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'Chickengate:' In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are only a sideshow

The rift between Washington and Jerusalem has to do with the changing American interests in the Middle East and internal Israeli politics, not with an end to the occupation. 

In a story in The Atlantic Tuesday, Jewish-American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg cited a White House official calling Netanyahu “chickenshit,” blaming him for lack of political vision or guts. Relations between Jerusalem and Washington have reached the lowest point he can remember, Goldberg wrote. This was the top story in the Israeli media this morning. Even the pro-Netanyahu, free tabloid Israel Hayom quoted Goldberg.

In his response, Netanyahu maintained the confrontational tone, saying in the Knesset on Wednesday that he was attacked “for defending the State of Israel,” no less (thus hinting that the American administration is doing the opposite). Later, an official statement from the White House rejected the terms used by Goldberg’s sources, which was to be expected. So, what should one make of this?

1. The messenger is important: Goldberg was as pro-Bibi a journalist as one could find among Jewish Democrats. On major policy issues, Goldberg has consistently taken Jerusalem’s side: in 2010, he authored a piece that predicted Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; he criticized the administration for its public confrontations with Netanyahu and blamed PA President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state,” thus aiding the collapse of the Kerry Initiative. Even in his recent piece, Goldberg agrees that the time is not right for the creation of a Palestinian state — which is just what Netanyahu says. So I think Goldberg would be the last person to exaggerate the rift between the Obama Administration and the government in Jerusalem.

In fact, much of Goldberg’s unique professional position has to do with the “special relationship” between the two governments. A piece in a DC magazine once called him a mashgiah, a Hebrew term that, in this context, relates to Goldberg as the gatekeeper for what is legitimate in the Israeli-American political conversation. If Goldberg is (quoting someone) calling Bibi a “chickenshit,” then everyone can call Bibi a chickenshit.

2. This is not about a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation. The administration deserted this cause along with the Kerry mission, and it is now trying to cut its losses. I think the American goal is to contain the Israeli-Palestinian problem, not only because the chances of a breakthrough are slim compared to the political cost, but mainly due to the turmoil in the rest of the Middle East, and the danger that will emerge on new fronts. Things are complicated as they are and Netanyahu is making them much more complicated with his projects in the West Bank and the changes to the status quo in Jerusalem. Jordan’s King Abdullah raised the alarm, and since everybody is currently concerned about the stability of Abdullah’s regime, you can bet that the White House heard his warnings.

Make no mistake, the Obama administration will confront Netanyahu on its immediate interests but I do not see it making serious moves aimed at ending the occupation any time soon. In fact, one might suspect that the United States would like to avoid any change now. I imagine some people in Washington think that a weak Palestinian state will just be another front to defend against the forces of jihad — and who needs that right now?

3. Netanyahu is reconnecting with his base. Bibi leads the weakest coalition he has ever had, completely dependent on each one of his coalition partners. This is the reason Netanyahu has gone back to his political base in recent weeks — the settlers, the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox. The latter are receiving political favors from Bibi recently despite not even being in the coalition. Netanyahu is already thinking about the next government.

It has been said many times that with Netanyahu, these kinds of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. He may lose some votes in the center when he exchanges insults with Washington, but he is gaining on the right. Bibi is working to maintain the same coalition that brought him to power in 1996 — national-religious, ultra-Orthodox, Revisionists (the old Likud elite) and Jews of lower socio-economic background. These groups are far from an absolute majority in Israeli society, but they are enough to give Netanyahu slim victories: 50.5 percent vs. 49.5 percent against Peres in the direct elections of 1996; 65:55 in Knesset seats in 2009, and 61:59 in 2013. Never a landslide, but always enough.

The thing about Netanyahu’s coalitions is that they are made of forces less prone to outside pressure than the secular, upper-middle class that votes against him. With some of them — the settlers, for example — confrontations even work in Netanyahu’s favor. In the absence of a strong challenger from the Left, Bibi is betting that he can rally his base to another narrow win. He may be right.

4. Netanyahu’s opponents are also using the showdown with Washington to their advantage. Finance Minister Yair Lapid refused today to discuss funding projects in the West Bank, stating that he doesn’t remember a government decision to destroy relations with Washington. Lapid might also be sensing imminent elections, although he would like to avoid them, given his disappointing showing in all the recent polls.

