Immediately after the U.S. went to bat for Israel at the United Nations in late November, voting against a resolution that called for upgrading the status of the Palestinians (the resolution passed overwhelmingly), the government of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, turned around and announced, over U.S. objections, that it would begin planning a new settlement in a geographically sensitive area of the West Bank. It was a thumb in the eye of the Palestinian Authority, which proposed the U.N. resolution, and it was a bit of a slap at the U.S., which has consistently counseled Israel against settlement expansion.
In my Bloomberg View column this week, I describe Obama's reaction to Netanyahu's tactics:
When informed about the Israeli decision, Obama, who has a famously contentious relationship with the prime minister, didn't even bother getting angry. He told several people that this sort of behavior on Netanyahu's part is what he has come to expect, and he suggested that he has become inured to what he sees as self-defeating policies of his Israeli counterpart.
In the weeks after the UN vote, Obama said privately and repeatedly, "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are." With each new settlement announcement, in Obama's view, Netanyahu is moving his country down a path toward near-total isolation.
And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah -- one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend -- it won't survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel's survival; Israel's own behavior poses a long-term one.
The dysfunctional relationship between Netanyahu and Obama is poised to enter a new phase. Next week, Israeli voters will probably return Netanyahu to power, this time at the head of a coalition even more intractably right-wing than the one he currently leads.
Read the whole thing here.