Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to receive a red carpet reception from President Barack Obama at the White House combined with a reaffirmation about the “unshakeable US-Israel alliance.” However we should not delude ourselves. It is clear that Obama’s recent charm campaign was primarily in response to pressure from the American people and in particular from Jewish Democratic supporters shocked into action by the administration’s increasingly negative approach toward Israel and the crass reception accorded to Netanyahu during his last visit.
The bonhomie was intended to assuage domestic anger to avert loss of votes and funding for the forthcoming congressional elections. Even though administration officials, including Rahm Emanuel, conceded that they “had screwed up the messaging” and are unlikely to repeat their previous boorish humiliation of Israel, there are no signs that the US administration is about to modify its policy.
TWO RECENT events reaffirm this. The greatest disappointment was the US betrayal at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference. Obama reneged on his promise to maintain the policy of former US administrations and continue to veto repeated Arab efforts to isolate Israel at these conferences. He endorsed a resolution which omitted any mention of Iran but specifically targeted Israel, demanding that it sign the NPT and submit to inspections of its facilities. While Obama subsequently disingenuously shed crocodile tears expressing disappointment that Israel had been singled out, his willingness to sacrifice the Jewish state on such a crucial security issue heightened concerns that the US is no longer a reliable ally.
In the aftermath of the vehement international condemnation following the Gaza flotilla interception, Obama made little effort to curb the anti-Israel hysteria.
Instead, he pressured Israel to co-opt international observers to its inquiry and failed to condemn the proposed United Nations Human Rights Council demand for an international inquiry which would unquestionably be a replay of the outrageous Goldstone Report. In this context, Vice President Joseph Biden’s positive declaration endorsing Israel’s right to blockade ships to prevent the smuggling of arms to Gaza sounded somewhat like a good cop, bad cop routine.
The perception of the US failing to support long-standing allies was highlighted by its tepid response to the unprovoked sinking of the South Korean naval corvette by a North Korean submarine. To Israelis, this conveyed a chilling interpretation of Obama’s concept of an alliance.
His inability to retain the support of traditional US allies was also exemplified when Turkey and Brazil displayed their contempt by undermining the minimal Iran sanctions the US was finally able to impose with grudging approval from Russia and China.
US appeasement and renewal of diplomatic relations with Syria, Iran’s surrogate state, only encouraged Damascus to strengthen its relations with Teheran, supply Hizbullah with Scuds and intensify its aggressive posturing.
ON A broader level, Obama has reiterated that the US could neither afford nor desired to remain the policeman of the world, preferring to delegate and conduct global affairs in conjunction with other countries and international organizations. To abdicate leadership of the free world during these perilous times is a bad omen, especially if it implies delegating more influence to Europe, Russia or worse to the dysfunctional UN, dominated by Islamic countries.
The most bizarre policy proclamation came from White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan. Following a National Security Council pronouncement stipulating that the term “extremist and militant Islam” should no longer be employed, he made the extraordinary assertion that Hizbullah was not “purely a terrorist body” and that he intended to cultivate the “moderate elements.”
Subsequently in an address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan limited Islamic fundamentalism to al-Qaida and opined that the term “war on terror” should be excluded from the American political lexicon.
“Our enemy” he said “is not terrorism because terrorism is a tactic or a state of mind, and as Americans we refuse to live in fear.”
He added, “Nor do we define our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam to purify oneself or one’s community.”
Such remarks from a high-ranking US official are mind boggling.
IN RELATION to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the US had warned that it would confront any party indulging in provocative statements or acts. Yet while expressing concern regarding Israeli celebrations on Jerusalem Day, the administration remained silent as the PA lobbied the OECD to block Israel’s affiliation. Nor did it respond when PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the most “moderate” Palestinian leader, personally participated in a burning ceremony to promote a campaign to boycott products manufactured over the Green Line, a direct violation of the Oslo Accords. They even failed to react when Fatah leaders reiterated their right to launch armed resistance unless their demands were fulfilled.
American friends of Israel should thus be aware that despite Obama’s charm offensive, US policy is no less ominous now than it was during Netanyahu’s previous visit to Washington. However public opinion is a factor that a Democratic administration does take into account and Israel can take comfort in the fact that support from the American people and both houses of Congress have strengthened considerably since the Gaza flotilla imbroglio.
In this context, Netanyahu must now clearly spell out his game plan and ensure that Israel is not again confronted by accusations of having misled the administration.
When he meets with Obama, he should assure him that short of endangering its security, the country will do all in its power to avoid embarrassing the US. But he must be definitive and inform the administration which areas are negotiable while simultaneously drawing red lines which his government cannot contemplate crossing.
He must emphatically reject returning to the 1949 armistice lines on the grounds that it would pose a longterm existential threat to the Jewish state.
He must reiterate that Israel will only extend concessions based on reciprocity and that the Palestinians must cease their provocations and incitement.
He must clearly elucidate building policies in Jerusalem and make it known that irrespective of what happens, the building freeze will not be renewed in the major settlement blocs that the Bush administration had agreed would remain within Israel.
If Netanyahu fails to reach a full understanding over Iran, he must request greater transparency in the relationship and be assured that Israel will be kept fully informed and able to provide input. He should also request unequivocal American support against global boycotts and pressures at the UN and other international organizations, including an assurance that in future the US will divert pressures against Israel’s ambiguous nuclear deterrent.
Instead of whispering and making light of differences, Netanyahu must speak plainly and unequivocally to ensure that Israelis and our friends abroad understand our position.
Should he continue fudging the issues by basking in the superficial warmth of pleasantries, he will be setting us up for a second and possibly much more unpleasant confrontation with our only global ally.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post