Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a tight election race this week against the head of the Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, who ran in opposition. Because of Israel’s relationship to the United States, recent disagreements, and the need to cooperate on big international security issues like Iran and the Middle East, the leadership is of particular importance to President Barack Obama. Most are predicting that the relationship between the president and Netanyahu will continue to be rocky — from Fox News’s “Israeli election means Obama likely stuck with Netanyahu” to the Blaze’s “Obama and Netanyahu Stuck With a ‘Difficult 21 Months Ahead.'”
And while this may not entirely be the case, it does look likely. The president is aware of how difficult that relationship could be, and while likely neither side wants increased tensions, there would need to be immense reinvention and readjusting on how the two interact to help repair current damage. At the moment, the most we’ve seen is a few niceties.
That doesn’t mean the next 21 months will be impossible, as Sarah Stern of the Endowment for Middle East Truth argued to the Blaze. “It was very obvious the president did not want the prime minister to be victorious in the election. I think President Obama was very angry when he looked at the polls and very, very frustrated.” However, it might mean cooperation will remain at a low point between the U.S. and Israel. Netanyahu doesn’t approve of Obama’s choice to go forward with negotiations with Iran, but each still plays an important role to the other, and efforts to mitigate the less-than-perfect relationship of late are probable; though success in these efforts is questionable.
One example of this came just after the election, when the Obama Administration reached out through Secretary of State John Kerry to congratulate him on his successful election campaign. Yet there are also a number of negative signs that can’t be discounted. Perhaps leading amongst them is the announcement that Netanyahu would not consider a separate Palestinian state. Some believe the announcement was an attempt to curry last minute favor with voters, but it’s a statement he’s continued to stand by.
“Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to the radical Islam against Israel,” he said, according to CNN. “This is the true reality that was created here in the last few years,” he said. It’s for this reason that the Obama Administration would undoubtedly have preferred a win from a left wing candidate — who Netanyahu stated are “sticking their head in the sand, time and time again” with support of a two-state option.
While the stance may have helped Netanyahu win amongst his constituency, it did nothing to help the relationship with America’s current administration, which has been stolidly in favor of a Palestinian state. Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, answered questions on the Prime Minister’s statement, suggesting indirectly that his comments were largely political and wouldn’t be taken too seriously just yet. “There are many things said leading up to elections. Given the sensitivity of that … I’m just not going to have a specific comment on this,” said Psaki.
Later, when questioned on it again after the election, and Netanyahu standing firm on his position, Psaki said, “I think I also repeated yesterday that our position in support of a two-state solution is very clear. Only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both people.” Psaki added that the U.S. government would continue to work with the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority toward accomplishing this, but that brings us to the here and now, and the relationship as it stands.
In order to be useful to each other, which Israel and the U.S. most certainly have been in the past, and can be in the future, there may need to be a reinvention of how the two work together, a focus on commonalities rather than on the areas where the two have shifted to disagree. That’s sometimes made impossible by the vital nature of decisions made by each nation, but for the moment, it’s unquestionably in the best interest of each to find a way to stay on common ground.
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