Ticking each other off: Obama-Netanyahu standoff is unhelpful
The war of words between US President Barack Obama and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes for riveting theatre whose denouement is being awaited in world capitals. The two leaders have not got along since Mr Obama’s first term owing to fundamentally different perspectives on the region. Mr Obama backs a two-State solution envisioning a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and he has been an open critic of Mr Netanyahu’s plans to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Mr Netanyahu precipitated this round of tensions by colluding with Republican lawmakers to address the US Congress this month without Mr Obama’s consent. He used the platform to warn lawmakers about the dangers of a nuclear deal with Iran, even as Washington was pursuing talks with Tehran along with five other world powers.
Mr Netanyahu followed this with comments during Israel’s election campaign that there would be no Palestinian state during his tenure; he also tried to rally conservatives by alleging that the Left was ‘busing’ Israeli Arabs to vote against him ‘in droves’. Mr Obama pushed back saying Mr Netanyahu’s rhetoric was contrary to Israel’s best traditions and stated that the US would take the latter at his word on the Palestinian state, and weigh its options to avoid a ‘chaotic situation in the region’. Mr Obama said US support to Israel would continue regardless of disagreements but indicated that the status quo of expanding settlements was untenable. Mr Netanyahu attempted to retract his anti-Arab comments but a thaw is unlikely soon. The Wall Street Journal’s report that Israel spied on nuclear negotiations with Iran and fed the details to US legislators will not help, either.
Mr Netanyahu’s posturing is unhelpful while nuclear talks with Iran hang in the balance. They serve to strengthen the hardline narrative in Iran which expects pro-Israel forces in the US to scuttle a deal through Congress. Some would argue that Mr Netanyahu’s rhetoric puts pressure on Tehran to push for a deal and make concessions in the process. That may be wishful thinking.