The Hate-hate Relationship Between Obama and Netanyahu

Because during the next two years Obama will be unable to advance any social legislation, he will make every effort to leave an international legacy.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.
Obama and Netanyahu during the U.S. president's visit in Israel, March 20, 2013.Credit: Bloomberg
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

Two years later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dream has finally come true: United States President Barack Obama has been defeated.

During the first few days of November 2012, Netanyahu’s immediate vicinity was bustling; phones rang incessantly, confidential conversations were held, secret voter surveys were analyzed. The assessment evoking such excitement was that contrary to expectations, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was going to defeat the Democratic incumbent, just as Netanyahu had surprised the Israeli electorate in 1996. So when instead the expected occurred and Obama was reelected, Netanyahu was shocked; both his Iran strategy and his Palestine strategy collapsed at once, because they had been based on the assumption that the hated one was going down to defeat.

But what didn’t happen two years ago during the presidential election happened Tuesday in the congressional elections. The new Republican majority in the Senate, the solid Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the humiliation of the liberal president have brought the color back to the prime minister’s conservative cheeks. Netanyahu knows that this is not the end. It’s not even the beginning of the end. But it is, finally, the end of the beginning. At the furthest end of a very long tunnel, Jerusalem is starting to see the light of a new-old America; one that rejects the world view of the current administration and will go back to acting like an empire.

The harrowing relationship between the brilliant orator from Chicago and the glowing speechmaker from Jerusalem is based on mutual loathing. To Obama, Netanyahu is a conservative cigar-smoker from the 19th century, constantly striving to undermine his policies of peace and progress. To Netanyahu, Obama is an ideological alien who accidentally landed control of 21st-century Rome and is neutering its power. But what is driving both the president and the prime minister is the same false premise – in their heart of hearts, both of them believe that Netanyahu is the real leader of the Republican Party.

That’s why they aren’t acting like a statesman at the helm of a huge democracy and a statesman at the helm of a small democracy, but like bitter political rivals. Instead of working together to defend their nations’ common values, they are acting like rival candidates maneuvering against each other at the height of a passionate election campaign. This is where the underhandedness and incessant spins are coming from. This is where the curses and insults are coming from. Sounds insane? It is. But it this obsessive insanity that has driven everyone mad and crazed U.S.-Israeli relations over the past six years.

On Tuesday night, the senator from Rehavia could breathe easily; his friends/colleagues had won their dramatic elections in Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado and Georgia. The Netanyahu-compatibles had retaken the Senate and the American agenda. A conservative tidal wave had swept the U.S. and painted most of the states red.

But the jubilation in Jerusalem is premature. Precisely because during the next two years Obama will be unable to advance any social legislation, he will make every effort to leave an international legacy. Precisely because he can no longer make much of a mark on America, he will try to leave his mark on the world. The way to do this will be a reconciliation agreement with Iran and the declared establishment of Palestine.

Because Obama measures himself against Netanyahu and has a vision diametrically opposed to that of Netanyahu, it won’t be long before he tries to actualize Netanyahu’s worst nightmares. Netanyahu, for his part, will do what he most enjoys; mobilize the new Republican majority to spar with the weakened Democratic administration.

So this story of mutual hatred isn’t over yet. This violent tussle will be with us for the next two years as well. And the final stretch of the Obama-Netanyahu battle will be the most dangerous stretch of all.

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