The Ha’aretz story claims it heard from unnamed Israeli officials that the sanctions being considered include not vetoing U.N. Security Council condemnations of Jewish housing in Jerusalem, and/or issuing clearer instructions to American officials about the ban on cooperating with the settlements or funding activity in them.
Middle East scholar Barry Rubin, my friend and teacher of blessed memory, used to advise never to believe a story coming out of the Middle East until it is verified by a few sources (even then suspect its accuracy). Think about the source, the timing, and where the news was leaked, he would say.
Well, the story about sanctions was leaked in Israel. If the Israel government really leaked the story, the purpose of the leak would be to change U.S. policy. It it would have been leaked to the New York Times or another U.S. source. But this story was leaked to Ha’aretz, a newspaper whose editorial policy is to bring down the Netanyahu government. And the timing also makes sense inasmuch the leak just happened to be published right after new Israeli elections were announced and scheduled.
Indeed, Ha’arez alludes to the elections during in the story:
In addition, it isn’t yet clear how the decision to hold early elections will affect the White House’s decisions regarding the settlements. One of the aspects of this that is being looked into by the U.S. government is whether American action against the settlements at this point would weaken Netanyahu in Israeli public opinion, or do just the opposite, by portraying him as one who doesn’t cave in to international pressure.
On Friday, both the White House and the State Department refused to comment on the rumor coming out of the Ha’aretz story.
“I’m not going to talk about any internal deliberations,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told Fox’s Ed Henry when he asked at the daily briefing.
According to The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo, America’s members of congress have warned Obama that sanctions against Israel will not be allowed:
“We urge you and your administration to clarify these reports immediately,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) and nearly 50 other House lawmakers wrote Friday afternoon, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
“Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome,” they state. “Such reports send a clear message to our friends and enemies alike that such alliances with the United States government can no longer be unquestionably trusted.”
Congress, which traditionally has purview over such measures, has never given the White House permission to sanction Israel.
“At no point in time has Congress given the administration the authority to sanction Israel,” they wrote. “In fact, Congress has continued to show its unwavering support for Israel and has recently taken steps to increase our economic and military cooperation.”
In the end, the reluctance to talk by the White House and State Department does not change the belief that it is a ploy to influence the Israeli election. A denial by either spokesperson would destroy the leak given to Ha’aretz.
A Daily Beast story published Thursday, written by David Aaron Miller who served in the State Departments of both Democratic and GOP presidents, said that there have been previous U.S. attempts to influence Israeli elections:
With Israeli elections now scheduled for March 2015, there’s no doubt who the Obama administration is rooting for: Mr. or Ms. A.B.B.—Anybody But Bibi. But the president and secretary need to be very careful here. We don’t read Israeli politics very well; and we haven’t proven very effective in predicting, let alone orchestrating outcomes. The best advice to an administration that has proven anything but sure-footed in the Middle East, particularly in dealing with Israel, is to keep out of Israeli politics.
We say, of course, that we will work with any duly elected Israeli government. And so we shall. But having worked for Republican and Democratic administrations on the U.S.-Israeli relationship and peace process for a good many years, I can say with some authority that the commitment to work with any leadership does not mean we don’t play and pick favorites.
Miller also warned that the most recent attempts by a president to influence an Israeli election have backfired. Think Netanyahu vs. Peres, or Sharon vs. Barak, both during the Clinton administration.
I would suggest that an attempt during the Obama’s presidency would fail also. Israelis are very divided in their political preferences, and their electoral system (voting for a list instead of a candidate) promotes a divided government. But one thing Israelis are pretty unified in is their mistrust of Barack Obama. A recent poll reported 74% of Israelis do not trust Obama to manage American-Israeli elections.
While he may try to influence the upcoming election as evidenced by the recent Ha’aretz story, Obama will not be successful. And in the end he may help, rather than hurt Netanyahu’s reelection effort.
Cross-posted at The Lid