President Obama needs to do two things now in this dispute. He must stand tall, and he must settle quick.
He cannot afford a humiliating climb down in the face of Israeli pressure, but it is unlikely that either Congress or Jacksonian America will back him in a long and divisive struggle. Israel on the other hand cannot welcome a bitter controversy that will polarize American public opinion and damage Israel’s image, perhaps irreparably, among the liberal constituencies who were once its strongest source of support.
But whatever happens in the Washington policy wars, one thing should be clear. This is not a battle between the Jews’ and the rest of the United States over our policy in the Middle East. It is a battle between opposing conceptions of America’s interests in the Middle East, and gentiles and Jews can be found on both sides.
Jacksonian America will not support a president boldly defending the interests of the US? Mead gets the paradox here. I'd prefer to put it as Christianist America, primed to see Israel as a sacred territory where an in-gathering will precede the Apocalypse; and a Jacksonian empathy for any fellow nation waging scorched earth warfare against common perceived enemies.
The terrifying prospect is that Israel's religious fanatics join forces with America's religious fanatics to destroy any hope of peace in the Middle East or of America's regaining the role of an honest broker between the parties. Actually, of course, that has already happened.But resisting the logic of this cycle of religious violence is one reason Obama was elected. Preventing the escalation will not be easy. But one humiliation over the settlements was bad enough for US power. Two humiliations would be devastating to America's position in the Middle East. Alas, the Republican right believe in Israel's right to do anything anywhere almost as strongly as they believe in pre-emptive war, unlimited presidential power, the fusion of religion and politics, and torture at home.
But at least the phony war is now over. On so many fronts, something else is taking shape.