Gwynne Dyer: Benjamin Netanyahu's options

By the time Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu left Washington on Wednesday night (March 24), after postponing his departure twice, there was general agreement in the American media that his visit had been disastrous. Congress gave him its uncritical support, of course, but his meeting with President Barack Obama went into overtime and ended without a photo op, a joint statement, or even a public handshake.

At the same time, the British government was warning its citizens that they risk having their passports cloned if they travel to Israel. Twelve members of the Israeli hit-team that murdered Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January used passports that had been cloned by Israeli officials at Ben Gurion airport from genuine British passports.

"Such misuse of British passports is intolerable," said Foreign Secretary David Miliband. "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury." He then ordered the expulsion of the head of the intelligence services at the Israeli embassy in London.

The French and German governments may do the same thing, for the Israeli assassins in Dubai used French and German passports too. But none of that will bother most Israelis, since they already see the Europeans as hypocritical and disloyal. "I don't want to offend dogs on this issue, since some dogs are utterly loyal,” said Aryeh Eldad, leader of the far-right HaTikva Party. “Who are [the British] to judge us on the war on terror?"

But falling out with the loyal American dogs is a different matter entirely. Israel depends very heavily on the United States for weapons, financial aid and diplomatic backing, and now Netanyahu finds himself in a contest of wills with Barack Obama.

His problems with Washington became acute with the announcement, during Vice-President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel earlier this month, that 1,600 more homes for Jews would be built in occupied East Jerusalem. It was an “insult to the U.S.,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as it deliberately sabotaged American attempts to restart peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

That, at any rate, is Washington’s interpretation of the event, and it certainly does resemble Netanyahu’s tactics during his previous stint as prime minister in 1996–1999. His goal has always been to expand Israeli settlement and control in the occupied territories and ward off any peace deal that hinders that process. So now that he finds himself in a direct confrontation with the White House, what are his remaining options?

One, obviously, is simply to give in and stop expanding Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, INCLUDING EAST JERUSALEM, while peace talks with the Palestinians proceed. That would cause the immediate collapse of the far-right coalition government Netanyahu now leads, but an alternative coalition including the centrist Kadima Party would not be hard to construct.

The main obstacle to that option is Netanyahu himself. Despite his reputation as a slippery character, he has always been rock-solid on the issue of land, particularly with regard to Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital,” he said in Washington on March 22—and for him, that includes the eastern part of Jerusalem that Israel conquered in 1967 and subsequently “annexed”.

International law does not allow that, and other countries do not recognize it. More than 40 years after the “annexation”, not one foreign embassy has moved up from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But Netanyahu has nailed his colours to the mast on this subject, so unless Obama gives in the Israeli-American split will continue.

What other options does Netanyahu have? He can just wait for the wind to change in Washington. The mid-term Congressional elections get closer by the month, and Democratic members of Congress who fear that the powerful pro-Israeli lobby will subsidize the campaigns of their opponents will be begging Obama to let Netanyahu have his way.

It would be humiliating for the White House, but it’s almost traditional for American presidents to be humbled by Israel and they all survived the experience. And if, by some chance, Obama sticks to his guns and the confrontation really becomes a political liability for Netanyahu, he can always change the subject entirely by attacking Iran.

That is what he’d really like to do anyway. Whenever possible, he changes the subject from the thorny question of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the more comfortable topic of Iran’s alleged drive for nuclear weapons. This is an area in which Israeli and American views are very close (which is not to say that they are necessarily accurate).

Changing the subject in that way would require unilateral Israeli air strikes against Iran, and lots of them. Washington would be privately furious that Israel had embroiled it in a dangerous confrontation, but publicly it would have to back Israel’s play. So perhaps we should hope that Obama backs down at some earlier stage in the proceedings.

After all, it’s not as if the Israeli-Palestinian “proximity talks” that this confrontation is all about were actually going to produce anything useful.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Comments

13 Comments

Mike12345

Mar 26, 2010 at 4:52pm

"Washington would be privately furious that Israel had embroiled it in a dangerous confrontation, but publicly it would have to back Israel’s play."

Why?

Yes, Why?

Mar 26, 2010 at 7:42pm

I ask myself why Israel is pushing the US so hard just now? Is it because Obama is too much a dove and a hawk like Netanyahoo is perfectly placed to help increase arms sales from the US and to benefit from them.

After all, the world's arms industry are the group that also largely benefits the US economy. The US selling more arms each year than all other countries combined. Economically, the US can't lose for winning, save for face!

13 9Rating: +4

James 454

Mar 27, 2010 at 12:42am

Israel is not the problem. If it were not for Israel intelligence we would all be wiped off the face of the earth and the US would have never came out of the Gulf War, Desert Storm, or the US coalition invasion of Afghanistan & Iraq with mini losses. In addition non of us would be using cell phones or cyberspace - Israeli invention; add to that all the medical and acientific technology; & the security systems at airports etc. the list of contributions from Israel have made our lives last alot longer. Sounds like people want to disenfranchise the Almighty and Biblical religions. Stop the rant against Israel and thank them for keeping us alive.

Steve Shotomayer

Mar 27, 2010 at 6:22am

Israel is no ally of the US. That is becoming more and more clear as they intentionally continue to hurt our strategic interests.

Odd

Mar 27, 2010 at 10:37am

Gwynne D. wrote:

<blockquote>
"It would be humiliating for the White House, but it’s almost traditional for American presidents to be humbled by Israel and they all survived the experience. And if, by some chance, Obama sticks to his guns and the confrontation really becomes a political liability for Netanyahu, he can always change the subject entirely by attacking Iran."</blockquote>

Look who just turned the tables on humiliation!

This article titled <a bitly="BITLY_PROCESSED" href="
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article70764... Netanyahu humiliated after Barack Obama 'dumped him for dinner"</a> put a slightly more current spin (by a few hours) on the situation.

j sandhu

Mar 27, 2010 at 3:12pm

@Mike12345...

because the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one the most powerful and the most effective lobby group in DC. People in Congress are afraid to criticize Israel for fear of losing their seats in future elections. That's a simple answer, but I suggest you look into AIPAC's activities and you will be surprised and terrified. The President can criticize Israel but most members of Congress never will; it's political suicide.

@James 454...
I suggest you do some research before you make false statements about cell phones and cyberspace (who ever uses that expression anymore?)...and learn to spell ("non"?). On second thought never mind, it's already to late for you.

Corvus

Mar 27, 2010 at 6:32pm

The key to this problem is Israel's perception of invincibility. If the Americans had a neutralizing factor in their electorate (Hispanics , Catholics etc.) that would vote specifically for senators and congressmen that were "pro-peace" then these politicians would be less likely to vote incessantly for the usual special interest group. As soon as Israel's money/arms safety net is gone they would be willing to actually deal instead of having the biggest "open air" jails in the world. Just an idea.

James 454

Mar 28, 2010 at 12:25am

You bloggers are uneducated about the facts of the Middle East. Why don't you all go to Middle East Facts and Bible Discovered web sites and learn a few things before you rant off on an opinion that does not add up other than being racist..

Me

Mar 28, 2010 at 7:22am

James 454,

Troll a little harder buddy.