Playing to their base

Playing to their base

From a March 25 JTA article:

On Wednesday afternoon, the White House released a statement condemning the plan to build the 20 apartments on the Shephard Hotel site. The Prime Minister’s Office also released a statement that said there are no limitations on rights of ownership in Jerusalem.

The Obama administration is pressing for a total settlement freeze. Netanyahu has said building in all parts of Jerusalem will continue.

Oy. There is definitely a problem here, and taking sides is not the solution. If it were, the majority would always win, and Israel would be in deep trouble.

What seems to be happening is that both sides – in this case, the U.S. government and the Israeli government – are playing a highly choreographed, if ultimately dangerous, game.

Left to their own devices, Obama and Netanyahu, both consummate pragmatists, could probably work things out. But they are not in this alone. Both leaders must play to their base, and both must be cognizant of their public images, limiting their ability to maneuver.

Netanyahu – who was clearly embarrassed by the timing of last month’s announcement regarding the building of apartments in East Jerusalem, coming as it did during Vice-President Biden’s visit – certainly understands the significance of that timing. If nothing else, it was a reminder by his right-wing supporters that they have an agenda, and they were not prepared to see it marginalized, even to please the U.S.

Obama – blindsided and likewise embarrassed by that announcement – is equally constrained. Having bet his political capital on the proximity talks and coming tantalizingly close to seeing them take place, he is also holding firm. To do otherwise would throw into question the entire policy he has constructed to deal with the Middle East.

Sadly, there is much more at stake than “hardened hearts” (a perfect image, given the Passover holiday). In the past, Bibi has spoken of the need for flexibility on the Palestinian track for the sake of more intimate cooperation with the United States against the far greater Iranian nuclear threat. The hard-liners who insist that the issues be “decoupled” miss the fact that any perceived differences between the two nations only play into the hands of our common enemy.

It is imperative that a way be found for both sides to shake hands while saving face. Continued friction hurts everybody, especially when the threat is more than hypothetical.


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