With Passover approaching, someone ought to teach the Obama administration the meaning of “dayenu.”
If the goal of Joe Biden’s visit to Jerusalem last week was to gain the upper hand on a balky Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jerusalem housing brouhaha was a gift from heaven. Apparently sandbagged by his own interior minister, Netanyahu had to apologize for the announcement that a plan to build 1,600 housing units in east Jerusalem had been given the green light. The ill-timed announcement and Netanyahu’s contrition allowed Biden to give a speech reiterating America’s friendship with Israel — and reminding Netanyahu that friends don’t treat friends like that.
In the immediate wake of the housing gaffe, there were unmistakable signs that the Obama administration had gained an advantage, not just with Netanyahu, but with a pro-Israel community whose natural impulse is to defend Israel even when it stumbles. Pro-Israel activists had hoped to keep the focus on Palestinian misdeeds (like their odious decision to honor a terrorist, Dalal Mughrabi, who helped kill 38 people in 1978), the Palestinian Authority’s recalcitrance (Netanyahu was calling for direct talks, not the mediated “proximity” process), and the Tehran nuclear issue.
Instead, even hasbara mavens like The Israel Project were blasting out news releases headlined, “Israeli Minister Apologizes for Timing of Jerusalem Building Plans.” The Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called the housing announcement a “disaster.”
With Israel and its supporters engaged in damage control, Obama’s folks had the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the moral high ground — an invaluable commodity with George Mitchell scheduled to begin a round of bilateral arm-twisting. Biden’s rebuke was gentle but firm; Hillary Clinton’s long phone call with Netanyahu was apparently angry but still appropriate. That was their “dayenu” moment: It would have been enough.
But by the end of the weekend, after David Axelrod and Clinton called the housing flap an “insult,” Mitchell called off his planned trip to the region, and anonymous White House sources labeled Netanyahu’s behavior “unprecedented,” it started to look like piling on.
The hasbaraniks picked up on this and their messaging changed. The Israel Project, contrite three days before, was now sending out releases demanding that “American leaders save the word ‘condemned’ for terrorists and for Iran’s dangerous nuclear program.” Foxman blasted the White House for suggesting that Israel’s actions could endanger the lives of U.S. soldiers. Even a Washington Post editorial second-guessed Obama, saying Obama’s “quickness to bludgeon the Israeli government” made it look like he was “overlooking the intransigence of Palestinian and Arab leaders.”
For the kind of pro-Israel activist who never liked Obama to begin with, and hard-liners who will fight anything smacking of territorial compromise, this was all good news.
But for those desperate to see some progress toward a two-state solution, this was Hell Week. Bad enough the Israelis and Palestinians can’t meet face-to-face. Now they’re back to shuttle diplomacy, and even that they can’t get off the ground. And the big questions, about Jerusalem, incitement, the settlements, the Palestinians’ “right of return”? They’re back-burnered, while all sides point fingers and nurse their insults, real and perceived.
If you enjoy the status quo, you’re going to love the next few months, if not years. It looks like we’ll all be singing the same old tune.