Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tread Lightly, Bibi

Speculation that the US government was toning down rhetoric in preparation for midterm elections appears to be validated after statements from Defense Secretary Gates, State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley, and the President himself about Israel in the past two days. The US government appears to be in a game of rhetorical hot-potato with Prime Minister Netanyahu who is at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly meeting in New Orleans. The US has responded to Netanyahu's support for a military strike on Iran, and the refusal of his government to freeze settlements.

Washington appears irked at Netanyahu's intransigence, and his flouting of it on US soil. President Obama is in Indonesia which has the largest Muslim population in the world. Eyes are on the US to see how it will move the peace process forward, and Netanyahu's comments only serve to highlight failure in this regard.

Netanyahu is taking advantage of the opportunity to build support in the US. However, he needs to be careful. The US currently has a lame-duck Congress and a President who has not yet begin his reelection campaign in full swing. This means that the pressure is doubly relaxed on President Obama. Secretary Gates has already announced his retirement, and Secretary Clinton has been in Australia, far away from the State Department Briefing Room at Foggy Bottom. The aggregate effect is that Netanyahu is operating in an environment in which the cost of a US response is lower than usual.

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