Obama Avoids Clash with Netanyahu

Having learned some lessons about Republican intransigence, President Obama is taking his budget case to the American people, but he still avoids a public confrontation with another first-term obstacle, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

President Obama is currently taking starkly different approaches in dealing with two of his chief nemeses: Congressional Republicans and the Israeli government.

The former, of course, are his principal antagonists in the tussle over the budget. With the fiscal cliff nearing, and despite some signs of cracks in the no-tax-increase orthodoxy, Republicans entered the post-election budget game with their hardline game face still very much on.

Reelected President Barack Obama continues to appeal to the American people to put pressure on Congress to enact his tax and budget plan. (Photo credit: barackobama.com)

The Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, in the latest chapter in a long history of Israel slapping its superpower patron in the face, has announced planning for still more colonizing of West Bank territory.

This recent move, in the immediate wake of the United States having joined Israel in a lonely small minority opposing United Nations endorsement of the Palestinian statehood that everyone claims to seek, involves land whose colonization through the construction of Israeli settlements would be one of the most blatant blows yet against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, given that it would appear to render physically impossible a contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank.

In the battle over the budget, Mr. Obama evidently has concluded that he must appeal directly to citizens in addition to dealing directly with the Republicans in Congress. He has been taking his message campaign-style to the country. But he is taking no such approach toward the frustrations originating with Netanyahu’s government.

Instead the administration is maintaining the familiar old minimal-daylight, “we have your back” posture toward Israel. The United States, in contrast to sharp protests from several European governments, responded to the latest Israeli announcement on settlements with its usual timid “this is not helpful” slap on the wrist.

Why the difference? The president has had during his first term sufficient bitter and frustrating experience with the opposition party in Congress, whose declared top priority was to try to prevent his re-election, to know that a different approach was necessary if he was to get any result other than more goalpost-moving additional demands. His appeal over the heads of members of Congress is a recognition that the opposition party understands only the language of political force.

But Mr. Obama also has had enough bitter and frustrating experience with Netanyahu to warrant reaching similar conclusions regarding dealing with Israel. So first-term experience does not justify the difference in strategies.

There is the obvious distinction that in one case an appeal is being made to an electorate in the United States while in the other case a foreign public is involved. But Israeli interference in U.S. politics has already made that distinction very blurred. The politics of policy on Israel have to do with the feared or expected reactions of some parts of the American electorate (or American financial donors). Israel is in effect just as much a domestic issue as the budget.

In short, there is no good reason the administration should not take an approach toward the Israeli government that is similar to the one it is taking toward congressional Republicans.

A just-released poll of Israeli public opinion conducted by Shibley Telhami provides additional basis for going over the heads of Israeli political leaders. Despite all we have heard about how suspect Barack Obama is in Israel, his current poll numbers there are pretty good. Among all Israelis it is 60 percent favorable to 32 percent unfavorable. Excluding Arabs and counting just Jewish Israelis, the numbers are 62 percent favorable and 30 percent unfavorable.

On the core issue of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, much Israeli public sentiment is very much at odds with the posture of the current Israeli government. A slight majority of Israelis even say they would accept, at least as the basis for negotiation, the Arab League peace proposal of 2002 based on 1967 borders.

On the other big issue on which Netanyahu has been causing so much trouble, Iran, there also is some good public sense in Israel to which to appeal. Only one-fifth of those polled would favor a military attack on Iran without U.S. support.

Going over the heads of Israeli political leaders can look more positive than confrontational. Natan Sachs argues that Obama should take a page from the book of Bill Clinton, who helped gain some influence with Israel by charming the Israeli public. A charm offensive would be harder for Obama to do than it was for Clinton, but he should try. In some respects he will have a willing audience.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

20 comments for “Obama Avoids Clash with Netanyahu

  1. Hillary
    December 8, 2012 at 09:06

    “Many Palestinian women are well educated”

    John on December 8, 2012 at 12:16 am

    Yes indeed and this very difficult foe Arab men and women to achieve under more than 60 years of brutal occupation , all those check points , curfews ,and random assassinations many other restrictions.

    Israeli Occupation Forces place severe travel restrictions on Arab men & women.

    Israel would not allow travel permits for Palestinian students who had gained scholarships to study in the USA and closed Palestinian Universities etc.etc.

    Under Military Occupation life is very difficult worse than during WWII.

    Palestinian women are to be congratulated on surviving the struggle to educate themselves.

