Peter Beinart writes: On Wednesday, I asked a senior Obama administration official whether there was anything Benjamin Netanyahu could do to repair the damage done by his comments late in his reelection campaign. The official’s answer: “You can’t unring the bell.” Other officials, off the record, put it far, far more harshly than that.
Top Obama officials loathed Netanyahu already. But three of his campaign comments drove them to new levels of fury.
The first was Netanyahu’s comment about “Arab voters coming out in droves,” which some in the administration view as racist. There is little President Obama considers more loathsome, administration officials note, than stoking racism to win votes. “Given our own history we have a unique perspective on the idea that minorities’ voting is not something to be condemned or feared,” said one administration official. The analogy is significant because the civil rights movement is Obama’s moral compass. For an administration official to compare Netanyahu to George Wallace or Bull Connor, even obliquely, says a lot about which side of history they believe he’s on.
The second comment that enraged Team Obama was Netanyahu’s boast that he built the settlement of Har Homa as “a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem.” Bibi, said a senior administration official, was “confirming that settlement policy has been a means of undermining a Palestinian state.” Which is to say: Netanyahu was confirming that by continuing settlement expansion, he had knowingly sabotaged John Kerry’s peace negotiations. White House officials believed that already. But they didn’t expect Bibi to publicly rub it in their face.
Thirdly, of course, Bibi said he would not allow a Palestinian state. Administration officials expect their Israeli counterparts to parse Bibi’s words in an attempt to downplay their importance. In private conversations, top AIPAC officials have already tried. But people inside the administration find that effort laughable, in part because they never thought Bibi wanted a Palestinian state even when he was on record as supporting one.
It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.” [Continue reading…]
Haaretz adds: U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday evening spoke by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and protested remarks made by the latter during his election campaign against the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israel’s Arab citizens.
Obama did not accept the explanations Netanyahu provided during an interview with NBC, in which he backtracked on some of the statements he has made.
According to a senior White House official, Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. will need to reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of the prime minister’s new position rejecting Palestinian statehood.