Shadow Government

Is Obama treating Netanyahu like Hamas?

By Christian Brose Jeffrey Goldberg thinks President Obama has a regime change policy toward Israel. I would put it a bit differently. To me, Obama’s approach to Israel seems to resemble Bush’s approach to Hamas. By which I mean, insisting that an elected government (in both cases, clearly not the administration’s preference) either make fundamental ...

By Christian Brose

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks President Obama has a regime change policy toward Israel. I would put it a bit differently. To me, Obama’s approach to Israel seems to resemble Bush’s approach to Hamas. By which I mean, insisting that an elected government (in both cases, clearly not the administration’s preference) either make fundamental changes to its behavior — or collapse under the weight of its own domestic political contradictions and inability to govern.

There are differences, to be sure — the most obvious being that Hamas is a terrorist organization (among many other things), and Israel obviously is not. (Obama has never conflated the two.) And of course, the Obama administration is engaging regularly with the Netanyahu regime and reaffirming the U.S. alliance with Israel. It’s also true that Obama is insisting that Hamas meet the same three conditions that Bush did in order for the United States to have any dealings with it, and he has never stated publicly that he wants Netanyahu’s government to fail if it won’t change its behavior on settlements. But then again, Bush and company were careful not to say that about Hamas either.

Still, what Obama seems to be doing with Israel is much the same as what Bush tried to do with the Hamas government: demand a major change in behavior as a condition for diplomatic progress that, if not met, presumably bears consequences. And though Obama has brushed off talk of consequences at this time, he hasn’t rejected the idea. Indeed, his advisors have speculated on background about what measures might be considered, including less forthcoming U.S. support for Israel at the United Nations.

The simple act of pushing a foreign government, be it friend or foe, to change its behavior in ways that benefit U.S. interests, however you define them, is not inherently illegitimate. It wasn’t when Bush pressed Hamas, and it isn’t now when Obama is pressing Israel. That’s just diplomacy. It would be illegitimate if Obama were jeopardizing Israel’s security, but demanding a settlement freeze is not that. What’s distasteful is that the Obama administration is publicly lecturing a U.S. ally at the same time it insists that public lectures don’t get us anywhere — advice that seems only to apply thus far to non-allies like Russia, China, Egypt, and other authoritarian states with fragile sensibilities.  

And that’s the real question: Will this work? Clearly, the Hamas government has neither changed its behavior nor fallen, but this doesn’t prove that one or the other won’t still happen. One hopes that it will, since Obama seems to be pursuing the same approach. When it comes to Israel, though, it needs to prepare for the day that it will withdraw from the vast majority of its settlements in the West Bank, and I think Israeli leaders take the greatest risks to make peace when they are confident that the United States is firmly behind them. Right now I don’t think that dynamic exists.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see whether Netanyahu’s major speech next week can help him square this tough circle he’s in.

A decade of Global Thinkers

A decade of Global Thinkers

The past year's 100 most influential thinkers and doers Read Now

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola