Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Israel's Deep Disappointment Shows Failure To Evolve

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said yesterday he was “deeply disappointed” with the State Department’s wait-and-see approach to the new Palestinian unity government. The statement comes just months after Israel used the same “deeply disappointed” rhetoric to describe Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments placing some blame on Israel for the breakdown in peace talks.

But while Israel is understandably upset, it’s strategic objective in pointing out differences with the US is unclear.

The Israeli government has gone full court press in statements and social media in reiterating that Hamas is a terrorist group, but it is unlikely to have the Clinton-blames-Arafat moment that followed the Camp David accords. While Israel is right that Hamas continues to target innocent civilians for political purposes, it’s hard to determine exactly what the Israeli government hopes to achieve from its campaign.

De-legitimizing Hamas has been a strategy with mixed results in general for Israel. Pointing out Hamas’ use of violence against civilians will do little to persuade a second-term Obama administration, especially after the failure of the Bush administration’s non-recognition of Hamas after Palestinian elections in 2006. Also, given the political capital Secretary Kerry is investing in peace efforts, he is unlikely to echo such one-sided rhetoric at this stage.

The remarks have put US pro-Israel organizations in a sticky spot. AIPAC expressed “concern and disappointment” over the unity government, but urged Congress to review US aid rather than placing pressure on the executive branch directly. In contrast, on April 28, it characterized Secretary Kerry’s remarks - particularly the suggestion that without change Israel could become an apartheid state - as “offensive and inappropriate,” while emphasizing that it “shares President Obama’s perspective that…the use of the term ‘apartheid’ to characterize Israel is inaccurate and unhelpful.”

If anything, the campaign appears to be a copy and paste of Israel’s talking points from whenever it conflicts with Hamas. This strategy reflects an Israeli administration whose strategy vis-a-vis Hamas appears to be more of the same. But the situation is not the same, and US treatment of Hamas has shifted in response to the experience of 2006 and the Arab Uprisings in 2011. The daylight that exists between the US and Israel is the result of a Netanyahu administration whose unclear strategy lags behind the current political realities of the Middle East.