Which Way Goes The Obama-Netanyahu ‘Trust Deficit’? – OpEd


According to Newsweek’s Daniel Klaidman, Eli Lake, and Dan Ephron, Benjamin Netanyahu has a hard time trusting Barack Obama. They report that a key moment in the breakdown in trust came in late May last year.

From the get-go, Obama had a frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. “There’s no question that tension grew between the two, because we felt like … they had a different estimation [of the timeline for Iran to get nuclear-weapons capability],” says the Pentagon source, “and we felt like some of their [kinetic] activities undermined what we were trying to do. Obama’s view was, why would you remove the opportunity for a diplomatic solution for something that was so incrementally significant [as killing a scientist]?”

That trust deficit was exacerbated in May of last year when Obama delivered a landmark speech outlining his wider Middle East policy. Netanyahu was preparing to fly to Washington at the time and was surprised when he heard the president state that the 1967 borders should be a basis for negotiating the final frontiers of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu believed he had an understanding with Obama that some Jewish settlements built in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war would remain inside Israel, a position detailed in a 2004 letter from President Bush to then-prime minister Ariel Sharon. When Netanyahu finally arrived at the Oval Office, he was furious. At a photo op with the two leaders, Netanyahu began to lecture the president on Israel’s security needs before the gathered journalists.

That incident was treated as a small blip in U.S.-Israel relations at the time. Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, stating that negotiated borders should be based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.” [My emphasis.] But resentment persisted. In June Israeli intelligence and military officers stopped discussing any details of their planning, analysis, and training cycles for a possible attack on Iran. Until then cooperation had been close: a regular video teleconference between U.S. and Israeli national-security advisers to discuss Iran was established during the first Netanyahu visit to Washington, in 2009. As one senior Israeli official puts it, “We … both wanted no surprises.”

But there’s a rather glaring problem with this account — a problem about which any journalist in Washington who had been half awake at the time would have been fully aware. Obama could hardly have later “clarified” his position by referring to “mutually agreed swaps.” Why? Because the very statement that had supposedly so enraged Netanyahu was this: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” [My emphasis.] That’s what Obama said in his May 19 speech. But Netanyahu — and much of the Washington press corps that chooses to march in lockstep with Israel — chose to ignore Obama’s reference to mutually agreed territorial swaps.

Commenters, letter writers or someone must have brought this to the attention of Newsweek’s editors leading them to bury “correct” the “mistake.” In the online version of the article, this sentence:

Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, stating that negotiated borders should be based on the 1967 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.”

has been replaced with this:

Obama soon clarified his position at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, emphasizing that a negotiated border between Israel and a new Palestinian state would by definition be “different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”

This is what one might call a cover-your-ass correction. The article’s misrepresentation of the facts is no longer quite as glaring, yet the core accusation — that Obama had undermined Netanyahu’s confidence — remains. It remains, because the whole thrust of the article is about the degree to which Netanyahu has a hard time trusting Obama and that would be a hard argument to sustain if one of its key elements was bogus.

Netanyahu’s tantrum was not the result of a trust deficit. It was a piece of political theater from a man who knows how to push around American presidents. In 2001 he declared: “I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved.”

Newsweek, instead of honestly portraying the duplicity of the Israeli prime minister, would rather have its readers believe that Netanyahu is burdened by the angst of wondering whether he can trust the White House.

Paul Woodward - War in Context

Paul Woodward describes himself by nature if not profession, as a bricoleur. A dictionary of obscure words defines a bricoleur as “someone who continually invents his own strategies for comprehending reality.” Woodward has at various times been an editor, designer, software knowledge architect, and Buddhist monk, while living in England, France, India, and for the last twenty years the United States. He currently lives frugally in the Southern Appalachians with his wife, Monica, two cats and a dog Woodward maintains the popular website/blog, War in Context (http://warincontext.org), which "from its inception, has been an effort to apply critical intelligence in an arena where political judgment has repeatedly been twisted by blind emotions. It presupposes that a world out of balance will inevitably be a world in conflict."

One thought on “Which Way Goes The Obama-Netanyahu ‘Trust Deficit’? – OpEd

  • February 16, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Why kill Bin Laden, why use snipers to kill officers on the battlefield, because it works. Obama knows sanction do not work, the murders are not because Iran is under pressure of sanctions as the like to spin it.

    It was because Clinton outed the Israeli as being behind it. Before that Iran was not sure if it was the UK, Israel or the US, hence their confused statement of blame. As such Obama wanted to distance himself from Israel and outed them.

    So Iran will now kill Israeli’s as they are clear who is behind it. It has nothing to do with sanctions. The 2009 uprising was planned prior to Obama, so while he could not support Mousavi there were other ways to cause regime change but as he had a new policy of talking and swapping spit in the shower, any support would have made that fail, albeit it failed all on its own.

    Now if you cannot use covert methods, sanctions will not work and there is not military option. That is negotiating from a very weak position.

    Halting the covert activities means that Obama is still committed to talks, fundamentally the same policy as when he entered office.

    Any deal will allow Iran to continue to enrich, that is unacceptable, the right to enrich if you do not build a bomb. Iran cannot be trusted.

    The best bet is he continues to weaken and destroy the US over the next five years and then as Gates said people deal with the US because they have too. Perhaps we all won’t have too.


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