Avi Shamir

When Bibi and Obama Clash

The countdown has started: The longstanding quarrel between Barak Obama and Bibi Netanyahu is now a battle to determine who will last longer. Fresh off his latest electoral success, Netanyahu has the advantage with up to four years of political life ahead of him. That is no guarantee that his right-wing coalition in the making will outlast the remaining year and a half of Obama’s last term in office. One thing is certain: the open animosity between the leader of the world’s greatest democracy and the only democracy in the Middle East is bad news for Israel and great news for Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, et al.

In keeping with my long-held beliefs, I can only avow that Netanyahu’s new lease in the Prime Minister’s residence is a national disaster. Bibi’s “us against the world” hardline stance leaves Israel isolated in the international community and easy prey for anti-Semitic hate groups such as BDS. His lip service both for and against the two-state solution and actual support of the Greater Israel movement puts off the time when we can achieve the universal recognition and normalization with our neighbors that we have strived for since we fought our War of Independence.

I’m no big fan of Obama either. His naiveté about our volatile part of the world has only exacerbated the very unstable state of the Middle East. I believe that his political correctness is insincere when he can’t say the words “radical Islam,” and I understand those who say that Obama’s tolerance of extremist groups such as the Moslem Brotherhood may have eased the rise of the Islamic State. And like most Israelis from both sides of the political spectrum, I have reservations about his nuclear deal with Iran.

Let’s face it: Any deal with Iran is a bad deal. Just look who we’re up against, a regime run by evil medieval religious fanatics who present an imminent threat to their Arab neighbors, Europe and Israel, not necessarily in that order. Of course Obama, in his capacity as a world leader, could have set things in motion to topple that intolerable regime by lending US support to dissident groups in Iran. But he didn’t, the Ayatollahs are still in charge and the Americans can now either fight them or deal with them, preferably with a show of backbone.

That doesn’t mean Israel should publicly oppose its staunchest ally whose defense funding pays for our state-of-the-art weaponry and qualitative military advantage, not to mention the Iron Dome missile interceptor which recently may have saved thousands of Israeli lives and billions of dollars in collateral damage, courtesy of the American taxpayer.

And that certainly doesn’t empower Bibi Netanyahu to lock horns with the President of the United States, not for electoral purposes, nor for pretenses of Israeli security. It came as no surprise when, just before the elections, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and other leading Israeli military officials warned that the bad blood between Bibi and Obama only weakens the American position on Iran and puts our security at risk. The Israeli electorate rejected that point of view, with many voters repeating the popular motto that “only Bibi” can stand firm against Iran. In truth, a more amenable Israeli leader would have privately urged Obama to get the best deal possible and publicly supported the American position and resolve to enforce the deal.

But “only Bibi” can turn sensitive diplomacy into a public uproar, highlighted by his self-serving speech to Congress. “Only Bibi” can alienate Israel’s staunchest supporter and source of security funding and compromise strategic relations for electoral purposes. And now “only Bibi” has without precedent brought an American President to the point where he will cut off the long taken for granted US veto whenever Israel is condemned in the UN, which as we know is quite often.

The irony is that the Iranian deal that Bibi turned into such a bone of contention isn’t even the sticking point that’s prompting Obama to cancel the US veto. The real impasse between Bibi and Obama is the very same stumbling block that Israeli leaders since Levi Eshkol have tripped over in their dealings with US Presidents going back to Lyndon Johnson: namely, the readiness to both negotiate and implement a deal with the Palestinians on the basis of the ’67 borders. Like the US-Iranian nuclear agreement, there is no “good deal” on the horizon. And the longer we wait, the worse the deal gets. Once, we could have worked out a deal with Jordan. Today we can still negotiate with the Palestinian Authority. Tomorrow, we may face a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, impeding the chances of a political settlement for many years to come.

But in the time being, while Bibi and Obama are still in charge, with all the mutual distaste and bilateral belligerence that implies, there is an even worse scenario that most Israeli voters didn’t even consider in the recent elections: The cancellation of the US veto in the UN now paves the way for pressure to bear on Israel to concede to a political settlement imposed on it from without, namely, by the very same UN that once voted in favor of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Many Israelis have long been wary of the two-state solution, even when the Israeli Government has a say in the matter. I don’t believe that too many Israelis will stand for the idea of a two-state deal imposed by the two-faced UN, with the tacit approval of a non-vetoing lame duck US President. And for that reason, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Bibi’s planned right-wing coalition won’t last through Obama’s term. And I’ll say Amen to that.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.