Taking the temperature of US ties
Hebrew Media Review

Taking the temperature of US ties

A WSJ report leaves pundits debating the significance of the diplomatic divide, and the PM's role; 10,000 rally for south in Tel Aviv

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

US President Barack Obama (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2014. (AFP/Saul Loeb)
US President Barack Obama (right) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 3, 2014. (AFP/Saul Loeb)

A day after a Wall Street Journal report uncovers a new US review process of Israeli weapons purchases (and after the report receives partial Israeli and US confirmation), pundits in the Hebrew press on Friday analyze the increasingly strained Israel-US relationship, and attempt to pinpoint when it began and who stands responsible.

A mass rally in Tel Aviv in solidarity with the southern residents, many of whom have not yet returned home due to infiltration and rocket fears, dominates headlines as well.

In an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth, former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas offers a blistering critique of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is every bit as scathing as its headline: “Benjamin Netanyahu, contractor of ruin.”

“There is no more delicate, elegant, or balanced way to say this: Through a long list of clashes with the US, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is causing Israel strategic-political damage, and is significantly compromising its national security,” he writes. “Yes, Benjamin Netanyahu. The man who markets himself as the ‘Americanologist’… Netanyahu’s America, of around the 1980’s, is no longer. And he is the only one not internalizing that.

“The responsibility for this diplomatic situation lies with the prime minister alone. Those who attempt to pin the blame for the declining ties on President Obama should recall the similar bad relations with president Bill Clinton in 1996-1999.”

Pinkas continues: While ties with the US will overcome this hurdle, “instead of identifying and understanding the issue and reformulating the significance of the relationship to prevent its decline, Netanyahu does the opposite. Prime ministers who preceded him — Peres, Barak, Sharon, Olmert — understood and approached the subject reverently, but Netanyahu belittles it, or doesn’t understand it, or thinks he knows better. He doesn’t.”

Over in Haaretz, Chemi Shalev treats the recent incident as a “symptom of a malaise at the top that is eating its way into the otherwise sturdy foundations of US-Israeli ties.” The most recent clash between the two leaders over the Gaza operation “showcased how Obama and Netanyahu, both masters of spoken English, don’t talk to each other in the same language at all,” he writes.

“Obama wanted to steer the dialogue to creating a political horizon for the Palestinians, while Netanyahu pushed him to the clash of civilizations and the West’s war with jihadist Islam.” The Israeli prime minister’s ties with the Republican Party serve as “the biggest barrier between him and Obama,” he writes.

“Of course, one mustn’t get carried away in assigning blame to Netanyahu: Israeli polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Israelis increasingly share his views of the world — and of Obama.”

Meanwhile, in Israel Hayom, Boaz Bismuth stresses that this is not the first conflict with the US (a claim Shalev raised as well). “History is full of unpleasant episodes,” he writes, citing various diplomatic squabbles between Israeli and US leaders throughout its history.

“Let’s be honest with ourselves: The US president and the Israeli prime minister have a different worldview” on how to deal with their enemies, he continues.

“Presumably, at the end of the day, Israel will receive its missile supply, because the US has been, and continues to be, Israel’s good friend for decades,” adds Bismuth.

Standing with the south

A large rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Thursday night — which drew over 10,000 people — receives ample coverage as well.

“It was the demonstration of the [residents] of Gaza’s periphery, who came to say ‘Enough,’ that it cannot go on this way anymore, that you can’t raise children under fire, that they deserve more,” Yedioth reports. “And they weren’t there alone. From all over the country people came to identify, embrace, support.”

A Yedioth reporter describes the scene as more of a reunion for the southern residents than a protest.

Israelis gather during a protest calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all, Tel Aviv  August 14, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/GALI TIBBON)
Israelis at a protest in Tel Aviv calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all, August 14, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Gali Tibbon)

Haaretz, however, quotes a protester, a Tel Aviv resident, who is disappointed the rally did not have a larger turnout by non-southern residents, and laments the dearth of national unity.

“There are only a few people here from Tel Aviv,” Nadav Peretz says. “It’s very sad. We can have a different opinion, fight for human rights, but it’s important to remember that there are people here who need our embrace.”

Haaretz reports that, while many of the signs carried by protesters were fairly critical of the government’s conduct, the speeches by southern leaders abstained from issuing any criticism of the handling of the campaign. Some of the signs read: “Bibi, Sderot is also Israel,” and “Sirens in Sderot = Sirens in Tel Aviv.”

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