By Larry Gordon
The interactions of the U.S. and Israeli governments have always been reminiscent of a real political tug-of-war.
There was the Jimmy Carter presidency that was usually at odds with then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. There was George W. Bush often at odds with Ariel Sharon, and his father, George H. W. Bush, frequently had disagreements with Yitzchak Shamir. Then there was the era in which Barack Obama was pitted against Bibi Netanyahu.
These leaders were great counterparts to one another, and it was fortunate for Israel that at a time when there were U.S. presidents committed to the two-state solution and the division of Jerusalem, there was an Israeli leader usually definitively opposed to those diplomatic directions.
And now beginning to play itself out is the match between Joe Biden and Naftali Bennett, though it’s far too early to figure out where this faceoff will eventually lead. Unlike previous administrations, these feature two leaders who seem to have doubts about how long they will actually be serving as leaders of their respective countries.
The Israeli system means that the Bennett government can be gone on any day that just one of his tightly formed coalition feels that he has had enough and believes that new elections and a new government is the proper way for Israel.
Here in the U.S., our system of government requires that we have patience, bide our time, and absorb what it is the Biden people are trying to do to this country until it is time to vote again in a year from now.
Over the last few decades, by far the most tension-filled challenge was that between Obama and Netanyahu. Both men are independent and determined thinkers, unlike Biden and even Bennett, who are always checking their standing in the polls before moving ahead on almost any issue. Bennett does that more than Biden. The president has silly-putty type of policies that can be reshaped or even contradicted on any given day.
The odd thing as far as Israel is concerned is that we might have been better off in a way with Mr. Obama than with Mr. Biden, who was once considered one of the most ardent supporters of Israel in Congress. I’m not going to assert that the president is dealing with cognitive challenges, though it looks like that on TV. That has to be left to his medical advisors to determine. However, based on his consistently inconsistent actions, President Biden exudes weakness as a leader, and his national approval rating of 38% this week reflects precisely that.
Barack Obama made it clear from the outset that his goal was to marginalize Israel by moving ahead aggressively with an Iran nuclear deal and doing everything within his ability to condemn Jewish building in Judea and Samaria, divide Jerusalem with a Palestinian capital in the city, and, of course, ultimately create a Palestinian state.
Had Rabin or Peres been prime minister when Obama was president, we may have already had a Palestinian state on Israel’s border or within Israel itself. It was only the Netanyahu grit that prevented all that from happening.
It was more than that, too. Bibi was not sitting back and reacting to Obama’s moves. The prime minister took the proverbial bull by the horns, addressing a joint session of Congress at the invitation of Speaker of the House John Boehner. And he also took the opportunity to lecture Mr. Obama directly in front of the Washington press corps about how the Iran deal endangers not just Israel but a large part of the Middle East.
At the other end of the spectrum, it seems that Biden is more dangerous than Obama by virtue of his stealthy approach to the Middle East—that is, posing as a longtime friend of Israel while at the same time working quietly to undermine the security of Israel.
One of the American thorns in Israel’s side courtesy of the Biden administration is the disposition of the American consulate building in the heart of (West) Jerusalem. For those who have walked down that long sloping street to the Old City of Jerusalem, you know it as the building that is heavily guarded by plainclothes U.S. personnel along with the Israel military.
The building on Agron Street, up the way from the Waldorf Astoria and across the street from SuperSol supermarket, served for many years as an independent American consulate detached from the U.S. Embassy until President Trump came into office and moved the embassy to Jerusalem. During the Trump reign, the administration, under the direction of Ambassador David Friedman, had plans to incorporate the consulate building into the embassy.
When that did not come to fruition because the Trump era ended, the consulate was closed, and now there’s the Biden foreign policy plan—no doubt hatched by Mr. Obama and Susan Rice, who is serving today as Mr. Biden’s director of U.S. domestic policy. That is apparently only a job title that obscures Ms. Rice’s role in orchestrating all aspects of the Biden presidency, including which reporters he can call on to ask questions at his very few press encounters or news conferences.
The Biden plan is to reopen the consulate building and for it to serve the Palestinian population of Jerusalem exclusively. This is just one more Obama shot at staking a visible and palpable Palestinian claim on Israel’s capital. To further exacerbate matters, on Tuesday the U.S. abstained on a UN General Assembly vote endorsing Palestinian rights to the land of Israel. The vote is sheer symbolism and changes nothing on the ground, but it is indicative of the Biden administration’s shift in a wrong direction.
Both Prime Minister Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid are opposed to the plan for obvious reasons. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and there will be no sharing. Of course, at Obama’s behest, the Bennett government is being pressured to allow a U.S. Embassy to Palestine right there on one of the busiest streets of Jerusalem.
The law and tradition is that the host country has to facilitate and allow the opening of another country’s embassy. But that doesn’t mean that the pressure will not be intense. And that is because this is the last chance for the U.S. and the Palestinians to make something this disturbing happen, because neither the Bennett-Lapid government nor the Biden presidency will have the power in their own governments to pull off something like this for a long time to come.
The way things look today, Republicans will hopefully take over the majorities in both the House and Senate, and that will hamstring the Biden presidency until the 2024 presidential election. As far as Bennett and Lapid are concerned, although they are opposed to the move, if they demonstrate a will to compromise or succumb to the pressure, the tenure of their coalition will be even shorter than anticipated.
There might be some tense and difficult months ahead in the U.S.–Israel relationship, but 2022 is not that far away and help is on the way.
Bruce Blakeman Update
As you are probably aware, Bruce Blakeman declared victory in the race for Nassau County executive over Democratic incumbent Laura Curran last week. Ms. Curran has not yet conceded, as county officials await the counting of absentee and other provisional ballots that are reportedly in the area of 20,000 ballots that require processing. At present, Mr. Blakeman is about 12,000 votes ahead of Ms. Curran.
I spoke to Bruce this week and he said that he is confident that once all legal votes are counted, he will be declared the victor. And in the meantime, he adds, considering that he takes office on January 1, there is a great deal of work to be done to get the county up and functioning in what Blakeman says is a new and better direction.
The Blakeman win on Long Island, along with the DA race between career prosecutor Anne Donnelly and State Senator Todd Kaminsky, has been seen as yet another bellwether election where Democrat candidates were beaten at the polls as an expression of disfavor with Democrat policies spilling out of Washington as well as those within the respective state or county.
For his part, Blakeman campaigned on the Nassau County property-tax reassessment issue, which has been a growing issue in the county, riddled with imbalance and unfairness to residents and taxpayers. Just as important was the problem of crime, which is on the rise across the country. The crime issue dominated the race for DA, with Kaminsky forced to deal with the matter of his vote in favor of the no-cash-bail bill in New York, which has been largely responsible for the increase in all sorts of violent and drug crimes perpetrated by the same people released earlier on that same day.
Apparently, even though Kaminsky is both personable and popular locally, he could just not shake the stigma of no-cash bail, which is probably one of the worst legislative acts ever taken. Donnelly won over Kaminsky handily, 60%–40%.
Bruce Blakeman is a well-liked figure here in the Five Towns and is well-known for his ardent support of Israel. Nassau County today has a population of 1.4 million people and a county budget of $3.5 billion. Running a county this size is a big job, and while we are waiting for the absentee ballots to be counted, Bruce believes he will ultimately prevail and has already begun the big job of running the county.
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