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The problem is not Netanyahu; it's the US and Israel's special relationship

October 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Not for the first time the Obama administration and the Israeli government have been hanging out their dirty linen in public. On the face of it, the Americans are said to be livid with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s illegal settlement expansion in Jerusalem. The problem, however, runs much deeper.

While the Israelis try to explain the crisis as simply bad chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama, at the heart of it is the ‘special relationship’ to which the Americans have irrevocably wedded themselves.

The fault-lines in this curious relationship are never far below the surface. They are a constant source of tension and embarrassment for the Americans because they cannot reconcile their international drum beat for human rights and democracy with bank-rolling Israel’s subjugation of the Palestinian people.

So how did the world’s dominant super-power find itself in this mess; where it blindly follows, often against its proclaimed laws and values, the whims of a client state that is unapologetically racist?

Last month, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin decried the increasing wave of racism and violence against Arab Israelis in the self-styled Jewish state. Addressing the Israeli Bar Association in occupied Jerusalem he said:

“We are fools to make such irresponsible statements or to remain silent about them. Hateful calls of ‘Death to Arabs’ were not spray-painted on neglected walls in the dead of night, but spoken loudly and clearly, in the light of day.”

Surely the authors of the American constitution, and the patriots who died for its independence, would have regarded support for such indignities as a betrayal of all that they stood for.

Ever since Netanyahu announced his plan to construct an additional 1,060 housing units in Jerusalem, relations with Washington have gone from bad to worse. It became all too apparent during Israel’s Security Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s recent visit to the US. Despite strenuous efforts, he was denied meetings with senior US officials.

In public, both sides have been at pains to limit the damage. While the Israelis claim that the real target of the snub was not Yaalon per se but Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Americans, on their part, were equally quick to plaster the sore.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration dutifully distanced itself from a media report that described Israel’s prime minister in stridently ‘undiplomatic’ language. The report by the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an unnamed US official who described Netanyahu as “a chickenshit”.

Predictably, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the public believe all is well. While admitting that differences currently exist, he asserted that relations with Israel are “as strong as ever”. Short of making a full-blown apology, Earnest denied that the unnamed official’s views were indicative of those of the administration.

As an individual, Netanyahu may have appeared spineless; he has on countless occasions pandered to the demands of the settlers in order to save his political career. However, on balance, it must be said that Israeli officials are never afraid to criticise and even rebuke US officials; whether they be Secretary of State or the President. On the other hand, it is the Americans who have demonstrated a penchant for ambiguity and making statements under the cover of anonymity.

Ultimately, Israel will be the loser from this current spat. Americans, it seems, are growing increasingly tired and fed up with the bizarre relationship in a case of the tail wagging the dog. It is one that is certainly not good for their image, and highly detrimental to their international interests.

As it struggles to secure its share of global markets, investments and resources, America can ill-afford to be seen as being a purveyor of injustice. For fear of being seen as guilty by association European countries are today lining up to recognise the state of Palestine, in spite of US-Israeli opposition and rhetoric about the peace process.

Danny Ayalon, the Israeli diplomat and former deputy foreign minister admitted that the growing crisis in relations with Washington is threatening Israel’s interests. He explained that:

“There is no doubt that there is a very bad thing happening at the level of relations between Israel and the US… When the relations become really bad, they would certainly have significant repercussions, and could shake the American public opinion out of favour with Israel.”

In due course, Benyamin Netanyahu will leave office, but America’s problems with Israel will persist. That is because his successor will, almost inevitably, be even more extreme and derisive of international norms. No president after Obama, however sympathetic, would be able to convince the American people that they must prop-up a 21st century colonial enterprise. It runs contrary to their beliefs, their ethos and their history.

Furthermore, with all that is happening in Syria and Iraq, the last thing Americans want is to become entangled in a religious war, the type of which Israel is dragging them towards. Israel’s attempt to seize Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred Muslim site, will lead to unimaginable consequences that would make Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria all look like a picnic in the park. An honest and dispassionate reappraisal of the special relationship may just prevent that from happening.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.