Israeli premier’s pre-election comments may cost Israel the U.S. shield to a certain extent, but the White House is not expected to abandon its key ally at international platforms like the UN, experts say.
Three days before Israeli elections last week, Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that he would not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he won. The White House in turn had said the U.S. administration would reassess its support to Israel at the UN and international forums because of Netanyahu’s remarks.
The Israeli premier, however, later backtracked on his comments in an interview with a U.S. national news outlet and said he still wanted “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”
President Barack Obama’s displeasure though didn’t simmer down after the Israeli leader’s apparent retreat. “We take him at his word when he said that it (creation of a Palestinian state) wouldn’t happen during his prime minister ship, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available,” Obama told the Huffington Post Saturday.
His remarks came two days after his phone call with the Israeli prime minister to congratulate him over his victory in the elections. The White House has been at odds with the Israeli prime minister because of his opposition to U.S. administration’s diplomatic efforts to curb the Iranian nuclear program. Further, the U.S. administration remains opposed to Israeli government’s authorization for settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Experts point out, however, that no U.S. administration has set back from the unconditional American support to the Israeli state since its foundation in 1948. Therefore, they say it is unlikely that Obama will make a big shift in the U.S. policy towards Israel.
“I don’t think one can imagine that the administration will continue to emphasize its commitment to Israel’s security on one hand, and may do something that would call attention to Israeli government and also Israeli people on the other,” Arthur Hughes, a former American diplomat and an expert at Washington based Middle East Institute, told The Anadolu Agency.
Philip C. Wilcox, a former diplomat who served the U.S. in Tel Aviv, said that the last time he heard about reassessment of American-Israeli relations was in 1975 during the presidency of Gerald Ford when the Israeli government turned down a U.S. initiative for further redeployment in Sinai.
“Netanyahu’s pre-election comments may cost Israel the U.S. shield to a certain extent,” Wilcox said, however, the White House would not abandon Israel at international organizations such as the UN Security Council or International Criminal Court.
Although Obama said “a two-state solution is the only way for the long-term security of Israel,” experts argued that his mind was yet to be clear how to deal with the Israeli government under Netanyahu.
“I’m not sure that the administration itself knows how to deal with the situation, i.e., how it will punish Israeland Netanyahu,” Paul Scham, Executive director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland, said.
But, he argued, a seismic shift in American policy was unlikely toward the Israeli state. Rather, the Obama administration might take some specific and fairly mild actions, which would not harm Israel, but indicate the U.S. displeasure.
“Probably, the U.S. will abstain in some UN resolutions that it formerly would have vetoed or voted against,” Scham said. “Perhaps, the U.S. will defend Israel less vigorously in some international forums,” he said.
Any action of that kind in the UN Security Council or General Assembly may strengthen Palestine’s hand against Israel. But, experts point out that Obama cannot politically afford such a move, especially when the Israeli prime minister’s popularity is seemingly higher than the American president himself at the U.S. Congress.
Netanyahu was applauded more than 40 times by congress members in his 40-minutes address at a joint session at the Capitol before the Israeli elections. Even during the ongoing tension, American congressmen against Obama continue to support the Israeli prime minister. “The president should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President,” Republican John McCain said Sunday.
Under such pressure at home, Obama will not be able to divert U.S.-Israel relations from its decades long path, Kadir Ustun, an expert at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Washington, said. “But the White House response will remain at a level to show its dissatisfaction with the Israeli government,” Ustun said. “It’s not realistic to think that the U.S. will pull back its support to the Israeli state at the UN,” he added.
Experts also believed that Netanyahu’s sentiments against a Palestinian state were nothing new. “The most obvious and convincing support for his ultimate intentions is the fact that for many years he has been the champion of building settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem,” Wilcox said.
The settlement and occupation project is a conscious program to prevent the Palestinian state, the diplomat said. Hughes also agreed saying that what Netanyahu has been doing on the ground, in fact, conflicted with the idea of a two state solution.