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Hichem Karoui: No good for Netanyahu
November 11, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

The disagreement between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama has made enough headlines in the press not to be ignored now that Obama is re-elected and Netanyahu is heading towards… an electoral test in Israel.

It is no secret that even Israeli political leaders considered Netanyahu’s rhetoric as implicitly endorsing Mitt Romney. It is no secret that Netanyahu has always been close to the hardliners inside the Republican Party, the same who bridged the connection between Israel’s right-wing and the GOP. Many are neoconservatives who served under George W Bush. Some of them have served Netanyahu since 1996, when led by Richard Perle, they formed a Study Group on “A New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000” that issued a report titled “A Clean Break: a New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”  They already advised to “remove Saddam from power in Iraq,” considering this “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” They also advised Israel to “cultivate alternatives to Arafat’s base of power.”

Both scenarios had made their way under Bush II, as we know.

We find among the signatories of the report, James Colbert (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs); Charles Fairbanks, Jr. (Johns Hopkins University/SAIS); Douglas Feith (Feith and Zell Associates); Robert Loewenberg (President, Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies); Jonathan Torop, (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy); David Wurmser, (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies); Meyrav Wurmser (Johns Hopkins University).

The connections of Benjamin Netanyahu with the US right wing and the neocons are thus well-known since many years. This is a matter of ideological inclination, since all those people are keen on promoting hawkish Israeli and US militarism.

Barack Obama, coming from a different itinerary, carrying a different message, standing on a different ideological platform, did not buy whatever the war-mongering Israeli Prime Minister wished to sell off.

First, how to forget Benjamin Netanyahu’s rebuking response to Obama’s speech in May 2011, when the US president endorsed the use of the 1967 boundaries as the baseline for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Netanyahu said then that while he appreciated Obama’s commitment to peace, he “expects to hear a reaffirmation (...) of American commitments made to Israel in 2004.” The Israeli Prime Minister was then, according to the New York Times (May 19, 2011) referring to a letter from president George W. Bush, stating that “it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Netanyahu has used the term “indefensible” for Israel to describe those lines – a position that put him at odds with Obama White House and many people of the US State Department.

Remember also how Netanyahu addressed Obama, though indirectly, when he told reporters last September, “Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel (The New York Times, (Sept. 11, 2012).” Journalists considered these “harsh public comments” as suggesting that Netanyahu “is willing to use the pressure of the presidential election to try to force Obama to commit to attack Iran under certain conditions.”

Now, obviously he has not been able to force Obama; but he was all the same too much close to Romney, too much willing to “get rid” of Obama that, in his blind anger, he forgot all precautions. These are also the conclusions of his own people, in Israel. Ehud Olmert has reportedly told Jewish leaders in New York last Wednesday “Netanyahu had become a liability in relations with Washington,” by trying to undermine the incumbent president. Shaul Mofaz, leader of the Kadima Party, told the Israeli television that Netanyahu “had definitely caused damage” by seemingly betting on Romney (Washington Post, Nov.9, 2012).

Seemingly? Are you kidding? You know who was supporting the campaign of Romney? The Jewish-American business magnate, Sheldon Adelson, the top donator to the Republican Party ($36,250,000 in 2012). The man who organised a $5 million campaign with The Republican Jewish Coalition in the states where the Jews have voted for Obama in 2008, to return them against him. He further had promised to spend $ 6.5 million on the same objective: getting rid of Obama. Sheldon Adelson is the man who also pledged in 2007 to dedicate $200 million for defending Israel in the United States. Not Israel, actually, but as you guess, the right wing led by Netanyahu & Co. Thus, according to CNN, “multiple media outlets reported Olmert said Netanyahu got involved in part to satisfy Sheldon Adelson.” Moreover, speaking to Christiane Amanpour last Thursday, Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon acknowledged, “Romney and Netanyahu have a special connection from having once worked together at the same US-based consulting firm.”

The day when they announced the victory of Obama was certainly “not a very good morning for Netanyahu,” said reportedly the deputy Prime Minister, Eli Yishai of the religious Shas Party (NY Times, Nov.7). No wonder! Many Israelis already know he had alienated the US president; therefore, a backlash is normally expected in the upcoming Israeli elections, and Netanyahu is certainly more threatened in his position than ever.

Not only Netanyahu’s hardline positions on so many issues in the Middle East are complicated to cope with for the Obama administration, but also the distrust he had created would act as an additional strain on the already tense relationships with the White House.

It is therefore important to emphasise that while Netanyahu’s errancy may not impact the basic US commitment to what is called “Israel security,” it does not help creating the ideal conditions for cooperation on some thorny issues that require trust and compromises from all concerned parties, especially from the US and the Israeli governments.

Thus, Netanyahu could be very well the biggest obstacle to the Obama administration in its second term, if this administration is keen on progressing on the most important issues of peace in the Middle East.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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