Bad Blood Gets Worse Between Barack, Bibi And Israel | KERA News

Bad Blood Gets Worse Between Barack, Bibi And Israel

Mar 18, 2015
Originally published on March 18, 2015 6:22 pm

The U.S.-Israeli relationship was one of the issues in the Israeli elections — in particular Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's poisonous personal relationship with President Obama.

Now, with Netanyahu's return to power, that relationship doesn't look like it will be improving anytime soon.

Publicly, the White House says the U.S.-Israeli relationship is too strong to be affected by one election. But it's clear that many administration officials would have preferred a different result.

On Tuesday, the day of the election, Netanyahu warned that his leftist opponents were driving Arab voters to the polls "in droves" to defeat him. (Arab Israelis are 20 percent of the population in Israel.)

A day later, the White House came pretty close to accusing Netanyahu of using racist rhetoric to win.

Onboard Air Force One Wednesday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, unprompted, that the White House would be communicating directly to the Israelis its "deep concern about the divisive rhetoric used to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens."

Emboldening Republicans

On a policy front, Netanyahu's re-election is likely to cause the president more headaches.

It will increase Republicans' willingness to challenge the president on foreign policy — as they did by inviting Netanyahu to give that controversial speech to Congress two weeks ago and then again with that letter 47 Republicans wrote to Iranian leaders blasting Obama's efforts to get a nuclear deal.

Netanyahu's victory, Republicans feel, validates their decision to do so.

Another Complication To An Iranian Nuclear Deal

As for getting an Iran deal done, the Israeli election result puts another hurdle in Obama's path. If the government of Israel had changed, it would be a lot easier for him to reach an agreement with Iran and sell it to Congress.

Republicans in Congress had already been pushing the boundaries, and a bill giving Congress the ability to accept or reject a nuclear deal with Iran could come up for a vote as early as April.

The White House insists Netanyahu's re-election will have no effect on the negotiations, but it may make it harder for the president to persuade Congress to give those negotiations more time.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has been warning lawmakers not to interfere before all the details of a deal are worked out — which could take three more months.

The White House's top targets are Democrats. The president needs to hold down defections among his own party in the Senate, so that the bill does not receive a vetoproof majority.

Two-State Solution Dead In The Obama Years

Then there is the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been on life support for some time.

But Netanyahu's re-election might have flatlined it altogether. In the days leading up to the elections, Netanyahu vowed there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister.

Backing a two-state solution has been the policy of the United States since 2002.

Netanyahu's remarks guarantee there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal during Obama's term.

The Obama administration says it will now have to re-evaluate the U.S. approach to the peace process.

President Obama might also have to re-evaluate how he will handle a newly strengthened Israeli prime minister — one who stands in the way of progress on a two-state solution and a legacy-cementing nuclear deal with Iran.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In addition to the Middle East peace process, the U.S.-Israeli relationship was also an issue in yesterday's elections, in particular, Benjamin Netanyahu's strained personal relationship with President Obama. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports on what may be ahead.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Publicly, the White House says the U.S-Israeli relationship is too strong to be affected by one election, but it's clear that many administration officials would have preferred a different result. Netanyahu's Republican supporters on the other hand were dancing in the end zone. Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer sent out a sarcastic Tweet.

ARI FLEISCHER: I said that I can't wait to see President Obama's congratulations letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I bet he can't wait to write it either.

LIASSON: On Air Force One today, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama hasn't yet called Netanyahu to congratulate him, but he said the White House would communicate directly to the Israelis its, quote, "deep concerns about the divisive rhetoric Netanyahu used to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens" - those remarks about Arabs coming out in droves that have been condemned in Israel as racist demagoguery. It was just another example of the bad blood between the American and Israeli leaders. Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel advocacy group.

JEREMY BEN-AMI: On the personal level, the president and the prime minister have no love lost, and that is probably not reparable in the 22 months that remain. So I don't see those differences being bridged.

LIASSON: On the policy front, Netanyahu's reelection will only cause President Obama more headaches, says Ari Fleischer, who predicts it will increase the Republican's willingness to challenge the president on foreign policy, as they did when they invited Netanyahu to give that controversial speech to Congress two weeks ago, blasting President Obama's efforts to get a nuclear deal with Iran.

FLEISCHER: I think it puts a high hurdle between the president in getting the Iran deal done. If the government of Israel had changed, it would've been a lot easier for President Obama to reach an agreement with Iran that would have been a dangerous agreement. Now that the man who blew the whistle on the agreement has been put back into power, President Obama is going to hear that whistle blowing if he decides to try to push the boundaries and get that agreement.

LIASSON: The White House insists Netanyahu's reelection will have no effect on the negotiations. The most immediate problem for the White House is in Congress. A bill giving Congress the ability to accept or reject a deal with Iran could come up for a vote as early as next month. The White House has been trying to convince Congress to give the Iran negotiations more time, and that may take 'til June. Netanyahu's reelection may make that a harder sell. Jeremy Ben-Ami says the White House has been trying to hold down defections among its own party so that the bill does not receive a veto-proof majority.

BEN-AMI: It's not a question of where the Republican opposition will be. They would oppose it no matter who's governing in Israel. The question will be how does this affect the Democrats whose position might be movable on this issue based on their political considerations. And that's where the White House will have to make a very, very strong case that the prime minister of Israel has his opinion, but is not giving the best advice to American lawmakers about what is in America's interest.

LIASSON: Then, there's the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which has been on life-support for some time. But Netanyahu might've killed it altogether when he said there would be no Palestinian state as long as he was prime minister. That sent liberal Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon to the House floor this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

CONGRESSMAN EARL BLUMENAUER: Last night's election was deeply troubling about the future of Israeli politics and a two-state solution, long the policy of the United States and until recently, the leadership of Israel.

LIASSON: The administration says it will now have to reevaluate the U.S. approach to the peace process. President Obama might also have to reevaluate how he will handle a newly strengthened Israeli prime minister, a man the White House just came pretty close to accusing of using racist rhetoric to win an election. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.