  2. John
    December 8, 2012 at 00:16

    Excuse me Borat, but Palestinain women don’t have to wear a Buqua. Many Palestinian women are well educated, and I’ve met some here in NA attending university because Israel closed their schools and universities. As I’ve said before, Palestinians once had an enviable record for the level of education of their children. Some Palestinian women have political power, so don’t paint all with one brush. You could say the same of orthox Jewish women, some of them don’t have it easy! Communities are all the same, some good people some bad peole. No group is immune from that mix.
    As for 9/11 being perpetrated by neocons and Israelis, I think that is pure fabrication. The buildings fell from the top down not from the bottom up. The supposed explosions near the base were windows being blown out by air compressed by the collapse from high above travelling down stairwells and elevator shafts etc. I do believe that Israeli intelligence knew about it and had been following these guys training in the states and doing the act.
    One could compare extreme Islamic Jihad to the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians, the blowing up of the King David Hotel (killing near 100 including the UN representative), the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1,500 unarmed unprotected Palestinian refugees, the deaths of many British soldiers, letter bombs to political foes agaist partition, and on and on.
    What happened to Jews in the 30s’ and 40s’ was wicked but two wrongs never make a right.

  3. Hillary
    December 7, 2012 at 14:07

    ” the $2.3 TRILLION DOLLARS the pentagon announced it couldn’t account for on 10 September, 2001.”

    said F. G. Sanford on December 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

    And the very next day the “only accounts” on these missing TRILLIONS were destroyed where they were kept in that part of the Pentagon where the “missile” hit on 9/11.

    Yet another stunning coincidence in the 9/11 “official story” that was promoted immediately from day 1 in which F. G. Sanford believes totally.

    Another stunning coincidence was the fact that most of the Judges and staff involved at every critical point of the 9-11 conspiracy and cover-up were all Jewish Zionists and dedicated to the State of Israel.

    As more and more people realize the fact that Israel and US neocons did 9/11 there is a rush to attack Iran and distract with yet more confusion.

    The judges, officials, and advisors involved at every critical point of the 9-11 conspiracy and cover-up are all Jewish Zionists dedicated to the State of Israel.


  4. delia ruhe
    December 7, 2012 at 04:50

    Since when is Israel a “reliable US ally”? Allies help each other. When was the last time Israel did something to assist the US in anything?

    • Ezra83
      December 9, 2012 at 00:02

      Yeah like Isreal helped us by attacking the USS Liberty in international waters!

  5. delia ruhe
    December 7, 2012 at 04:46

    Washington created this monster-child Israel several decades ago, and it will take a president with a lot more backbone than Obama to bring it under control.

    • charles sereno
      December 7, 2012 at 13:11

      borat: You made some points. A big improvement over your usual pottymouth.

  6. hammersmith46
    December 6, 2012 at 20:07

    Our boy prez can’t forget those bitchslappings Nathan Yahoo gave him last term, that’s for sure. But at least BO’s party backed up their prez (not). Ass clowns all around.

  7. F. G. Sanford
    December 6, 2012 at 16:59

    FDR would have told Boehner, “You cut food stamps, and I’ll veto aid to Israel”. He would have had the Justice Department open investigations on rate fixing, bank fraud, and antitrust violations, just to create a little “incentive”. He would have assembled the Joint Chiefs of Staff and told them just how important the budget crisis is, and that if they expect to maintain their toy box, they’d have to start encouraging the defense contractors to convince the lobbyists to convince their benefactors that the game is over unless they play ball.

    In other words, FDR would have found a way to organize the whores against the pimps. FDR would have started making phone calls to some of his favorite journalists and dropped hints about dirty laundry. He never would have fired Helen Thomas. There are a million ways to get past an opposing majority in the house or the senate. This “insurmountable majority” concept is a canard for failure to lead. It’s an excuse, and it all comes down to creating the illusion of a democratic process when the oligarchy wants to get its way.

    If any concessions are made to the Republicans, it’s because those concessions are acceptable to the administration. FDR would have said, “Look, Boehner, you’re right. We have to start cutting somewhere. We can’t afford all this foreign aid to belligerent countries who are causing us to stretch our defense resources to the limit.” Bibi would be on the phone in a heartbeat telling Boehner, “Look you jackass, if you want me to fund your next campaign, don’t you dare cut social programs”.

    Any “impasse” over the “fiscal cliff” is pure theater. Both the Democrats and Republicans are playing along, reading from the same script, and screwing the American public.


    • Revo
      December 6, 2012 at 21:04

      Well said, Sanford.

