The interlocking political fates of Biden and Netanyahu

The interlocking political fates of Biden and Netanyahu

Lisa Goldman and Danny Postel writes:

This week’s diplomatic contretemps between the Israeli and American governments is being described as the worst rupture in the “special relationship” in decades. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy remarked to Golda Meir (then Israel’s foreign minister) that America’s bond with the Jewish state was comparable only to the one the U.S. shared with Britain.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled the trip of a delegation of top officials that was set to go to Washington over the Biden administration’s abstention on a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and hostage release, which cleared the path for the resolution’s adoption. Israel has long relied on its American ally to veto U.N. resolutions it dislikes and sees the abstention as a betrayal.

“This constitutes a clear departure from the consistent U.S. position in the Security Council since the beginning of the war,” Netanyahu said.

In Israel, the legacy media that represents the center-right and liberal political spectrum reported the rift as Netanyahu’s fault and a dangerous development for the country’s security. On Monday night the main headline on Haaretz’s Hebrew homepage read, “Just Another Day at the Office: Instead of Attacking Rafah, Netanyahu Attacked the U.S.” The newspaper’s follow-up editorial, which was translated for the English edition, is headlined: “Netanyahu Has Become Israel’s Agent of Destruction.”

Amit Segal, the influential political commentator for Channel 12, Israel’s most popular commercial network, said that Netanyahu made a decision that was “bad for Israel.” Segal, who grew up in a West Bank settlement, has for years been associated with center-right views, with liberal Israels accusing him on social media of being a shill for Netanyahu. Now it seems that Segal, too, is turning away from the prime minister.

While the Israeli press sees the widening rift with the U.S. for what it is, the White House is playing it down, retorting that Netanyahu is attempting to stoke a crisis in Israeli-American relations where there is none. “The prime minister’s office seems to be indicating through public statements that we somehow changed here,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby commented. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We still have Israel’s back.” Driving the point home, Kirby told journalists at Monday’s White House briefing, “As you and I are speaking, we are still providing tools and capabilities, weapons systems, so that Israel can defend itself.”

Yet something has changed. For months, Biden has been quietly — critics would say meekly and fancifully — urging Israel to end its assault on Gaza, all the while providing the weapons for Israel to continue that very offensive. Yet the threatened assault on Rafah has proved a step too far, even for an exceptionally accommodating American administration. [Continue reading…]

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