Washington Post urges Obama to ‘reset’ ties with PM after ‘chickenshit’ affair

Editorial says previous US administrations knew ‘open rift with Israel’ could encourage ‘military adventurism’ by enemies like Iran

US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) prepare for a press session in the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)
US President Barack Obama (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) prepare for a press session in the White House in Washington, DC, September 30, 2013. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

The Washington Post urged President Barack Obama to “initiate a reset” in relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the wake of the “chickenshit” affair.

In an editorial posted online late Friday, the newspaper’s editorial board said the resort to a “crude” “barnyard epithet” by an unnamed administration official to deride Netanyahu last week “raised the question of why the Israeli leader provokes such passionate animus from an administration that coolly shrugs off insults from the likes of Vladi­mir Putin.”

The article acknowledged “legitimate and substantive frustration” in the administration with Netanyahu over settlement-building.

It also cited speculation “that dissing Mr. Netanyahu may be part of the administration’s groundwork for the deal it hopes to strike with Iran on its nuclear program this month.

“The Israeli leader is almost certain to oppose any accord,” it noted, and some analysts believe the administration may have “wanted to signal to both Tehran and Jerusalem that it would not be hesitant to do battle with Mr. Netanyahu over an Iran deal.”

(The conservative Weekly Standard, for instance, in a new editorial headlined “Ditching Israel, Embracing Iran,” argued that the verbal assault on Netanyahu was directly linked to the Iran negotiations: “With a possible deal over Iran’s nuclear weapons program in sight, the White House wants to weaken Netanyahu’s ability to challenge an Iran agreement,” it stated.)

However, the Washington Post went on, “That seems to give the White House too much credit for calculation. In reality, the attack reflects an unreasonable and disproportionate reaction to Mr. Netanyahu’s resistance to U.S. nostrums on matters of crucial importance to his country — as well as rank unprofessionalism by one or more of the president’s senior aides. As Mr. Kerry pointed out, the indiscretion will only make it harder for the administration to reach an accommodation with Israel on Iran or the settlements.”

The editorial concluded by recalling that previous US administrations have also had run-ins with Israeli leaderships, but have tended “to smooth over differences, at least in public. They understood that an open rift with Israel could encourage political assaults on the Jewish state by U.S. allies and military adventurism by adversaries — such as Iran.”

Right now, the Washington Post urged, “Given the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East and the very real threat that it will spread and escalate, Mr. Obama would be wise to initiate a reset with Mr. Netanyahu.”

The editorial appeared soon after US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to apologize in the name of the Obama administration for the “chickenshit” comments.

On Thursday, Kerry had publicly distanced himself from the remarks, stressing that neither he nor Obama were behind the remarks, which he said were “disgraceful, unacceptable, and damaging.”

American officials were quoted Friday night as saying that the Kerry-Netanyahu phone call was a “good conversation” and that they discussed ways to improve relations between the US and Israeli leaderships. The two were also said to have discussed other regional issues, including efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Nonetheless, analysts on both of Israel’s main news shows Friday night, on Channels 2 and 10, said ties between the American and Israeli leaderships were extremely bad — with a Channel 10 commentator speaking of “unprecedented loathing” between the two administrations.

The anti-Netanyahu comments were published Tuesday by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the American magazine The Atlantic, in an article which portrayed the rift between the United States and Israel as a “full-blown crisis.”

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