Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Obama And Sarko: The Problem Is Bibi, Not Israel

Today's news of comments French President Sarkozy and US President Obama made about Israeli PM Netanyahu come as no surprise to anyone the least bit in touch with Israeli foreign policy as of late. The quick comments about Netanyahu being a "liar" and difficult to "deal with...everyday" illustrate the extent to which the Prime Minister is alienated in the international community.

Such stories are blood in the water for those asympathetic to the Obama administration, and the next few days are likely to see a race to the bottom of which partisan pundit can feign the most shock and make the most outrageous demands on the President. For those closer to the center, the story presents an opportunity for the Obama administration to make amends with the Netanyahu administration. Given the decidedly unprofessional tenor of the President's comments, this request is reasonable, although it is not clearly in his interest to oblige.

While the Obama administration will need damage control here in Washington, Prime Minister Netanyahu's position is more serious. While Israelis are generally not fans of President Obama, they also value a strong US-Israel relationship. Israel's relationship with the international community is particularly critical as the UN Palestinian statehood bid makes its way through the security council.

But the fact that President Sarkozy and President Obama's comments were about Netanyahu versus Israel is proof positive that policy differences are primarily responsible for the ongoing tension between Israel and the international community. Obama and Sarkozy's comments had nothing to do with Israel as a country, and everything to do with the conduct of the current Israeli administration. That the comments were a regrettable reflection of poor relations is a given. However, to extrapolate a private aside into a fatalistic account of Israel's tragic relationship with the rest of the world would be a stretch given the content of these comments.

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