President Obama is very good at one thing — winning elections.
So when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a snap election earlier this year, Obama figured he could win one more. After all, it was Obama who once complained to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy over a hot mic that he had to deal with Bibi every day. Getting Netanyahu out of the political picture would have been a bigger cause for celebration at the White House than when Osama bin Laden was killed.
How else does one explain the presence of Jeremy Bird in Israel during the election? Bird was Obama’s Deputy National Field Director during the 2008 campaign and was promoted to National Field Director in the 2012 campaign. Bird wasn’t in Israel to take in the sights. He was there to oust Netanyahu from office.
And it very nearly worked. In the final days of the campaign, the Zionist Camp alliance led by Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah Party leader Tzipi Livni were leading in the polls. It appeared that Bibi’s political career was over. But the people of Israel had other plans. The mood of the Obama White House went from victorious to vitriolic.
The Obama Administration was so flummoxed by Netanyahu’s triumph that several White House officials privately compared him to George Wallace and Bull Connor. As such it is no surprise they initially could not bring themselves to congratulate him. Instead they congratulated the only democracy in the Middle East on having yet another election. Without mentioning Netanyahu by name, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest assailed Bibi’s electoral triumph by accusing his Likud Party of deploying “divisive rhetoric to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” adding that “it undermines the values and democratic ideals that… binds the United States and Israel together.”
Soon President Obama himself would weigh in on the matter in an interview with Sam Stein of the Huffington Post conducted released on Saturday:
Well, I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, congratulated his party on his victory. I did indicate to him that we continue to believe that a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel, if it wants to stay both a Jewish state and democratic. And 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. So we’re evaluating what’s taking place.
How is it that Obama thinks “it’s going to be hard to find a path where people are believing that negotiations are possible” when it was the Palestinians who rejected John Kerry’s peace framework just last year? This is on top of rejecting three peace offers in the 2000s each of which would have given them a state. How can Obama be worried about being unable to find a path to peace with Netanyahu when it is the Palestinians that have put up roadblock after roadblock?
Naturally, Obama wasn’t done:
But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable. And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.
Ah, the settlements. Well, it’s been ten years since Israel unilaterally dismantled every settlement in Gaza and what has that brought? A Hamas-led government and thousands of rocket attacks. Does Obama honestly believe if Israel were to dismantle its remaining settlements it would buy them any kind of peace?
When Stein asked Obama if Netanyahu was “serious about a Palestinian state,” Obama gave this reply:
Well, we take 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.
And what might those other available options be? Could Obama be referring to Palestinian statehood being recognized through the UN? The Palestinian Authority has sought this means of recognition as an end run around a negotiated settlement? The Obama administration has opposed this avenue because the UN would get credit for bringing about a Palestinian state and not the White House. But President Obama’s anger with Netanyahu is such that marginalizing him and delegitimizing the State of Israel is his top foreign policy priority.
This marginalization and delegitimization takes the form of elaborating on Earnest’s comments and criticizing Netanyahu’s warning that Israeli Arabs would be voting in droves:
We indicated 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. And I think that that is what’s best about Israeli democracy. If that is lost, then I think that 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.
Netanyahu was talking about a constituency in Israel that has traditionally not supported him and could have potentially contributed to his defeat. Nothing more and nothing less. Netanyahu was not speaking of suppressing the Arab vote and Obama knows it. Frankly, Israeli Arabs are treated equally and fairly. The same cannot be said of Arabs who live in the Muslim world.
And what of Muslims in non-Arab countries? When the Iranian regime, with whom Obama is so eager to negotiate, was murdering people in broad daylight after the Iranian people sought fit to protest the results of the 2009 election, Obama said it wasn’t his place to meddle. No one has died following the results of the Israeli election and yet Obama meddles without a moment’s hesitation. When it comes to Israel, Obama gets a gold “meddle.”
President Obama may be good at winning elections. But he is no better at losing elections than he is in taking criticism. What Obama is really angry about is that Benjamin Netanyahu beat him at his own game and it appears that he is prepared to undo nearly seven decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East because of it.
Now we know Obama’s version of his “congratulatory” call to Bibi. I would love to know what Netanyahu said in response to Obama’s lecturing. I am sure that at some point in the conversation, Obama reminded Netanyahu that he still had to form a coalition government. If so then I wonder if Bibi replied, “I know. I won.”