Who's the Real Chickenshit?

By letting Netanyahu expand the settlements and deliver a death blow to the two-state solution, the U.S. president has shown that he's the one who lacks guts.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Barack Obama listens to Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011.
Barack Obama listens to Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office, May 20, 2011.Credit: AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Benjamin Netanyahu couldn’t have hoped for a nicer gift from Barack Obama. The senior officials who told Jeffrey Goldberg that the prime minister was “a chickenshit” fell straight into the trap Netanyahu had set for them with his ongoing provocation.

The disparaging remarks from Washington came a day after Netanyahu gave his speech at the opening of the Knesset winter session, in which he kicked off his election campaign and redefined himself as the Israeli right wing’s leader. They played into his hands. Nothing can bolster him more in the right wing than turning him into the enemy of the supposedly “hostile” American administration.

Sheldon Adelson will not be the only one to love it. The right-wing voters will delight in a prime minister who confronts America and squabbles with Obama, all the while standing tall, just the way they like it.

Netanyahu’s achievement is even greater considering that at present the affronts are only words. There’s something absurdly infantile in an administration that utters rude put-downs like a child, hides behind anonymous, cowardly interviews and at the same time promises to provide Israel with another F-35 squadron.

If the administration wants to shoot – it must shoot, not talk. After six years of supporting the Netanyahu government’s moves with money and backing, support in the UN and weapons deliveries, there’s something pathetic and even aggravating about the insults now being hurled at Netanyahu. They seem more like ego games than policy.

The truth is that the real chickenshit in this story is Obama. The president talks about having no guts? How can we describe his policy? Not cowardly? He, of all people, whose heart was in the right place; who once compared the Palestinians’ fate to that of his black brothers’ in America; who knew a thing or two about human rights, expulsion, discrimination and other injustices. He, who seemed like a man with a keen sense of justice; who knew how to say the most appropriate, correct, just things – he of all people allowed the occupation to run rampant unhindered.

Obama let Netanyahu continue building in the settlements, striking the fatal blow to the two-state solution dead. He allowed Israel to launch another criminal, unrestrained offensive in Gaza without uttering a peep. His administration continued to provide Israel with an automatic shield in the UN and continued preventing Europe from changing its policy. Why did he do it? Out of conviction for his cause? Only out of cowardice.

In contrast, Obama condemned Mahmoud Abbas for “one-sided” moves in the UN, as though Abbas had any other options in the struggle. “Premature,” Obama’s America said of the Swedish recognition of the Palestinian state.

Now it’s almost too late. The United States’ policy can only be described as “abject cowardice.” Netanyahu, at least, is acting according to his ideology and belief. Obama is acting against his – and that’s pure cowardice. A captive of internal politics and a victim of the de-legitimization campaign in his country, the president didn’t have the guts to overcome those obstacles, follow his world view and bring an end to the occupation. Yes, he could. Israel is totally dependent on America and he is America’s president. Instead Obama continued the policy of automatic support for Israel, believing, in vain, that flattery will change its policy.

Obama was destined to be the game changer in the Middle East. When he was elected, he ignited the hope that he would do that. But he preferred to stay with his cowardice. To grovel before Israel and turn his back on the Palestinians. To talk about peace and support Israel’s built-in violence.

Now, in the winter of his career, he is showing signs of being fed up with all this. He can still change things, but not with insults, only with deeds that shake Israel up. Two years are time enough for an American president to make it clear to Israel that its corrupt banquet is over. But for that we need a president who isn’t a chickenshit.

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