Move along now: Nothing to see in Obama-Netanyahu spat

If there was any remaining doubt that Barack Obama is now a lame-duck president, it may now be put to rest. As have a few former presidents, Obama has realized that he does not have a negotiating partner in Israel for peace with the Palestinians. Such recognitions always come late in presidential administrations—and never at all in the halls of Congress, which not being subject to term limits, should possess an institutional memory that a presidential administration lacks. As the New York Times put it,

Analysts contrasted this with, among other nadirs, President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s threat to sanction Israel over its conquest of the Sinai Peninsula in 1956; President Ronald Reagan’s delay of the delivery of fighter jets in response to Israel’s bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor; and the first President George Bush’s denial of $10 billion in loan guarantees to protest Israel’s settlement policies in Palestinian territory.[1]

I’m inclined to think that an incomplete list. I think the truth of Israel might never have dawned on George W. Bush, but it seems to me that most of his predecessors have belatedly caught on. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded by insisting that he is “under attack simply because [he is] defending the State of Israel,”[2] which is to say that intransigence and genocide are essential to Israel’s security. An Obama administration official, interviewed anonymously by Jeffrey Goldberg for the Atlantic, had called Netanyahu “chickenshit” and a “coward.”[3] Goldberg writes,

The fault for this breakdown in relations can be assigned in good part to the junior partner in the relationship, Netanyahu, and in particular, to the behavior of his cabinet. Netanyahu has told several people I’ve spoken to in recent days that he has “written off” the Obama administration, and plans to speak directly to Congress and to the American people should an Iran nuclear deal be reached. For their part, Obama administration officials express, in the words of one official, a “red-hot anger” at Netanyahu for pursuing settlement policies on the West Bank, and building policies in Jerusalem, that they believe have fatally undermined Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace process.

Over the years, Obama administration officials have described Netanyahu to me as recalcitrant, myopic, reactionary, obtuse, blustering, pompous, and “Aspergery.” (These are verbatim descriptions; I keep a running list.) But I had not previously heard Netanyahu described as a “chickenshit.” I thought I appreciated the implication of this description, but it turns out I didn’t have a full understanding. From time to time, current and former administration officials have described Netanyahu as a national leader who acts as though he is mayor of Jerusalem, which is to say, a no-vision small-timer who worries mainly about pleasing the hardest core of his political constituency. (President Obama, in interviews with me, has alluded to Netanyahu’s lack of political courage.)

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not [Yitzhak] Rabin, he’s not [Ariel] Sharon, he’s certainly no [Menachem] Begin. He’s got no guts.”[4]

I disagree, however, with the claim that Netanyahu is “scared to launch wars.” He picks wars on the virtually defenseless Gaza Strip quite often. Even U.S. military officials have harshly criticized his latest operation there,[5] which was likely criminal even by the relaxed standards of the international community.[6] Patricia Davis, comparing Israel’s actions in Gaza to those undertaken against the Mayan indigenous people in Guatemala rather than to the Holocaust, argues forcefully for the label of genocide.[7]

For the Obama administration, or at least an unnamed official, to label Netanyahu as lacking “guts” also strikes me as a bit rich. Obama’s time in office is marked, in deeds, by an abject lack of principle. He had absolutely no moral justification for running for re-election, but did so anyway, betraying his real motivation—a lust for power. Indeed, while former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael B. Oren professes to be baffled by the “visceral” dislike Obama and Netanyahu have for each other,[8] it seems to me that they are made for each other, that they each accurately project their own faults onto the other. These are both vile, reprehensible men, neither of whom cares in the slightest for innocent life.

And this spat, while marked by profanity, is really nothing new. It is what you get when you entrust peacemaking to war criminals.

  1. [1]Jodi Rudoren, “Israel Jabs Back After U.S. Official Calls Netanyahu a Coward,” New York Times, October 29, 2014,
  2. [2]Peter Beaumont, “Netanyahu insists he is ‘under attack for defending Israel’ after remarks from US official,” Guardian, October 29, 2014,
  3. [3]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here,” Atlantic, October 28, 2014,
  4. [4]Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Crisis in U.S.-Israel Relations Is Officially Here,” Atlantic, October 28, 2014,
  5. [5]Mark Perry, “Why Israel’s bombardment of Gaza neighborhood left US officers ‘stunned’,” Al Jazeera, August 27, 2014,
  6. [6]Ali Abunimah, “‘Concentrate’ and ‘exterminate’: Israel parliament deputy speaker’s Gaza genocide plan,” Electronic Intifada, August 3, 2014,; Eric Beech, “White House: shelling of U.N. facility by Israelis ‘totally unacceptable’,” Reuters, July 31, 2014,; Alexander Bolton, “US: Israeli strike ‘disgraceful’,” Hill, August 3, 2014,; Juan Cole, “Are Israelis and Zionists really talking about a Final Solution of the Palestinian Problem?” Informed Comment, August 2, 2014,; Democracy Now! “As Palestinians Go to ICC, Human Rights Watch Alleges Israeli War Crimes for Shooting Fleeing Gazans,” August 6, 2014,; Rania Khalek, “Israel firing experimental weapons at Gaza’s civilians, say doctors,” Electronic Intifada, July 15, 2014,; Mohammed Omer, “Israeli jets destroying Gaza water and sewerage systems: officials,” Middle East Eye, July 13, 2014,; Charlotte Silver, “Israeli army summarily executed fleeing civilians in southern Gaza,” Electronic Intifada, August 5, 2014,; Alan Smith, “Israel’s Repeated Bombing of Schools and Schoolchildren Is a War Crime & Should be Punished,” Informed Comment, August 4, 2014,
  7. [7]Patricia Davis, “We Called It Genocide in Guatemala. Why Not in Gaza Too?” Common Dreams, October 7, 2014,
  8. [8]Jodi Rudoren, “Israel Jabs Back After U.S. Official Calls Netanyahu a Coward,” New York Times, October 29, 2014,

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