On the afternoon of December 14, 2016, Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, rode from his Embassy to the White House to attend a Hanukkah party. The Obama Administration was in its final days, and among the guests were some of the President’s most ardent Jewish supporters, who were there to bid him farewell. But Dermer, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not share their sense of loss. For the Israeli leadership, the Trump Presidency could not come soon enough.
Netanyahu believed that Barack Obama had “no special feeling” for the Jewish state, as one of his aides once put it, and he resented Obama’s argument that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was a violation of basic human rights and an obstacle to security, not least for Israel itself. He also believed that Obama’s attempt to foster a kind of balance of power between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East was naïve, and that it underestimated the depth of Iran’s malign intentions throughout the region.
Obama was hardly anti-Israel. His Administration had provided the country with immense military and intelligence support. He had also protected Netanyahu in the United Nations Security Council, when, in 2011, he issued his only veto, blocking a resolution condemning Jewish settlement building. And Obama opposed efforts by the Palestinians to join the International Criminal Court, after Netanyahu shouted over the telephone to the President’s advisers that “this is a nuclear warhead aimed at my crotch!” (Netanyahu’s office disputes the American account of the call.)
Some of Netanyahu’s supporters believed that the Prime Minister bore comparison to Richard Nixon, whose anti-Communist credentials gave him the political capacity to open the door to diplomatic relations with China. Dennis Ross, an adviser on Middle Eastern affairs during Obama’s first term, frequently told the President and members of the national-security team that there were two Netanyahus—the “strategic Bibi,” who was willing to make concessions, and the “political Bibi,” who pursued his immediate electoral interest. Ross made the point so often that, during one exchange in the Oval Office, Obama stopped him with a palm in front of his face: he had heard enough.
Over time, Obama and his advisers came to believe that Netanyahu had been playing them, occasionally feigning interest in a two-state solution while expanding settlements in the West Bank, thus making the creation of a viable Palestinian state increasingly difficult to conceive. By Obama’s second term, his aides no longer bothered to mask their frustration with the Israelis. “They were never sincere in their commitment to peace,” Benjamin Rhodes, one of Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisers, told me. “They used us as cover, to make it look like they were in a peace process. They were running a play, killing time, waiting out the Administration.” [Continue reading…]