Bibi’s Back in Town

What a difference a few weeks make, eh?

It was only a month or so ago that Israel’s relationship with the United States government was in serious trouble. First it was the visit of Vice-President Biden to Israel that was marred by Israel’s ill-timed announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem. President Obama was said to be furious. Then it was Israel’s handling of the Gaza flotilla that seemed to anger everyone in the world who was awake and breathing at the time.

But this week, as Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the White House, everything that was missing from the last visit was conspicuously present this time around. There were warm handshakes, photographers, joint press statements, mutual expressions of the enduring, rock-solid relationship between America and Israel… a real love fest.

One has to wonder what has changed on the ground to account for such a total change in at least the cosmetics of what is surely a complicated and thorny relationship. Did the President wake up one morning and say “Gee, I’ve been really hard on Bibi these past few weeks- it’s time to let him out of the doghouse?” Small chance of that. Did the Prime Minister wake up one morning and say to himself “Gee, we’ve really been off our game this past month or two, and I can see why even the American government has been mad at us. It’s time for us to get our act together.” Even smaller chance of that.

What’s going on here?

It’s a good question, and an important one. The President has tried hard to make us all believe that the relationship was never really in crisis, and the Prime Minister has done the same, but we all know that not to be the case. Something did indeed change, and what exactly it is will never be made public. What seems to me the most likely possibility is a fairly simple thesis.

Both sides have pulled back from the brink because they realized that being in each other’s good graces will most probably yield greater rewards than anything they might have accomplished through provocation and mutual disregard.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that President Obama has no great fondness for Prime Minister Netanyahu. They clearly have very different ways of looking at the world, and their understandings of how to achieve security are light years apart. Obama is no Likudnik, and Netanyahu is no Democrat.

What I would like to think has happened is that President Obama has come to the realization that relentless pressure on Israel to make concessions is going to produce a result which is exactly the opposite of what he is seeking.

The less secure Israel feels, and the more it feels isolated and abandoned by its only real ally, the harder it will be to achieve any real progress in the peace process. President Obama badly needs progress in the peace process, as he prepares for mid-term elections that do not augur well for his party or for him personally.

And as for Prime Minister Netanyahu, he, too, needs badly to repair Israel’s image in the world community after the aforementioned public relations disasters of the past few months. Without America’s vocal and earnest support against the relentless and unfair criticism of everything that it does by the nations of the world and the United Nations, Israel cannot conduct its foreign policy, and it threatens the integrity of its domestic stability as well.

In short, they need each other, and at some point they realized that brawling in public serves no one’s purpose. How long this bonhomie will last is a good question. But at least for the moment, it is reassuring to see old friends act like old friends…

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.