Speaking to former Obama adviser David Axelrod, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides acknowledged that the United States is pressuring Benjamin Netanyahu not to pursue his intended reform of the judiciary. “We’re telling the prime minister, as I tell my kids. Pump the brakes,” related Nides. “Slow down, try to get a consensus, bring the parties together. It’s very complicated; they’re trying to do things way too fast and to pump the brakes, slow down.”
Nides’s comments came the same day his boss Secretary of State Antony Blinken was apparently reading the riot act to Netanyahu over the legalization of outposts in the West Bank and plan for building additional housing in the settlements. He reiterated his concern about the impact on the fictional two-state solution.
Both diplomats have been intimating U.S.-Israel relations will suffer if Netanyahu’s policies are adopted even as they recite the platitude about America’s ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.
This blatant interference in Israel’s internal domestic affairs, particularly on the reform issue, was, not surprisingly, upsetting to the government.
Netanyahu, however, is reaping what he sowed when he addressed the joint session of Congress to lobby against the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Democrats have not forgotten what they viewed as an insult and a betrayal. For Obama retreads like Blinken and Nides, it’s payback time. Even staunch pro-Israel Democrats in Congress are openly criticizing Netanyahu, and they can do so with some impunity because many of their liberal Jewish constituents are equally upset with the direction Israel is going.
Israeli opponents of the government have been encouraging intervention by the U.S. government and the American Jewish community. It’s a dangerous tactic that they will likely rue when a government more to their liking comes to power and the tables are turned.
We’ve seen this before. It started when the Labor Party began agitating for Americans to oppose the government led by Yitzhak Shamir. The Likud was outraged. When Yitzhak Rabin came to power and signed the Oslo Accords, it was the right’s turn to lobby Americans to attack the government and the left’s to be indignant.
Most people engaged in the current debate probably don’t remember that in 2016, the left also asserted that democracy was in danger when Netanyahu’s government introduced the relatively benign legislation to require nongovernmental organizations to report foreign funding they received because some of them were using the money to promote the boycott of Israel. The left was also upset that Netanyahu was not prepared to trade land for peace—a formula discredited by the disengagement from Gaza. Then, as now, Netanyahu’s detractors called on the U.S. government to save Israel from itself.
The campaign was unsuccessful because Donald Trump had just become president, and Obama’s acolytes left to cash in on their government positions and plot their return to power.
The Democratic Party symbol is a donkey and that is appropriate for the stubborn obsession with the two-state solution (which should have the symbol of a unicorn). In the case of the Biden administration, the Republican elephant is just as apropos as it reflects the long memory of the Obamaites who were frustrated by their inability to bend Netanyahu to their will.
At the end of Obama’s term, when it made no difference, they took out their infuriation by abstaining rather than vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement activity and declaring the Jewish communities illegal. This was followed by Secretary of State John Kerry’s farewell speech, which, instead of a review of his diplomatic record, was a tantrum devoted to attacking Israel.
As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again. Biden has snubbed Netanyahu by not inviting him to Washington after he returned to power as would have been expected. His finance minister is being shunned because of his extremist views. And, perhaps more concerning, is that he may be holding up the delivery of aircraft needed to refuel Israeli planes for a potential attack on Iran.
Last week, Biden telegraphed a more direct message by refusing to commit to vetoing a new U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy introduced on behalf of the Palestinians. Unlike the routine nonbinding General Assembly resolutions, the Security Council votes are harder for Israel to dismiss, and prior to Obama’s abstention, the United States vetoed the most egregious ones.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas saw an opportunity to take advantage of U.S. pique and further his longtime goal of driving a wedge between the two allies. Biden wasn’t going to let that happen but used the opportunity to get what he wanted from Israel. Proving that even Netanyahu will cave to U.S. pressure, the U.N. threat forced the prime minister to promise not to authorize any additional settlements, to halt the demolition of Palestinian homes and to refrain from evicting Palestinians from their homes for some unspecified period. He also reportedly agreed to reduce military operations in the territories.
As is typically the case in the State Department’s handling of the Palestinians, instead of using a stick such as withholding aid or enforcing the Taylor Force Act to compel Abbas to withdraw his demand for U.N. action, Blinken offered him a carrot—the same one denied Netanyahu—a White House meeting with the president.
Israel’s democracy is on full display—from the elected representatives of the people addressing their constituents’ concerns to the protesters filling the streets to defend what they see as threats to their democracy. The role of the United States should be to watch how the process culminates—and butt out.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby,” “Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”