President Obama finds himself in the middle of a new controversy concerning Israel after writer Jeffrey Goldberg wrote about remarks the president reportedly made in November critical of Israel’s decision to construct more settlements in Palestinian territory.
In a column on Bloomberg News, Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic, wrote that Obama said privately and repeatedly in the weeks after the UN vote, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” In the president’s view, according to Goldberg, with each new settlement announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
The liberal Goldberg, who has been extremely supportive of Obama, wrote in his piece that he agreed with the president’s assessment.
“On matters related to the Palestinians, the president seems to view the prime minister as a political coward, an essentially unchallenged leader who nevertheless is unwilling to lead or spend political capital to advance the cause of compromise,” Goldberg wrote.
“But what Obama wants is recognition by Netanyahu that Israel’s settlement policies are foreclosing on the possibility of a two-state solution, and he wants Netanyahu to acknowledge that a two-state solution represents the best chance of preserving the country as a Jewish-majority democracy,” he continued. “Obama wants, in other words, for Netanyahu to act in Israel’s best interests. So far, though, there has been no sign that the Israeli government is gaining a better understanding of the world in which it lives.”
But Obama came in for vicious attack from other quarters.
In a piece in the Washington Post, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin called the president “seriously ignorant” and said he showed “deep-seated arrogance.”
“The problem is a U.S. president so hostile to the state of Israel that he has encouraged its foes and demonstrated no downside to bullying the Jewish state,” she wrote. “His nomination of Chuck Hagel is part and parcel of this. By selecting a secretary of defense with a pronounced record of disrespect for the Israel-U.S. relationship, he sends the message: The United States doesn’t have Israel’s back.”
Obama relationship with Netanyahu is obsessively tracked and parsed in Israel, where many Israelis are growing fearful of Israel’s increasing isolation in a world where the U.S. may not be so blindly loyal. Some of the newspaper coverage reflects the country’s worry that Obama may be intent on paying back Netanyahu and his country for Netanyahu’s enthusiastic support of Republican Mitt Romney, a close friend of Netanyahu’s since the 1970’s, in the November election. Netanyahu now faces his own re-election next week, but is expected to win comfortably.
An Israeli official told the Financial Times that when Netanyahu’s government would be able to confirm that the remarks attributed to Obama were true, it would make a response.
“Surely it’s for the Israelis to determine what their best interests are, and they’ll be doing so next week,” said the official, who asked not to be quoted by name.