How bad have things gotten between Israel and the United States? Yesterday’s nasty exchange between the two countries in which President Obama turned down a request for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu showed that the problem has now escalated from a simmering, longstanding argument about the peace process to a full-blown feud. The White House did some damage control and reportedly the two men spoke at length last night. But anyone who thinks that will resolve their differences hasn’t been paying attention to the unhealthy dynamic that has been festering since the two both came into office in early 2009.
The two have sniped and carped at each other for most of the past four years. But the decision of much of the mainstream media, including some journalists in Israel, to characterize this as being a personal dispute is a mistake. Though there’s no question that the two don’t like each other, what is at play here isn’t merely a brawl between two overachieving powerful men who like to have their own way and don’t care much for those who contradict them. Their quarrel is primarily about serious policy differences that represent a fundamental disagreement about the alliance between the two nations and Israel’s place in the world. Obama’s stubborn refusal to treat the nuclear peril from Iran as an existential threat that must be met expeditiously can’t be put down to personal antipathy. Nor is Netanyahu’s refusal to accept Obama’s lip service to the question as an adequate response a function of his surly temperament. Though the personality conflict has aggravated the squabble, it would exist and probably be just as dangerous even if the two were thoroughly compatible.
That Obama can’t stand Netanyahu is not in dispute. We didn’t really need the president’s “hot mic