized countries. This is in part because of our history. In 1948, America became the first country around the world to recognize the Jewish State and our support has never wavered since. This in part because of the strong lobbying presence Israel has in the US. They have devoted tremendous resources to securing the support of numerous politicians on both sides of the aisle. They haven’t made the same effort to politicians in other countries. And finally, the US has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.
So while the rest of the world has openly condemned the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal under international law, the US has always stood with Israel. When UN resolutions have been presented to give recognition to the Palestinian state, the US has always vetoed them. Similarly, when the UN has presented resolutions that would sanction Israel, the US has vetoed them. Presumably, the US protected Israel because it believed Israel was committed to peace in the region.
Now, in the wake of Netanyahu sharing his true feelings about the prospects of a two-state solution, Obama might do what many in the westernized world and the Muslim world have been calling for: remove the veto and move to recognize Palestine as a legitimate state.
At the last UN vote to give statehood to Palestine, the US was the only permanent member of the Security Council that voted to not recognize Palestine as a state(The United Kingdom abstained in the vote). This could soon change and it would spell trouble for Israel because the other 10 members of the United Nations Security Council support the notion of a Palestinian statehood.
Playing Politics with Israel
Traditionally, support for Israel has been a bipartisan issue. This may no longer be the case. Netanyahu’s decision to speak in front of Congress without Obama’s consent and the general lack of respect he has shown to Obama have forced Democrats to pick a side. Do they choose their president or the Prime Minster of Israel? Many are choosing the President.
Netanyahu has chosen to align himself with just one party in the US. He has turned support for Israel into a partisan issue. His dislike for Obama seems to have extended to a dislike for Democrats in general. This is especially ironic because 70% of Jews in America are Democrats, and 82% support a two-state solution. Therefore, support for Netanyahu is right now deeply divided among the Jewish community in America. The more traditional, orthodox Jews, who are generally Republican, still have unwavering support for him. But the reformed Jews (who make up the majority) are largely split on this issue.
In fact, according to a recent Pew Research study, only 21% of secular Jews in America believe that Israel is making a sincere effort to bring about a peace settlement with Palestine. 44% of American Jews believe that ongoing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank hurts Israel’s security. Only 17% believe it helps. These numbers are important because they reflect that the American Jewish population at large doesn’t support the policies of the Prime Minister of Israel.
As we move into the future, it’s clear that Netanyahu has a lot of work to do. American Jews are very divided about him. A lot of Congressional Democrats are skeptical of him. And Obama flat out doesn’t like him. Israel needs us a lot more than we need them. If Netanyahu really wants the best for his country, he’ll make a more concerted effort to reach out to the President and find some common ground. He will do everything he can to work him. For the sake of Israel’s security moving forward, he has no choice.
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