The other day I was talking to a senior Obama administration official about the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most. “The thing about Bibi is, he’s a [expletive],” this official said. . .
This comment is representative of the gloves-off manner in which American and Israeli officials now talk about each other behind closed doors, and is yet another sign that relations between the Obama and Netanyahu governments have moved toward a full-blown crisis. . .
Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.)
The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”
Which is to say that Netanyahu is unwilling to make any more pointless concessions to an enemy who has no interest in peace. Begin had a legitimate partner (Egypt). Rabin’s Oslo accord seemed like a good idea at the time, but turned out to be a historic blunder which, by allowing the PLO to take charge of Gaza and the West Bank, incalculably harmed Israeli security. Sharon unilaterally disengaged from Gaza and southern Lebanon. The jury is still out on whether that helped or hurt. If Netanyahu had “guts”, he’d be willing to damage Israeli interests.
For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.
There’s some projection going on here. Israeli settlements have fatally undermined Kerry’s peace process (note: if it were working, it would be Obama’s) because Obama unwisely and unnecessarily decided to link negotiations to his demand for a settlement freeze.
And finally this:
This official agreed that Netanyahu is a [expletive] on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said the Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”
Way to bury the lede! The Obama administration pressured Israel not to act against Iran’s nuclear program? This isn’t surprising, but I don’t think it’s been confirmed before.
And Netanyahu is a “coward” for yielding to the administration’s pressure. Let this be noted by everyone who deals with this administration: If you do what Obama demands, you will only earn his contempt.
UPDATE: John Hinderaker makes an important observation that actually casts this in an even worse light:
But consider: the “senior Obama administration official” made the comment in a conversation with a reporter, Goldberg, who was working on a story about the strained relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu governments. He must have known that the “chickenshit” characterization would be quoted, albeit anonymously. He must have wanted it to be quoted. He must have known that it would garner a great deal of attention.
Stupid [expletive] indeed.
UPDATE: David Bernstein has an insightful post on how Obama severely misjudged Israeli politics:
The Obama Administration came in to office thinking it could either force Netanyahu to make concessions, or force his government to fall. Both the Shamir and the first Netanyahu governments made concessions and ultimately got tossed out by the voters after tensions rose with the U.S., so this was not a completely unreasonable assumption. . .
The very popular (in Israel) Bill Clinton confronting an only mildly popular Netanyahu in 1998 played very differently in Israel than a very unpopular Obama confronting a popular Netanyahu over the last several years. . .
Instead, Netanyahu has managed to stay his own course, and still is in no danger of losing his parliamentary majority. Hence administration frustration and “[expletive].”
Why is Obama so unpopular in Israel? Because Israelis have paid attention to a lot of things that Americans have not. Bernstein lists lots of examples. It’s not for no reason that Israeli opinion on whether Obama is friend of Israel is within the margin of error of zero.