In this sense, it is interesting to note that Lapid could theoretically form a government without going to elections. In a recent post, political pundit Raviv Druker speculated about Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Labor and Meretz joining Lapid, and together with the tiny Kadima (two seats), forming the necessary bloc of 61 Knesset members that could send Netanyahu home. This is not a very likely scenario, but I think that Netanyahu must be giving it some thought, leading him to shore up his own bloc with the Right.

But any alternative coalition will be as unstable as the current one, and I don’t see any Israeli leader making the necessary steps that could end the occupation. The political interests of an American and Israeli government collided this week, but the Palestinians are just a sideshow here; their right to freedom and dignity is yet to be recognized by any of the actors in this political drama.

How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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    1. Lo

      Regretfully, I must concur with the author that the Palestinians are completely irrelevant to the current spat between Tel Aviv and Washington.

      Now that the US has another dragon to slay in Iraq, not even the pro-forma attention US administrations give Palestine will continue.

      What is interesting to me as an outside observer of Israeli politics is how Yair Lapid is handling this. By explicitly blaming Netanyahu and the right wing’s obsession with settlement expansion and their hostility to American overtures, I think he is definitely setting himself up to be the “serious” contender to replace Netanyahu.

      I wonder if average Israelis realize that average Americans are growing disenchanted with Israel, especially now that most do not see the current Israeli government as seriously pursuing a negotiated peace. Even worse, many are repulsed by the arrogant, entitled, and rude posture of the Israeli government.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Yet the polls show that support for Israel in the US is as high as ever. Five times as many Americans support Israel than the Palestinians.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Yeah, right

      Understand the reason why the US Administration is so angry, which is that Netanyahu is an ungrateful ingrate.

      The White House has invested decades in a “peace process” which is 100% about the “process” and 0% about “peace”.

      That suits the USA, because as long as Israel keeps up the pretence about wanting “peace” then the US Government can claim that it is protecting that “process” when it vetos moves in the UN, or stomps on any other diplomatic track.

      And this ungrateful ingrate refuses to play the game.

      This “fight” is about the USA wanting Israel to pretend that it wants peace, and their anger is because Bibi’s refusal to play that game leaves the USA exposed as the supplicant that it is.

      Bibi doesn’t care, because he doesn’t give a s**t about the USA.

      But the USA does care, and eventually it is going to have to return the favour.

      Reply to Comment
      • I think the Democratic Administration was quite worried about Lieberman and Bennett during the last stage of the Gaza War, and sees Bibi presently capitulating to Bennett over settlement construction. I think the Administration takes Lieberman seriously only as a danger. DM Ya’alon has decried a Palestinian State, as I believe Bibi did as well during the War. So the Administration has no great future hope to present, knowing that Abbas threatens to go to the Security Council and then the ICJ.

        So, as you say, the Administration is livid at Bibi for popping the process bubble. But this has been a delusion bubble for both the US and Israel for some time. I remain of the opinion that only a confederation is politically viable, indeed, the only way to ultimately salvage PA security control and avoid Israeli direct rule. If this is right, the US is livid partly because it doesn’t want to go to a confederation either. “States” seem to solve everything. But Bibi and Ya’alon are right that it solves nothing.

        Lastly, I think a Republican Administration if in 17 will have no qualms with Ya’alon’s view. It will be “autonomy” if you do what we say. A confederation proper could try to establish some legal control mechanisms on both Israel and Palestine with, long term, transition towards other things.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, right

          GP: “But this has been a delusion bubble for both the US and Israel for some time”

          No, it’s not a “bubble”, nor is it “delusional”.

          It is a “veil”, because the “peace process” is supposed to be an endless Kabuki Dance.

          The USA knows full well what the Israelis will only accept a “deal” that amounts to: We Get It All And The Palestinians Get To Piss Off.

          So the “peace process” is supposed to be about this:
          a) The Israelis pretend that they are agreeable to a “peace process”, which then allows….
          b) The USA to pretend that it is stomping on any other diplomatic initiative because that “threatens the peace process”

          The USA would be quite happy for that dance to go on forever, since the alternative is to stand there buck-naked as Israel’s supplicant, stomping on any other initiative because, well, it’s just mindless stomping.

          Quite why Bibi thinks it is a smart move to rip that veil away is, honestly, beyond me.

          The Americans are left standing there exposed to ridicule, and they are going to want to get some revenge.

          Reply to Comment
          • Eliza

            ‘ Quite why Bibi thinks it is a smart move to rip that veil away is, honesty beyond me’.

