Fri, Nov 11, 2011 | Rubin Reports | By Barry Rubin
Why Did Sarkozy and Obama “Dis” (Disrespect) Bibi?
During a conversation when they thought nobody was listening French President Nicholas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama said nasty things about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A lot of the analysis about what this tells us I think is rather misleading.
Regarding Sarkozy, French-Israel relations have been good and there have not been major problems with Sarkozy. On one hand, Sarkozy has been far friendlier to Israel than his Gaullist and Socialist predecessors. True, he is surrounded by some hostile advisors, including the career staff at the Foreign Ministry, but on the other hand there is a defense and counterterrorism establishment that admires Israel.
Indeed, Sarkozy helped kill the Palestinian unilateral independence effort in the UN Security Council, a major service to Israel. Yet France voted in favor of the Palesstinian entry into the UNESCO organization. Incidentally, Sarkozy has also not been a fan of Obama in the past.
Why suddenly has Sarkozy turned against Netanyahu? I can’t prove it but I think there is evidence for the following scenario. Sarkozy decided that he was going to broker a major deal at the UN, showing that France was a leading great power in the world. (A theme I think you have heard before is a major French goal.) So he went to Netanyahu with a proposal: Israel would accept unilateral independence for Palestine and Sarkozy would get Israel something from the Palestinians (perhaps recognition of a Jewish state?)
Netanyahu played along a bit but, of course, knew that Sarkozy wouldn’t get anything from the Palestinian Authority. Sarkozy’s idea — like that of virtually all the well-intentioned or bad-intentioned, naive or cynical, friendly or hostile to Israel busybodies who think they are going to make peace — just didn’t make real sense. At any rate, Sarkozy thought he had something from Israel that he didn’t have. His UN speech implying he wanted to support unilateral independence was certainly bad from Israel’s standpoint.
The deal fell through — it was doomed from the start since the Palestinian Authority wouldn’t compromise — and, of course, he blamed Israel and not the Palestinians. Hence his fury that Netanyahu was a “liar.”
As for Obama, some have explained his remark about frustrations in dealing with Netanyahu every day as just going along with Sarkozy. Others claimed Obama’s remark was justified. This latter point is absurd. The truth is that Netanyahu has done everything Obama has asked while the PA has done nothing at all. If only there was a U.S. president who talked that way. But there’s more, apparently, to be gained by bashing Israel and coddling the PA in words.
Remember two things. First, U.S. policy has taken virtually no material action against Israel in terms of bilateral relations. The hostility is all words. Better nasty words and okay actions than the other way around.
Second, when PA leader Yasir Arafat doomed the Camp David talks in 2000 and turned to massive violence, then President Bill Clinton was livid. He openly blamed Arafat and the PA. Over time, though, this was all forgotten. Clinton today blames Israel for the lack of peace.
Why recent American presidents behave this way would have to be the subject of another article. But you all know the list of factors involved.
An interesting question is this: What could Netanyahu have possibly done to underpin Obama’s anger? There is only one real possible argument: Netanyahu’s trip to Washington in which he gave Obama a lesson in Middle East politics and made a stirring speech to Congress that made Obama look foolish.
But why did Netanyahu do this? Only because while on the way to Washington he was ambushed by a major Obama speech — which had not been discussed with him beforehand — that badly undercut Israel’s strategic position. The point most cited in the speech was the idea of returning to the 1967 borders but there are worse things in it. Besides the substance, you just don’t present a major new policy critical of an ally’s interests while he’s on the plane to Washington and you haven’t even fully discussed it with him.
I could here provide a list of broken promises from Obama to Israel along with insulting and verbally damaging behavior.
But put that aside. Obama’s Administration has endorsed Israel’s deadliest enemy and the most important antisemitic group in the world — the Muslim Brotherhood — coming to power in Egypt. A similar stance is being taken toward Tunisia and Libya; U.S. policy is treating the Islamist regime in Turkey as its closest ally in the Middle East despite that country’s leader making hysterical anti-Israel rants and virtually threatening war on Israel. The Obama Administration is also helping Islamists in Syria and doing lots of other dangerous things on a regional level.
In the face of this long list of damage being done by Obama to Israel, he has a lot of nerve to snap about Netanyahu. Meanwhile, we are still being told from certain quarters that Obama is the most pro-Israel president in history, practically Jewish, and we should shut up about any criticism, get down on our knees and vote for him.
A little lesson in diplomacy: the king of the land is the king. Israel must get along with Obama to the best of its ability. It cannot criticize him in public and must be circumspect in discussing even his policies. It must take the course of a university official in a Terry Pratchett book who told his boss: “You’re right, sir, but I can tell you how to be even more right!” Suppose you were to ask an Israeli official what he thinks of Obama and his policies? If completely candid, that person would respond: It doesn’t matter what I think we have to do our best to get along with him.
Ironically, Obama says that he is ashamed of past U.S. bullying and arrogance, its treatment of smaller countries. Often, however, that only seems to be true regarding countries hostile to the United States. The fact is that Israel’s existence is on the line and Obama is playing with that country’s fate.
I won’t go further here but if I make the mistake of talking in front of a microphone that I think is “off,” I might get caught complaining that we have to deal with Obama every day.