      • Paul G.
        December 7, 2012 at 04:14

        Don’t forget IRS audits, LBJ liked that one. With the scruples of these Republican clowns that could be quite legitimately fruitful.

        I do like your “organize the whores against the pimps” metaphor

  8. charles sereno
    December 6, 2012 at 16:08

    Giuseppe and borat: Take your fight outside. Please don’t tag onto my serious comment.

    • Frances in California
      December 6, 2012 at 16:16

      Yes, charles, G and b should take their fight entirely off this site. The readers are not here for them to show off to.

  9. charles sereno
    December 6, 2012 at 12:16

    “In short, there is no good reason the administration should not take an approach toward the Israeli government that is similar to the one it is taking toward congressional Republicans.”
    There is a “good reason.” American polls indicate as much support FOR the Israeli government position as there is AGAINST congressional Republicans (at least on tax and entitlement issues).

  10. F. G. Sanford
    December 6, 2012 at 08:32

    $95 million a day. A day. A DAY-thats what we pay those barbarians in Israel. For what? Are Americans so dumb that they will allow quality of life programs here to be cut, and keep paying $95 million a DAY? Obama is in a position to screw the Republicans AND the Israelis. All he needs to do is use that famous pen. He bragged he had it ready. Why not stick a nice big veto where it’ll do them all the most good? The, we can start fixing the imaginary “fiscal cliff” by sending a few Republicans on a fact-finding mission to Iraq to track down those pallets of $100 dollar bills they lost totaling $18 billion. And, don’t forget the $190 million worth of rifles, pistols and munitions Petraeus and his boys “lost” after they arrived there as well. Then, we can stick that pen up Wall Streets ass with a 1% transaction tax, which on the quadrillion dollar derivatives market should go a long way to balancing the budget. He could call up that weasel at the FED and tell him to start releasing tranches of megabucks for infrastructure improvements. Then, he could call up that other weasel at Justice, and tell him to offer the bankers a moratorium on prosecution, but they need to effect a complete forgiveness on student loan debt. Presidents can do all theses things…if they want to. But he doesn’t want to, and he won’t. If he did, he’d start with that $95 million A DAY. And, he’d veto the new personnel acquisitions at DIA,just to make sure they understand who’s in charge. But don’t hold your breath.

    • F. G. Sanford
      December 6, 2012 at 08:38

      By the way, I forgot to mention the $2.3 TRILLION DOLLARS the pentagon announced it couldn’t account for on 10 September, 2001. Why isn’t Rumsfeld in front of a senate investigating committee for that? We could hold off the debt ceiling crisis by making Rummy cough it up or spend his twilight years in jail, where he belongs anyway. Don’t ask me how I REALLY feel.

      • F. G. Sanford
        December 6, 2012 at 08:55

        By the way, That should say $9.5 million a DAY above, but it’s still too much. We pay to get shit on, then they turn around and tell us we stink. It’s time to start spending that money here, and let the Israeli’s make up the difference by charging more for the U.S. intelligence and technology they sell to our enemies. Oh…you didn’t know they do that?

        • Revo
          December 6, 2012 at 20:54

          Sanford, I agree with everything you said, but “…technology they sell to our enemies”. All of those you call “enemies” can be our friends. They are Washington-made enemies. Instead of trying to make friend out of the people around the globe, this state terrorist, trouble-making government of the riches, for the riches, by the riches terrorizing masses around the globe, making trouble around the globe.
          It was 2007 that country of Myanmar afflicted with a natural calamity. Government of that country accepted aid from all over the world but from America. Saying that “where ever America goes makes trouble.”
          If this trouble-making government keeps its nose where it belongs, believe me we won’t have to worry about any enemy.
          Some years ago, I believe, it was Cynthia McKinney took a trip to Austria. Being an ex-Congress person, she decided to visit that countries congress. Not seeing draconian security apparatus around congress, she asked her host about the lack of security. Her host said “We don’t kill people; we don’t make enemy”.
          This should be a lesson for us to know where our enemies come from: they are the byproduct of the crimes that this criminal government commits around the globe in our name.

  11. incontinent reader
    December 6, 2012 at 07:48

    Charm is fine. A stick with charm is better.

    • Jorge Scordamaglia
      December 8, 2012 at 20:20

      Besides the incredible and powerful pressure from the Jewish
      Lobby, the US it’s been held hostage to the “Samsom Option”
      since the Nixon years, and that’s history and not allegations.

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