            I agree, that maybe that’s where GP’s bubble or delusion really lies. Its a scary thought but maybe Netanyahu really is so taken up by his reception in Congress, the fawning and the power of donor money from AIPAC, that he truly believes he can rip into Obama and the Democrats (or shore up right-wing domestic support) even if that means ripping away the veil as well.

            A venal Netanyahu is one thing; a truly deluded and unhinged Netanyahu is another.

            Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Let the Palestinians ask for a confederation with Jordan. The Jewish nation does not need a confederation with the Palestinians. I doubt that the Jordanians would want a confederation with the Palestinians since a Palestinian state in any form has no economic viability. Will Jordan or any other government willing take over UNWRA’s support of the Palestinians? The Palestinian government only exists due to massive foreign government welfare payments to prop up their continuation.

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            PX: “Let the Palestinians ask for a confederation with Jordan”

            Jordan no longer has any territorial designs on Palestinian territory.

            Israel does.

            Compare and contrast.

            Jordan is no longer the military occupier of any Palestinian territory.

            Israel is.

            Compare and contrast.

            A confederation with Jordan is unnecessary, precisely because Jordan has already agreed to leave the Palestinians alone.

            Israel, by way of vary marked comparison, has been in the Palestinian’s face for 47 years now, and is showing no inclination of getting out.

            There comes a time when it can’t be denied: Israel has NO intention of ever leaving the Palestinians alone.


            OK, if that’s the case then the Palestinians are quite justified to argue this: if you won’t leave us alone then we’ll consider ourselves to be a part of you.

            A confederation, in a word.

            Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Don’t feed Pedro. Useless distraction. Yeah R., you describe very well the real game that’s going in. .

        Reply to Comment
    3. mcohen

      “. For me, religion is the equivalent of morals, ethics; and though this sééms to refer towards a plurality, religion as such must be taken as the realm consisting of whatever ethical thought holds out in the practicallities of daily life: ” I agree -I have a saying …survival comes first,relegion provides the will and intent survival of the jewish people till this day has been reliant on a number of things but one central fact has always been the land of Israel,the progression from biblical story to reality was achieved through political Zionism. before Christianity existed the idea of a land for the jews has been a central point of Judaism. 100 years ago the I/p conflict had a far easier solution,a world power would simply remove the jewish population by force,a pogrom or two,problem solved.not anymore a just solution is possible. if you cannot conquer by force then simply buy the country lock stock and barrel….put a price on it,in the world today everyone talks about globalization…so why not put Israel up for sale and let the bidding war begin times have changed ,global ,companies own the countries,the resources the people.even the ants on the ground the arabs want Israel …….let them buy it out much like they have done in England…..harrods was bought out years ago that’s how it works now…. powerful companies buy countries and send there excess populations to those countries agricultural land is in huge demand and Israel produces many products.the investment would be well worth it Qatar should make an offer or maybe the Chinese,america is bankrupt so they are ready to sell to the highest bidder…..2 trillion ,3 trillion whats worth you guys come on you guys make the jews an offer…..after all does it not say on the dollar bill…..in god we trust or is it Obama………chickenshit indeed –

      Reply to Comment
    4. The majority of americans have been raised on the demigod zionism – since 1948 americans have been instructed to worship at the altar of zionism and they have done that, blindly and without asking any questions. It’ll be very hard for the majority to accept the fact that they’ve been used like a 2 dollar whore. That is a hard pill to swallow. The young folks; however, are questioning the wisdom of this allegience and my hope is with them.

      Reply to Comment
    5. READ! AND WEEP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      I’m getting down to your level now so better be ready – here goes – You’re a Krazy, Kaustic Kunt with nothing but time on your hands, emptiness in your life and evil on your mind. You’re all alone because you suck the joy out of people’s lives. You’re a miserable, masochistic monster whose only emotion is rage and a terrible, hopeless need to be noticed. You live in a sewer of shit and filth. Or a trailer. I’d bet money that you’re a hoarder too cuz you just can’t let go of anything – no matter how sick it makes you. You’ve made it clear that 972 isn’t good – it is, it’s just you that casts a pall over everything you squat on. And most of all, you’re an insignificant, pathetic troll trying to pass for a human being. What a LOSER. Sayonara sick-o.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        The Roooope,manic marnie, the Rope. Use it! It is quick and painless.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Absolutely shameless. You are not a civilized person. To say the least.

          Reply to Comment
    6. I don’t believe you. You go first.

      Reply to Comment
    7. phil

      Marnie, please don’t feed the ginger troll..

