Today’s newspapers all carry stories reporting on a lengthy Friday phone conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (at the direction of President Obama) and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, stemming from the Israeli Interior Ministry’s approval of 1600 housing units in Jerusalem during Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel.
“The announcement of the settlements on the very day that the vice president was there was insulting,” Clinton told CNN on Friday, and today’s reports speak of Sec’y Clinton telling the Prime Minister that the events of last week undermined Israel’s “relationship with the United States” itself.
Such harsh, public language of rebuke has earned the Obama Administration its own rebuke from the ADL.
It is worth noting that the reports of distress in the US administration are in part based upon officials wondering, in the words of the State Dept. spokesman: “secretary [Clinton] said [to PM Netanyahu] she could not understand how this happened,”
Not to necessarily excuse the Israeli action, but to at least explain it in terms the Obama Administration should understand, we would point to an analogous experience of their own.
Last year, the gay community in the US was enraged at the Obama White House because the Department of Justice filed a legal brief in federal court defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (which mandates that as far as federal laws are concerned, only man/woman marriages are treated as marriages).
While the Obama White House did not exactly plead ignorance, they did punt the rationale over to the DOJ – suggesting they really were not on top of this matter.
The point is, in large government bureaucracies, decisions get made that the political leadership does not sign off on. If that can happen in the US, it can certainly happen in Israel – where crazy coalition politics (with cabinet ministers of different parties, angling for advantage over the Prime Minister) is overlaid on top of all this.
Later reports today indicate PM Netanyahu is trying to mend fences with the US.
It remains the case that the Vice President still delivered a forceful “pro-Israel” speech and, with nurturing, the relationship should get back on track.
The President and Secy of State seem determined to leverage PM Netanyahu’s regret over what happened into “progress” (as they see it) on peace negotiations. Politics, or diplomacy, “ain’t beanbag,” but the Adminstration best be careful to not overpress the moment….as we are seeing signs of concern.