Smart Diplomacy? I Think Not.

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 9, 2011

So, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama got caught on a hot mic discussing their mutual dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu. Quite properly, Jackson Diehl wonders why the two leaders are so annoyed:

Since taking office in early 2009, around the same time as Obama, Netanyahu has been mostly responsive to the U.S. president’s initiatives despite heading a rightwing coalition that views concessions to the Palestinians with distaste, to say the least. Early on he announced his acceptance of Palestinian statehood, something he has never done; he responded to Obama’s misguided demand for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem by imposing a six-month moratorium.

Earlier this year Netanyahu reacted angrily when Obama blindsided him with a speech publicly calling on Israel to accept a territorial formula for a Palestinian state based on its pre-1967 borders, with swaps of territory. Less noticed is the fact that the Israeli prime minister has since accepted those terms.

Though Netanyahu has recently allowed new settlement construction, it mostly has been in neighborhoods that Palestinian leders have already conceded will be part of Israel in a final settlement. This week he told his cabinet that West Bank outposts declared illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court would be uprooted.

In other words, Netanyahu has been an occasionally difficult but ultimately cooperative partner. He can be accused of moving too slowly and offering too little, but not of failing to heed American initiatives. And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? For five of the six months of the Israeli settlement moratorium he refused Obama’s appeals to begin negotiations; after two meetings, he returned to his intransigence. Rejecting a personal appeal from Obama, he took his bid for statehood to the United Nations, where he may yet force the United States to use its Security Council veto.

I’ll just add that back in 2008, Candidate Obama promised us that he would win back the respect and admiration of America’s allies, and make sure that the United States re-establishes close relations with them. Badmouthing an ally leader, of course, is not the way to achieve that goal. Even if we assume that President Obama is entirely correct in his assessment of Netanyahu, one has to believe that the job of persuading the Israeli Prime Minister to sign on to peace and diplomatic initiatives crafted in Washington just became a whole lot harder thanks to the President’s intemperate remarks.

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