How Netanyahu Forced Obama To Rethink America’s Israel Policy

President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting on Oct. 1, 2014. CREDIT: AP
President Barack Obama listens as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting on Oct. 1, 2014. CREDIT: AP

Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has pushed the Obama administration to re-assess America’s policy towards Israel and widened a growing diplomatic rift between the two countries.

“It’s almost like the mask was ripped off and you saw the real face and now they’re trying to put the mask back on, but nobody who saw the real face will ever be fooled by the mask again,” Alan Elsner, a Vice President at J Street, said, referring to the Prime Minister’s efforts to walk back his comments ruling out the creation of a Palestinian state.

And while regional experts ThinkProgress contacted agreed that the United States will not reduce military or intelligence cooperation with the Jewish state, the administration has hinted that it could stop vetoing United Nations Security Council resolutions Israel opposes. Officials have also floated the possibility of introducing or backing a U.N. resolution that establishes the parameters and definitions for a two-state solution.

“The position of the U.S. has been that the correct place for coming to a peaceful resolution between the two sides is around the table bilaterally through negotiations. Now it’s very clear to the administration that that door is closed for now, so in the absence of that path they’re going to choose another one and that’s working through multilateral organizations,” Matt Duss, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, explained. Duss previously worked at the Center for American Progress.


Such a resolution, analysts say, would deal with a host of sensitive issues pertaining to the decades-old conflict, including final borders, the status of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. It would seek to re-affirm the international consensus around the two-state solution, pressure the Israeli government to recommit to the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state, and possibly set the stage for imposing punitive measures against Israel for its violations of international consensus and the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

For a second-term president, this alternative path may prove more politically palatable, especially as a growing number of American Jews are rejecting Netanyahu’s partisan approach to Israel’s relationship with the U.S.

During a call Thursday to congratulate Netanyahu on his re-election, Obama appeared to confront the prime minister for abandoning the peace process and his election day warning about Arabs voting in droves.

“I think there has been a tipping point,” Elsner said. “This is one of those moments where everyone has to make a choice and they have to make it clear if they regard the two-state solution as a realistic policy that the United States should support and work for or if they just regard it as a vague aspiration.” He added that the upcoming presidential election will force candidates to weigh in on the matter.

For now, Republicans have remained mum about Netanyahu’s changing position, despite unanimously re-affirming their support for the two-state solution last year, hinting that they could provide cover for the Prime Minister. Netanyahu has forged close relationships with conservative lawmakers and voters, hinted that he preferred Mitt Romney to President Obama during the 2012 election, and accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to criticize the administration’s ongoing negotiations with Iran from the well of the House chamber.


The GOP’s reluctance to defend long-standing bipartisan policy has led some to express skepticism that the administration’s change of tone will transfer into a policy shift across the political establishment.

“My sense is that they are just blowing off steam,” Michael Koplow, of the Israel Institute, said. “The president was never terribly optimistic about the peace process, [Secretary of State John] Kerry seems pretty annoyed at this point by Netanyahu, and Netanyahu doesn’t think very highly of Kerry.” “If I were a betting man, my bet would be that the White House wasn’t going to make a huge effort to get both sides to the table.”

Others suspect that the administration’s public anger is an effort to test the waters for a policy shift that seemed unimaginable just days before Netanyahu’s re-election.

“Nothing breeds success more than success and nothing breeds failure more than failure,” Shlomo Brom, a Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress, said. “So if he will do it and if it will be perceived that he didn’t pay a high cost for that and he didn’t have to pay a high price for this policy, then certainly it will encourage future administrations to do the same.”