After Netanyahu Won, Will Obama Concede He Lost?

It's hard to imagine a more stinging rebuke than Israel's voters just delivered to the U.S. president, who so overtly undermined Netanyahu during the election campaign.

Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky
Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Oct. 1, 2014
Obama meets with Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Oct. 1, 2014Credit: AP
Seth Lipsky
Seth Lipsky

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's triumphant win in the Israeli elections, there's a question here in America that begs to be asked: Will President Barack Obama concede that he lost, and what he lost?

It’s hard to think of an election in an allied foreign country in which a president of the United States so invested his personal — and official — prestige in undermining a candidate as Obama did against the Likud leader. It’s not just the ex-aide who fetched up in V15, the attempt to exclude Netanyahu from Congress, the derision of his speech and the refusal to meet with him. Not to mention the “chickens**t” saga that preceded this election season.

It’s hard to imagine a more stinging rebuke than Israel’s voters just delivered Obama. Making a monkey out of the New York Times, that’s one thing. Upstaging a president is another. This is particularly poignant given the denouement of Netanyahu’s campaign. He seemed to surge ahead on the promise that if he were reelected there would be no Palestinian state. At least not while he’s premier. That seemed to put things in a clear light for voters — not to mention for Mr. Obama, who’d expressed hopes to make progress on that head.

Now it says on the wires that the Palestinian leadership, having had its hopes dashed on the Israeli hustings, is, according to the Wall Street Journal, vowing to up its effort in the world body via the International Criminal Court. My own reaction is, “Go ahead, make my day.” Of all the legally constituted institutions in the solar system, the most mistrusted in America is the United Nations. If the Senate had known in 1945 when it ratified the UN Charter what it knows today, America would never have joined in the first place.

This puts Obama in something of a double quandary. He is, after all, already in the midst of trying to steer the agreement with Iran to the UN Security Council, where the mullahs say they expect a resolution in support of the deal, and keep it away from the Senate. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken with doubts that Netanyahu’s speech to the Senate swayed the campaign. But Wednesday's vote puts the premier in a stronger position than before to press his concerns on the Iran deal.

Shortly before the election, Haaretz’s U.S. editor, Chemi Shalev, was interviewed on MSNBC. He doubted that if Herzog and the Zionist Union were to triumph a “lot of credit” would be given to the new government. There would be “attempts to fortify it” and the Obama administration would “go out of its way in order to prove that it has no problem with Israel. It had a problem with Netanyahu, and now that there is no more Netanyahu in power, everything is back to normal — or even better than normal.”

It strikes me that Shalev was exactly right, but what now? Is there a new normal? And on whom lies the burden of adjusting to it? From President Obama it would require a degree of humility that we haven’t yet seen, either on the domestic or foreign fronts. Feature what happened after the drubbing he took in our own election in November, when the polls underestimated the dissatisfaction with the Democratic Senate and handed control to the Republicans by a wider margin than expected.

Obama offered not one syllable of compromise on any of the strategic issues, domestic or foreign. He’s plunging ahead with the appeasement of the Iranians against bipartisan opposition in the Senate. He’s fighting a last ditch effort in the Supreme Court to save Obamacare. He’s plunging ahead with down-sizing the military at the outset of a new phase of a global war in which Islamist enemies are advancing against us. He’s threatening to use his pen and his phone wherever Congress won’t act.

If that’s the pattern he’s going to follow in respect of Israel in the latest election, we’re in for a rocky ride, and all eyes will be on 2016. It is an election in which a new generation of highly pro-Israel politicians is vying within the GOP to challenge, in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a wearying warhorse of the Democratic Party. Clinton may yet be toppled before she gets the nomination, but she may survive. It’s shaping up as a race to remember, just like the one Israel just ran.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.



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