      He/she just trots out the same tired lies, never provides any valid evidence to back up claims, never addresses the actual points made in any rebuttals of his/her/its’ posts, and spends most of the time engaged in obfuscation and ad hominem attacks

      Considering the number of posts he/she/it makes on a daily basis, it’s likely a paid job

      the best way to deal with such an individual is not to feed the troll..

      And if we all ignore him/her/it, maybe he/she/it won’t get paid anymore for the pathetic hasbara drivel and might disappear back into whatever hole he/she/it came from

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        It’s true that Eis is simply a distraction. (This person might well be paid for all anyone knows; my guess: someone with an empty life and nothing else to do). To the extent she diverts attention and takes up anyone’s time she has won. Distraction is the main technique of hasbara, as Gould has stated here. Several others besides Eis also try to divert the audience here from the content of the articles to something mostly off the point and pointless or something blankly inflammatory, provocative, etc. For example ‘Trespasser’ and ‘Pedro’ just come right out and coldly give you a nice dose of fascism as if they were giving you the weather report. Perhaps a single reply of “off subject” would be best if one must reply.

        Reply to Comment
        • Brian

          Contrariwise, to try salvage something/anything of value, their productions here could be said to have value as anthropoligical or sociological data, and a few of them offer incomparable opportunities for satire. Fascists and their ideological cousins have always been humorless. And are so easy to make fun of that sometimes I can’t resist. Because humor and catches them out, exposes.

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Anthropological data: Right wing fanatics assume that any person offering criticism of Israel “emerged from a hole” like a rat, hence use the same anti-Semitic tropes used by the Nazis but in reverse.

            Reply to Comment
          • This is what we see here all the time. Hasbara 101, sponsored in part by a grant from the Third Reich –

            “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”. Josef Goebbels

            “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”. Adolph Hitler

            “That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD:
            “Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits. Isaiah 30:9-10

            Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Phil/Philos, you are always welcomed to debate me and demonstrate where I am wrong. You tried before and I defeated you comprehensively. You can and may try again and I will defeat you again – comprehensively. It is a challenge! You are scared and on the run and hence you resort to shouting “trolls”, “hasbara”, ‘she’s paid”, yada, yada, yada. That’s too easy don’t you think? I mean, sir, any imbecile can shout all those jargons and clichés. You want to “debate” only those who agree with you – i.e. smelling each other’s butt and gazing frenzied in the air? Be my guest. Knock yourselves out! But I will tell ya this: as long as you post any untruths here, I will challenge you and drive you back into the hole you emerged from. I made this already known to you et al in the past. You can run as much as you want, but you can’t hide.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Phil

      re: feeding the trolls

      No matter what or how they try to bait you into their pathetic little games, we have all seen how the trolls here operate

      Thay just trots out the same tired lies, never provides any valid evidence to back up claims, never addresses the actual points made in any rebuttals of their posts, and spends most of the time engaged in obfuscation and ad hominem attacks

      As I said previously, there is no point “debating” them, as what they call a debate is far from it.. rather, ever time they are shown to be wrong, they change the goalposts to bring in irrelevancies and digressions from the actual subject at hand..

      Oh and of course when you decide to disengage as any constructive dialogue is impossible they try to bait you further.. again I say ignore them and let them go back to practicing their goosesteps in front of their full length mirrors

      Reply to Comment
    9. Yeah, right

      Interesting factoid over at Mondoweiss, where it is reported that Netanyahu said this in the Knesset:
      “When there are pressures on Israel to concede its security, the easiest thing to do is to concede. You get a round of applause, ceremonies on grassy knolls, and then come the missiles and the tunnels”

      Grassy Knolls?

      Holy crap, is that quote accurate?

      Did Bibi really think that it was a good idea to throw the phrase “grassy knolls” at a US Administration?

      Is he barking mad, or just monumentally stupid?

      Or both?

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        It’s certainly an interesting “slip”! And a marker of the deranged upside down relationship between these two countries.

        Reply to Comment
      • Or was the grassy knolls comment code or some kind of (semi) veiled threat? I don’t put anything past this murderer.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, right

          More likely is was an over-enthusiastic translation from Hebrew.

          As in: he was referring to the signing-ceremonies that take place on the White House “lawn”, rather than the events that took place on the “grassy knoll” at Dallas.

          Which would be a delicious irony, considering that Netanyahu is still making hay about the mistranslated “wipe off the map” that was attributed to the Iranians.

          Karma, ain’t it a bitch….

