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The Obama Administration's 'Benign Neglect' of Israel

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Peter Beinert outlines his view of the Obama administration's second term approach to Israel:

So instead of confronting Netanyahu directly, Team Obama has hit upon a different strategy: stand back and let the rest of the world do the confronting. Once America stops trying to save Israel from the consequences of its actions, the logic goes, and once Israel feels the full brunt of its mounting international isolation, its leaders will be scared into changing course. “The tide of global opinion is moving [against Israel],” notes one senior administration official. And in that environment, America’s “standing back” is actually “doing something.”

Administration officials are quick to note that this new approach does not mean America won’t help protect Israel militarily through anti-missile defense systems like the much-heralded Iron Dome. And they add that the U.S. will strongly resist any Palestinian effort to use its newfound U.N. status to bring lawsuits against Israel at the International Criminal Court. America will also try to prevent further spasms of violence: by maintaining the funding that keeps Mahmoud Abbas afloat in the West Bank and by working with Egypt to restrain Hamas.

What America won’t do, however, unless events on the ground dramatically change, is appoint a big-name envoy (some have suggested Bill Clinton) to relaunch direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The reason: such negotiations would let Netanyahu off the hook. Senior administration officials believe the Israeli leader has no interest in the wrenching compromises necessary to birth a viable Palestinian state. Instead, they believe, he wants the façade of a peace process because it insulates him from international pressure. By refusing to make that charade possible, Obama officials believe, they are forcing Netanyahu to own his rejectionism, and letting an angry world take it from there.

I wouldn't interpret it this way at all.

Consider what the Obama administration is doing: it is still offering Israel the full panoply of material and military aid and support, it is still going to orient its regional diplomacy around making the Mideast safer for Israel and it is going to impede any Palestinian attempts to leverage international bodies to Israel's disadvantage. In exchange for this, the administration is not going to push Netanyahu to do anything. Instead, it's simply going to refrain from defending Israel rhetorically from European criticisms.

If you were Netanyahu, wouldn't you take that deal?

Moreover, the "facade of the peace process" was never for the benefit of Netanyahu -- or Israel, for that matter. It was a means for the United States to offset the negative regional response to U.S. aid to Israel. Dropping this facade isn't going to materially harm Israel, and I doubt it will do any damage to the U.S., either. It has long been understood in the region that U.S. aid to Israel is unconditional, so the new administration policy isn't a sharp break with the past. Indeed, it seems like the Obama administration is resetting U.S. policy to what it was under the first term of the Bush administration: there will be a stated desire for a negotiated settlement ending in "two states for two peoples" but little U.S. effort to push the process along.

(AP Photo)