A Game of Good Cop, Bad Cop?

The illusion about the new, improved Obama should have broken down as soon as the administration criticized Israel for the planned housing project in Gilo.

Victims of confidence tricks make things worse for themselves by denying to the bitter end that they have been tricked to the bitter end. It is a natural tendency to resist conceding that we have been swindled and to judiciously cut our losses. We frequently persist in throwing good money after bad to recoup the initial "investment." Having witnessed Barack Obama's pro-Israel sweet-talk during the 2008 presidential campaign turn to gall and unidirectional pressure once he occupied the White House, American Jews and Israelis might have been expected to maintain a healthy skepticism about his administration.

Instead, gullibility is being given a new lease on life. Following his address before the UN General Assembly last month, Obama's popularity has climbed in Israeli opinion polls. Back in New York, His Honor Ed Koch has reboarded the Obama campaign train. The former New York City mayor has sufficed with a single "message acknowledged" from the White House (in the form of Obama's UN speech ) after Koch recently supported the Republican candidate in New York's 9th district special election precisely for the purpose of sending the president a message.

Just maybe - so the patsies assure themselves - the Obama administration, after countless reality checks, has finally learned something about the Arab world, and the UN speech was not merely a one-off concession to electoral politics.

Additionally, many Israelis enjoyed the discomfiture of the "tsunami" forecasters among the local commentariat. The latter vented their frustration over how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escaped an anticipated wave of opprobrium by bad-mouthing an Obama who had lost his "barack" (a play on the Hebrew word for luster ). If these opinion leaders were disenchanted with Obama, the American president must surely have some redeeming qualities, figured your average Israeli.

The illusion about the new, improved Obama should have broken down as soon as the administration criticized Israel for the planned housing project in Gilo, Jerusalem. This was essentially a replay of the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood slapdown in 2009, which previously epitomized the administration's cold shoulder toward Israel. By making an issue over building in an established and heavily populated part of Israel's capital, the administration persisted in adhering to a double standard. The Palestinians enjoy carte blanche in establishing facts in disputed territories. Netanyahu, by contrast, does not get any points for continuing the de facto housing freeze in Judea and Samaria, even as construction in housing-starved Jerusalem arouses American displeasure.

Commentary magazine blogger Rick Richman this week noted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's interview last Friday with Al-Hayat, in which she spoke about American "evenhandedness" in criticizing Israel for the Gilo plans. The secretary pleaded with the Palestinians to return to the table, even as she commiserated with their feelings: "It's hard for them because they feel like they've been at this for a while and nothing has happened." The only thing that has unfortunately happened is that a Likud government under Netanyahu has enunciated positions to the left of those of the Rabin government.

Another portent is provided by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's remarks to journalists preceding his visit to Israel and the PA. Panetta lamented Israel's isolation in the region, while arguing that the American security commitment should embolden Jerusalem to take risks for peace and reach out to Turkey and Egypt.

How does Panetta expect us to improve relations with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, when the latter seems intent on demanding an apology from Armenia, menacing Cyprus, or dispatching a battleship to emulate the course of the Mavi Marmara? Even charter anti-Netanyahu pack journalists like Maariv's Ben Kaspit and Yedioth Ahronoth's Alex Fishman, both of whom originally accused Netanyahu of "losing Turkey," are having second thoughts about using this issue to flay the government.

Do the Americans expect a groveling apology to sway Recep the Magnificent, who undoubtedly enjoyed seeing Israel's Arabs commemorate the 11th anniversary of their Rosh Hashanah 2000 insurrection by flying Turkish flags along with the standard PLO banners? This demonstrated the success of Turkish penetration of the Arab world, using Israel bashing as an entry card. Can Israel expect to fare better with the current Turkish government than the hundreds of imprisoned Turkish military officers and journalists?

Once the Arab Spring reached Cairo, official Israel's horoscope sign became pisces - emulating the diplomatic silence of the fishes. Israel apologized for the killing of Egyptian soldiers during the August firefight with terrorists who attacked Israel from Egyptian territory. Israel did not utter a discouraging word when our embassy was attacked a few weeks later and then trashed. When the Egyptian minister of social justice, Gouda Abdel Khalik, called Israel "the Zionist enemy" on Egyptian state TV, respectful silence prevailed. Israel cannot do more. If Hamastan in Gaza and indeed Oslo itself do not constitute unrequited risks for peace - then we cannot meet Panetta's expectations.

Now, either Obama cannot control his own subordinates in the administration or we are going through another iteration of good cop, bad cop. Obama surrogates, including "private citizen" Bill Clinton, unload on Netanyahu and the Israeli government while the president keeps his hands clean. I believe we are witnessing the latter approach, which was on grotesque display when Vice President Joe Biden told a group of American rabbis that he had dissuaded Obama from pardoning Jonathan Pollard.

Perhaps the sentiments in this piece will be considered rank ingratitude to Obama. I view them as adherence to the Scottish proverb: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Dr. Amiel Ungar writes regularly for Haaretz English Edition.