Netanyahu may be stuck with Obama, but it looks like Obama is also stuck with Netanyahu. And Obama ended up helping the Israeli Prime Minister rise in the polls, while trying to undermine him by using Jeffrey Goldberg to leak an attack against him.
The problem is that Obama really doesn’t understand Israelis and is unpopular in Israel. Bill Clinton could damage Netanyahu by making it seem as if relations were souring because of a conservative Israeli government. Obama really can’t do that because not only are relations already sour, but few Israelis really believe that they would get any better under another leader.
The Democratic Party guided the Israeli Labor Party into a social issues stance. That plan looked a lot better last summer before Hamas decided to shell Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The effect of the conflict wasn’t quite September 11, but it helped tilt the election to the right and neutered the whole caterwauling chorus about the price of apartments in Tel Aviv.
To counter the new security focus, an attempt was made to regroup around the Livni Party as the one that would be able to maintain positive relations with America. In support of that agenda, Jeffrey Goldberg and Obama pushed the “Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t know what’s in Israel’s best interests” line. But the fallout strengthened Netanyahu in an election that was already leaning to the right, which serves as a reminder that Israelis really don’t trust Obama.
Liberal pro-Israel figures are urging Obama to visit Israel and address the Knesset. It’s silly because a visit to Israel is not the issue. Obama had already visited Israel before the last election. His avoidance of Israel since is because he wants to score points in the Muslim world by maintaining as much distance as possible from Israel. That’s the entire realpolitik agenda of the Saudi lobby, which urges the same thing over and over again. It’s why Obama has nominated Hagel for Secretary of Defense.
But even if Obama were to be convinced to go to Israel, what would be the point? It won’t improve relations because there is a basic conflict of worldviews at work here. Obama does not like Israel. Israelis don’t like Obama. Some of that is cultural. The left has never really liked Israel, except for a very brief period, and even then only a small chunk of the American left were plagued with such an affinity. And Israel is less aligned with the left than ever.
The United States is run by a government of the left. Israel is run by a government of the center-right. A visit will not change that. Israel is trying to survive in a dangerous region. The United States is trying to befriend Islamists. There really is very little common ground to be found here.
Obama’s counter-terrorism strategy is built in no small part on Israeli technology and he realizes that. It makes him willing to help fund more weapons development, but it puts him at odds with the Jewish State in every other regard.