          Reply to Comment
    10. Yeah, right

      I don’t doubt that the Obama Administration really is pissed off with Netanyahu, but I can’t believe that nobody has tried to understand the timing of this “chickenshit” comment.

      Think about it, think about it, think about it.

      The midterms are so close that it is far, far too late for a comment from any Obama official to affect the flow of money from the Israel Lobby. It’s already gone into the coffers, and it’s already been spent.

      But it isn’t too late for that comment to affect the “Jewish vote”, and I would suggest that Obama made the calculation that it won’t make the slightest dent in that regard.

      The result will be that Obama will have timed that strike against Netanyahu with such exquisite precision that not a single mid-term Democratic will be able complain that it cost them money (it didn’t), nor demonstrate that it hurt their chances (it didn’t).

      DOMESTICALLY, Obama will have gotten away with pouring a bucket of chicken-shit over Netanyahu’s head without any Democrat suffering any consequence as a result i.e. without the Israel Lobby being able to exact any punishment.

      That’s gotta’ hurt the Israel Lobby’s reputation, and that’s certainly the point of the entire exercise.

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        You may be right and the timing of the Chickenshit statement was a deliberate ploy by the Obama administration. But, even if it wasn’t, and the Democrats do not suffer a fall in Jewish (or any) vote, then the effect on AIPAC will be the same. And that will be a good thing.

        I think your Kabuki Dance analogy is spot on regarding the actual process of the peace fakery talks. But I fail to see why the USA would actively want to see the I/P conflict fester on – what advantage does USA gain by not having this resolved? I can understand that it may well be constrained by Israeli demands but what does the USA gain by it, relative to the gains it would have if this were resolved?

        Maybe the USA is pissed off with Netanyahu et al, not just because of their drawing away of the veil, but because there really is a substantive difference in their perceived national interests. There have been enough comments from USA military to the effect that the USA interests are adversely effected by the continuing occupation etc.

        Reply to Comment
        • Yeah, right

          Eliza: “But I fail to see why the USA would actively want to see the I/P conflict fester on – what advantage does USA gain by not having this resolved?”

          I believe that Stephen M Walt already has the correct answer to that question.

          As in: the USA doesn’t indulge in bone-headed foreign policies because the USA “gains” anything from it.

          No, Uncle Sam acts that way because the USA almost never “pays a hefty price” for being a bone-head.

          Or, put another way: Uncle Sam never learns to “not do stupid stuff” because, well, so what?

          The Arabs get angry because the USA’s policy on Israel/Palestine is to indulge the Israelis? Boo-hoo, cry me a river.

          The whole world (minus two) just told Uncle Sam that the USA’s economic warfare against Cuba is stupid, stupid, stupid? Boo-hoo, cry me a river.

          In both cases nobody can make the USA pay a hefty price, and so Uncle Sam just can’t be bothered altering the course of the Ship of State.

          Heck, it’s hard enough just keeping that leaky ol’ behemoth heading in a straight line…..

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            I guess so, as a secondary factor, the immunity from paying a price encourages complaisance. But the grip of The Lobby is still the primary factor. Your election strategy account says as much. Walt would agree would he not?

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, right

            Brian, Eliza asked a direct question: what does the USA gain from this?

            I tried to answered it: the USA doesn’t change direction to seek “gain”, it only does so in reaction to “pain”.

            And the USA suffers almost no “pain” whatsoever for its unconditional support for Israel, in the same way that a 800lb Gorilla never gets rudely ejected from a chair.

            It’s simply too big, and too strong, for anyone to do more than just stand around tut-tut-tutting.

            And, heck, as far as the USA is concerned they can tut-tut-tut all they want, Uncle Sam doesn’t care.

            That’s the reason why the USA won’t change direction i.e. it doesn’t have to, so it doesn’t.

            As to why the USA ever set that course in the first place, well, THAT’s when you talk about domestic politics.

            Reply to Comment
    11. peter Hindrup

      It seems to me that the Palestinians have two choices.

      Declare that Israel as won, that they have taken over all of Palestine, so we are now Israeli citizens, and demand the rights and privileges of that citizenship.

      Watch Israel, and the supporters of democracy across the world attempt to get out of that!

      Yeah I know, end of Israel in its present form, probably set off a civil war.

      Or the Palestinians can fight — they are being slaughtered anyway, turn on an all out war against all Israelis, but concentrate upon leadership, government, military, religious, and wipe out their families.

      Viscous? No more so than the Jews have been they arrived in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
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