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The 'NYT' finally realizes: Netanyahu doesn't care what Obama thinks

For years, liberal American publications have been generally sympathetic to Israel, even when they are criticizing its governments’ policies. Now, in light of an unprecedented New York Times editorial, that attitude might be about to change.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama seen during the funeral ceremony for late former President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama seen during the funeral ceremony for late former President Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Flash90)

The New York Times editorial board has realized, about a decade too late, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not care what the Obama administration — or any U.S. administration, for that matter — thinks about his policies regarding the Palestinians.

According to the editorial published Friday, October 7, headlined At the Boiling Point With Israel, the catalyst for this realization was Netanyahu’s decision to approve the building of a new settlement deep in the West Bank, only three weeks after the U.S. finalized a package of military aid for Israel to the tune of an unprecedented $38 billion, spread over 10 years. Israel receives more military aid than any other country, by far: Egypt, which receives $1.31 billion per year, is the second-largest recipient of direct military aid from the United States.

As noted in the editorial, the new settlement will be geographically located so that it is added to a string of existing Israeli housing projects that collectively nearly bifurcate the West Bank.

In response to Israel’s announcement the State Department and the White House released angry statements that referenced broken promises and castigated Israel for not behaving as friends should behave toward one another.

After 50 years of unfettered settlement growth and expansion — which was neither halted nor slowed even during the so-called Oslo Spring — the United States expressed unfiltered anger about Israel’s settlement project, even though it has been the policy of every U.S. administration, without exception, to oppose settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. The principle of a two-state solution is predicated on an Israeli military and civilian withdrawal from most of the West Bank. But Israel has never had to suffer any consequences for flouting international law or ignoring U.S. policy. And that is not going to change.

A view of the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. The new settlement that angered the United States is being portrayed as a neighborhood of Shilo, but Shilo’s boundaries have been redrawn to include the site that is over 1 kilometer away. (Flash90)

A view of the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank, October 6, 2016. The new settlement that angered the United States is being portrayed as a neighborhood of Shilo, but Shilo’s boundaries have been redrawn to include the site that is over 1 kilometer away. (Flash90)

What has changed, very late in the game, is the attitude of the New York Times. Like most U.S. publications, it has for decades pulled its punches when it comes to Israel’s policy and actions. Not this time. “Mr. Netanyahu,” the editorial’s author notes bluntly, “Obviously doesn’t care what Washington thinks, so it will be up to Mr. Obama to preserve that option [the two-state solution] before he leaves office.”

The best idea under discussion now would be to have the United Nations Security Council, in an official resolution, lay down guidelines for a peace agreement covering such issues as Israel’s security, the future of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and borders for both states. The United Nations previously laid down principles for a peace deal in Resolution 242 (1967) and Resolution 338 (1973); a new one would be more specific and take into account current realities. Another, though weaker, option is for Mr. Obama to act unilaterally and articulate this framework for the two parties.

In other words, the Times is suggesting that Obama instruct his ambassador to stop providing diplomatic cover for Israel; that it refuse, for the first time, to exercise the U.S. veto on anti-Israel resolutions at the UNSC. Even when Secretary Baker angrily accused the government of Yitzhak Shamir of obstructionism under the first Bush administration way back in 1990, he never suggested the U.S. would stop providing diplomatic support for Israel in the international arena.

Former Secretary of State James Baker speaks at the J Street Conference in Washington DC, March 2015 (photo: JStreet.org / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Former Secretary of State James Baker speaks at the J Street Conference in Washington DC, March 2015 (photo: JStreet.org / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Netanyahu makes liberal Americans — the Americans who read the New York Times and who are generally sympathetic to Israel — very angry. He makes them angry because he has been so blatantly, unrepentantly, triumphantly disrespectful to Barack Obama and, by extension, the office he holds.

Netanyahu has lectured the president about Israeli security in front of the press while sitting in the White House. He has colluded with Republicans and major Republican donors like Sheldon Adelson to undermine the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, even though he knows that the vast majority of U.S. Jews are Democrats and Obama supporters. He overtly supported the Republican candidate Mitt Romney in 2008 and shamelessly accepted an invitation from the Republicans to address Congress about his opposition to the Iran deal, despite the angry opposition of the White House. The New York Times criticized all these incidents, but I believe this is the first time they have suggested the U.S. should stop providing diplomatic protection for Israel.

