from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Obama Joins the Chorus

November 8, 2011

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France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama attend a Franco-American ceremony at City Hall in Cannes, November 4, 2011, at the end of the second day of G20 Summit. (Courtesy REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer).

If Prime Minister Netanyahu were to ask a fair-minded, balanced, sensible adviser what he could realistically do to win the confidence and approbation of President Obama, the answer would have to be “nothing.”

Two examples prove the point.

In May, Netanyahu moved the Likud Party considerably to the center in his speech to the opening of the summer session of the Knesset. In that speech he discussed relations with the Palestinians and called for a “long term IDF presence along the Jordan River,” and said “we agree that we must maintain the settlement blocs.” In other words, he was saying that the Israeli presence along the Jordan would be that of soldiers only, not settlers, and that it would in any event not be permanent; and he was saying that only the settlement blocs, not all settlements no matter how small and isolated, would remain with Israel.

The Obama administration’s reaction to these important statements was, well, nothing. Zero. They did not commend them, or even acknowledge that they were important. They were so certain in their view of Netanyahu as a recalcitrant right-winger that they did not even pay attention to what he was saying.

This week, Netanyahu has started to move on the issue of “outposts,” small and unauthorized encampments in the West Bank. Prime minister Sharon repeatedly promised president Bush that he would act to remove them—and repeatedly failed (as did prime minister Olmert). At some political cost (see this and this), Netanyahu plans now to act.

The Wall Street Journal explained it this way:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled he plans to dismantle some unauthorized Jewish dwellings in the West Bank, setting up potential clashes with extremist settlers and the hard-liners in his government who back them. Such a move could mark the largest evacuation of settlers since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, and could boost Mr. Netanyahu’s credibility among mainstream Israelis as well as abroad.

Well, apparently not “abroad.” No sooner does Netanyahu take this courageous step than he is denounced by French President Sarkozy and President Obama, in a private conversation that has now been revealed. According to press reports,

Sarkozy told Obama, "Netanyahu, I can’t stand him. He’s a liar." Obama did not object to the characterization, and responded: "You are sick of him, but I have to work with him every day."

So we return to what our wise adviser might tell Netanyahu. In the very week that he moves on outposts—something Sharon and Olmert completely failed to do—he is called names by the French and the insults are apparently accepted and approved by the Americans. The advice to Bibi would have to be “forget it. Forget the possibility that Obama will ever treat you fairly. Forget the idea that he will give you a fair shake or pay attention to what you are actually doing.”

If this were only a matter of personal relations between Obama and Netanyahu, it could be left at that. But it is far more consequential, for by that comment—and especially as it was made in private and can be interpreted as his actual view—President Obama has joined the chorus of assaults on the Jewish State. We only have one president at a time and they only have one prime minister. To treat the prime minister of Israel in this way is disgraceful.

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