You’ve Done Your Damage, Bibi: Now Go Home!
As anyone who has read this space regularly knows, I am less than an unabashed fan of current Israeli prime minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, and will never be mistaken as a supporter of the Likud Party, either the Israeli or American branches. My position has consistently been that Netanyahu and his government abuse American support by flouting policies that run counter to American preferences and American interests. His intransigence on the Palestinian issue, highlighted by the settlements imbroglio, is the prime example.
In addition, Israeli actions supported by Bibi poison the prospects of American policy success in the region generally. On one hand, the Palestinian problem exacerbates anti-Americanism in the region, as the United States is reluctantly associated with the Israeli settlement policy. Even David Petraeus, generally the darling of the political right that supports Bibi, concurs in his recent “revelation” that “The conflict foments anti-Americanism due to a perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel.” I put revelation in quotes because lots of us already knew this; moreover, the charge of favoritism is more than a “perception,” it is a palpable reality. Moreover, Netanyahu serves as a prime foil for Iran’s Predisdent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, making inflammatory remarks about preemptive attacks against the Iranian threat that only make the realization of that threat more popular in Iran. In the process, of course, Bibi undermines Israeli security in the process by inflating the threat and, as Fareed Zakaria carefully points out in this week’s Newsweek, by insuring that prominent Arab states who fear Iran as much as Israel cannot make common cause with an Israel clearly on the wrong side of the peace process toward Palestine.
In his flying tour this week, however, Bibi has outdone even his own performances. He was here on a fund-raising mission, pandering to the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), before whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had already pandered earlier. He knew his speech before AIPAC would be read by the White House between its delivery and his appearance for a meeting with the President (some pro-Israeli friends have suggested his visit was not given adequate prominence, but it was not a state visit, just a foreign leader who happened to be in town). He also knew that the reason for his meeting with Obama would be to explore the settlements issue. None of this is rocket science.
So what did he do? He made sure there was nothing to talk about, by declaring before the cheering Likudniks of AIPAC that “East Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is our capital!” The Palestinians, of course, also think it is their capital. Moreover, the propnouncement included the implied subtext, “Up yours, Mr. President!” To me, the surprise was not in how muted the reception was or how noncomittal official accounts of the interchange was, but that the President met with him at all. Had I been president, I’m pretty sure I would have locked the doors when I saw the limousine turn into the driveway!
So Bibi has come and worked his magic. The checkbooks have undoubtedly been opened and the ink is drying on them from American Likudniks. Domestically, the right-wing whackos promoting Armageddon and the Rapture will condemn the President for not promoting policies likely to promote their lunatic prophecies (can you see John Boehner in robes leading the charge?). Legitimate American-Israeli relations and mutual concerns will suffer, of course, but but Bibi will not “commit political suicide” in Israel by backing down on settlements (the argument is that any concessions would fracture his right-wing coalition and cause it to dissolve). Of course, it is the very policies he has advocated about settlements that form the basis of the coalition’s cohesion, meaning he must show the “courage” not to topple the house of cars he meticulously constructed.
Bibi Netanyau! What a guy! Have a nice flight home!