In keeping with the Obama administration’s official position, the Times in this editorial presents the two-state solution as an endangered but viable possibility. That position is no longer realistic, and I suspect most of the people on the Middle East desk at the State Department know this. Unfortunately this obvious reality conflicts with the realities of U.S. domestic politics.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister for nearly a decade, and he is well positioned to stay in power for at least another decade. There is no one to challenge him. And it has escaped hardly anyone’s notice that he is grooming his son Yair to come up through the Likud and replace him when he finally retires. Netanyahu will never stop settlement expansion in the West Bank. Never. Nor will he consider withdrawing settlements — let alone reducing or ending the army’s presence there. Never. His entire worldview, which has remained completely unchanged since he was a young man, is predicated on the far-right variety of Zionism, hawkishness and nationalism, and on holding on to that occupied territory.

Hypothetically, Netanyahu’s grip on power could be shaken if Israelis felt real consequences for their government’s policies in the occupied territories. If, for example, industrialized democracies were to slap onerous visa restrictions on Israeli passport holders, or if they were to impose major economic sanctions that prevented Israeli companies from engaging in international trade. But these types of sanctions are not in the realm of possibility. The domestic political and economic costs for the countries with the power to make Israel feel economic pain would be too high. So I think is is too late to prevent this train from crashing. Pity it took the U.S. a few decades to realize this.

P.S. I wonder what will happen to Gaza, with over 70 percent of its nearly 2 million people living on international aid under a 10 year-old military closure in a territory fast becoming uninhabitable?

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    1. Ben

      “Netanyahu makes liberal Americans — the Americans who read the New York Times and who are generally sympathetic to Israel — very angry. He makes them angry because he has been so blatantly, unrepentantly, triumphantly disrespectful to Barack Obama and, by extension, the office he holds.”

      Yup.

      “Pity it took the U.S. a few decades to realize this.”

      Now wait a minute. The U.S. has definitely realized this for more than a few decades. Professionals in the government positions that matter are not idiots. And the only way to explain this, like so much else in politics, is to follow the money. The money bestowed and the money withheld and the money used to unrelentingly target and ruthlessly destroy politicians over a single issue. Just follow the trail, one trail of many trails of this kind, of a parade of Republican politicians, or should I say supplicants, without exception, meekly journeying to Las Vegas to prostrate themselves before a ghastly casino magnate in his palace and anxiously seek marching orders from him on just what they need to say and just how they should say it and god forbid they use the word “settlement”–how Chris Christie prostrated himself before the casino magnate anxiously begging forgiveness for his horrible, horrible sin of calling the settlements, gasp, “settlements.” And the American casino magnate buys the Israeli prime minister massive free mass propaganda delivered to every household, all the while Binyamin Netanyahu and Ayalet Shaked and Naftali Bennnet rail against the “foreign influence” “interfering” in the “internal affairs” of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

      Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      Who says that what Obama thinks is important? Who respects Obama any more anywhere in the world? Don’t people think that it is rather odd that someone who received the Nobel “Peace” Prize would see more people butchering each other in the Middle East during his period in office than any of his predecessors while he sits on his hands and is apathetic regarding these atrocities?
      Many of those in the “Peace camp” also obsessively focus on what is going on in the Palestinian territories while ignoring the truly great human rights tragedies that are occurring next door. This is a form of moral narcissism, feeling that THEY are the moral arbiters of the world and what they think is important is what counts (in this case, the Palestinians) while deciding that hundreds of thousands of dead and millions of refugees in Syria is “not important” simply because that is what THEY think. Obama gets outraged and “strongly condemns” Israel building a few houses somewhere on the West Bank, while at the same time he refuses to take any action against those feeding the killing machine in Syria, i.e. Russia, Iran, the Gulf States, etc. It is this hypocrisy that Netanyahu and most people around the world see that has made Obama irrelevant.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Baloney. Ike, your rant is an earnest version of what Andy Borowitz here writes as satire:
        http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/obama-hits-record-high-approval-rating-despite-turning-country-into-jobless-crime-ridden-hellhole

