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America loses patience with Israel

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COMMENTS

6 April 2010 10:37

Greg Sheridan's article on the weekend argued that a decision to adopt a policy of containment of a nuclear-capable Iran was the only 'semi-intelligible explanation for Obama's bizarre overreaction against the Israelis', manifest in the reports of President Obama's less than warm reception of Prime Minister Netanyahu during a visit to Washington in late March.

I am more of the view that the treatment meted out during the visit had little to do with Administration views of Iran and everything to do with the Obama Administration running out of patience with the Netanyahu Government over the peace process. 

Consider the recent Israeli actions the White House has had to endure as it seeks to advance the Middle East peace process. On 11 January the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister deliberately and publicly humiliated the ambassador from Israel's closest non-Arab Middle Eastern ally and key peace process intermediary, Turkey. 

On 19 January the amateurish assassination of a senior Hamas official exposed Israel's alleged forging of friendly nations' passports in one of the few Arab countries that has adopted a pragmatic attitude to relations with Israel. And to top it off, on 19 March during a visit by the vice-president of the sole global superpower and Israel's closest ally, a government department announces the construction of 1600 new apartments in Jerusalem. 

While Sheridan correctly pointed out that this area had not been included in Natanyahu's ten-month construction freeze, announced as a confidence-building measure in November 2009, the effusive praise Sheridan claims the US heaped on the announcement was in fact a little more measured than that. 

More importantly though, whereas the article twice refers to the area being built in as a Jewish neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, it fails to mention that the suburbs themselves are illegal according to international law, being in defiance of two standing UNSCRs. In effect, the Israelis announced during a vice-presidential visit to advance the peace process that they were publicly defying the very UNSCRs he was seeking to build on.

As far as the US is concerned, this was the final straw. The Obama Administration understands that the two countries share a close relationship, but that any rift in their relationship would cost Israel more than it would cost the US and would be bad news politically for the Israeli Government on whose watch it occurred.

Henry Kissinger once remarked that Israel has no foreign policy, only domestic politics. If this is so, then the treatment meted out by the White House was meant not for the Arab world as the article contests, but rather for the Israeli voting public. The Obama Administration is trying to reassure Israel that the US remains its closest ally but at the same time is sending the message that the Israeli Government's recent actions are not only counter to advancing the peace process but run the risk of damaging bilateral relations with the US.

This is uncharted waters for an Israeli Government and it will be interesting to see its reaction in the coming months, particularly after the US congressional mid-term elections.

Photo by Flickr user Tzipi Livni, used under a Creative Comon license.

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