Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bibi and Barack on the Rocks

Bibi and Barack on the Rocks

The White House’s resort to petty insults risks a strategic relationship.

By BRET STEPHENS

The relationship between the Obama administration and the government of Israel is beginning to look like one of those longtime marriages you encounter all the time. Maybe you’re in one yourself. He feels, Rodney Dangerfield-like, that he gets no respect. She’d be happy to offer some—if only she could find something to respect.

The solution is a trial separation. Give this couple time apart to figure out what, if anything, still draws them together.

The latest eruption of pettiness—when marriages are in trouble, it’s always the petty things that tell—was the very public refusal of John Kerry and Joe Biden to meet with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon during his visit to Washington last week. Mr. Yaalon was quoted earlier this year saying some impolitic things about the U.S. secretary of state, including that he was “obsessive and messianic” and that “the only thing that can save us is if Kerry wins the Nobel Prize and leaves us alone.”

The comments were made privately but were leaked to the press. Mr. Yaalon apologized for them. His meeting with Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon last week was all smiles. Asked by the Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth about the Kerry kerfuffle, he replied, “We overcame that.”

Or not.

“Despite the fact that Yaalon’s requests to meet with the senior members of the Obama administration were declined over a week ago, Washington waited until the visit ended before making the story public in order to humiliate the Israeli defense minister,” Ha’aretz reported. Mr. Yaalon is now said to be under an Obama administration “quarantine” until he performs additional penance, perhaps by recanting his hard-line views about the advisability of a nuclear deal with Iran or a peace deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The good news here is that at least there’s one kind of quarantine this administration believes in. The bad news is that it seems to give more thought to pursuing personal vendettas against allies like Israel than it does to waging effective military campaigns against enemies like ISIS.

The administration also seems to have forgotten that two can play the game. Two days after the Yaalon snub, the Israeli government announced the construction of 1,000 new housing units in so-called East Jerusalem, including 600 new units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood that was the subject of a 2010 row with Joe Biden. Happy now, Mr. Vice President?

The real problem for the administration is that the Israelis—along with all the other disappointed allies—are learning how little it pays to be on Barack Obama’s good side. Since coming to office in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed, against his own inclination and over the objections of his political base, to (1) recognize a Palestinian state; (2) enforce an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze; (3) release scores of Palestinian prisoners held on murder charges; (4) embark on an ill-starred effort to reach a final peace deal with the Palestinians; (5) refrain from taking overt military steps against Iran; and (6) agree to every possible cease-fire during the summer’s war with Hamas.

In exchange, Mr. Kerry publicly blamed Israel for the failure of the peace effort, the White House held up the delivery of munitions at the height of the Gaza war, and Mr. Obama is hellbent on striking whatever deal the Iranians can plausibly offer him.

Oh, and Mr. Kerry also attributes the rise of Islamic State to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Maybe if the Israelis grovel a bit more, Mr. Obama will oblige them by recognizing a Palestinian state as his parting act as president. Don’t discount the possibility.

Which brings me to the concept of a trial separation.

Last year, Mustafa Alani, a Saudi foreign policy analyst, observed of Riyadh’s evolving attitude toward Washington: “We are learning from our enemies now how to treat the United States.” Sure enough it wasn’t long after the Saudis turned down a seat on the Security Council and threatened a fundamental re-evaluation of their ties to the U.S. that Messrs. Kerry and Obama went bowing and scraping to King Abdullah when they needed the kingdom’s help against ISIS.

At least the Saudis understand the value of showing they’re prepared to be, as someone once wrote, co-dependent no more. The administration likes to make much of the $3 billion a year it provides Israel (or, at least, U.S. defense contractors) in military aid, but that’s now less than 1% of Israeli GDP. Like some boorish husband of yore fond of boasting that he brings home the bacon, the administration thinks it’s the senior partner in the marriage.

Except this wife can now pay her own bills. And she never ate bacon to begin with.

It’s time for some time away. Israel needs to look after its own immediate interests without the incessant interventions of an overbearing partner. The administration needs to learn that it had better act like a friend if it wants to keep a friend. It isn’t as if it has many friends left.

http://online.wsj.com/articles/bret-stephens-bibi-and-barack-on-the-rocks-1414451799?tesla=y&mg=reno64-wsj&url=http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10700330261767394000404580240300937777776.html