        President Obama’s approval rating, in fact, stands at 55%, the highest mark of his second term, and matching his best at any time since his first year in office. His approval rating has been at 50% or higher in polls for the past seven months and his ratings in 2016 average 51% so far, his best since his first year in office.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Let’s just analyze your language to expose the fabricated outrage, with the truth added in brackets:

        ‘Obama gets outraged and “strongly condemns” Israel [but takes zero action] while at the same time he [gets outraged and strongly condemns but] refuses to take any action against those feeding the killing machine in Syria, Russia…[but this is not actually true we just made that up—for example there are the sanctions on Russia]’

        Your message about Syria, boiled down to its true animus, is the whining of gangsters: “How come we don’t get to get away with bad stuff too…it’s no fair! But in fact we have always gotten away with it all the time, because the West gives Israel a pass it gives nobody else, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to whine and pretend otherwise.” ==>
        http://972mag.com/the-worlds-blatant-double-standard-in-israels-favor/84499/

        Reply to Comment
    3. Christopher Hobe Morrison

      Since the author seems to back BDS, I wonder about the many pro-peace Israelis who will not be able to travel around the world to confer with like-minded people. If all Israeli companies are treated the same way as those in the occupied territories, won’t this just make ordinary Israelis identify more with the fanatics? If you give up on the two-state solution, isn’t the alternative the one-state solution? Assuming a one state where everybody’s rights are respected and everybody loves everybody else isn’t likely right now, the alternatives I see are an Israeli-run state in which Arabs are second-class citizens and everyone is under the heel of the Ultraorthodox, or some alternative run by Hamas or Islamic State?

      There are constructive ideas about the future of Israel and the Middle East, and this article does not address them. The entire area could be prosperous and peaceful, but the people involved have first of all to let go of their resentment and hatred, and then to talk and think about what to do next.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      We’ve created a monster. We’ve given The Jewish State too much. From inception to present day. What would you call a country when it ignores international law, barks at our president, intimidates our congress, maintains a walls-and-machine-guns society, refuses to open its nuclear arsenal for inspection and where they are aimed (maybe at us), threatens to make nuclear first strike, has made first strikes before, and has the stated goal of taking over most of the Middle East for a Jewish lebensraum? I would call that a rogue state, a danger to the region and a danger to our country. And I’m very curious what the author meant about the political and economic consequences too high for us to go beyond applying pressure and start taking actions. Why exactly? What are the people behind The Jewish State going to do to us? What is this unspoken hand they think they hold above our heads? Are they threatening us? Really?

      Reply to Comment
    5. Yeah, Right

      Here’s a scenario that might give Obama pause: be may instruct Samantha Powers to back such a UN Security Council resolution and…. Putin stabs him in the back by vetoing the resolution as soon as the USA votes “Yes”.

      Think about it…
      Think about it…
      Think about it…

      If Netanyahu thinks that the USA will back a resolution then he would not hesitate to whisper in Vlad’s ear that a Russian veto would inflict a diplomatic humiliation on Obama the likes of which we have not seen since, well, forever.

      The USA will have finally grown a pair only to have the Russians kick them clean into the next room. It would show Obama as a hopeless, hapless fool who is always two moves behind the main game. The equivalent of a custard-pie-in-the-face on the world’s biggest stage.

      And – let’s face it – what would be the downside for the Russians?

      Or for the Israelis, for that matter?

      All that would be required is world-class chutzpah. Not exactly in short supply when it comes to Netanyahu. Or Putin.

      Reply to Comment
    6. David Rothschild

      What a load of rubbish. The multiple failures of the Obama Administration regarding Israel far surpass the colossal failures of the Carter Administration regarding Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “The multiple failures of the Obama Administration regarding Israel”

        This is meaningless, nonsense. Name one “failure” that is not simply a gripe of yours that Obama did not kowtow sufficiently, and defend your choice. Until you do, you’re just talking through your hat, repeating talking points.

        Reply to Comment

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