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News Analysis: Netanyahu, Under Fire at Home, Seeks a Warm Embrace in U.S.

Doing so, after all, will remind anyone listening that it was Mr. Netanyahu, out of all the prime ministers in Israel’s seven-decade history, whose stewardship of the Israeli-American alliance reaped such a long-awaited diplomatic reward.

“He campaigned as someone who understood America better than anyone else, but until Trump came along, he always ended up in adversarial relationships with Democratic presidents,” said Shalom Lipner, a foreign policy expert who spent 26 years in the prime minister’s office. “This is his moment in the sun.”

The embassy move is an unstinting applause line among most Israelis, regardless of their opinions of Mr. Netanyahu, said Tal Schneider, a political correspondent for Globes, an Israeli financial newspaper, and Mr. Netanyahu is likely to bring it up as often as he can in Washington, too. “Politically, he needs the Jerusalem thing talked about over and over again.”


Both President Trump and Mr. Netanyahu face politically damaging investigations, which they have both described as a “witch hunt.” Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Scandals: An Unspoken Bond

While they may not discuss the topic, even privately, Mr. Netanyahu and his host at the White House have something in common besides an affinity for labeling criticism “fake news.”

Both face politically damaging investigations, and their responses have come from similar playbooks. Mr. Trump is dealing with the special counsel’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election; Mr. Netanyahu faces allegations by the Israeli police that he committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust in his dealings with wealthy businessmen and newspaper publishers.

Mr. Trump, unlike Mr. Netanyahu, has not been personally accused of wrongdoing. But each has labeled the investigation bedeviling him a “witch hunt” and attempted to discredit those involved.

For Mr. Netanyahu, who faced a new round of questioning from detectives on Friday, and who is in far greater political peril than the president, the trip to the United States will provide a welcome respite, said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a career diplomat who was ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush.

But the lift from his White House visit, and a speech on Tuesday at the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, won’t last long. “He’ll be smiling in the Oval Office,” Mr. Kurtzer said of Mr. Netanyahu. “They may announce this rumored invitation to Trump to come cut the ribbon on the embassy in May. He’ll be cheered at Aipac — but who’s it fooling?”

On Iran: Seeking U.S. Assistance

Israel’s determination to stop Iran from entrenching itself or its proxies in Syria has led to escalating clashes, in which Israel has made clear it will take care of matters on its own.

But Israel’s desire to prevent Iran from establishing an overland supply line through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon would require United States forces to interdict Iran’s efforts. Yet American military officials have said that, so far, countering Iran is not part of their mission in Syria.


Michele Flournoy, a former under secretary for policy at the Defense Department, said Mr. Netanyahu needed to get the Trump administration to focus on Iran’s moves in Syria. Credit Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary for policy at the United States Defense Department, said Mr. Netanyahu needed above all else to get the Trump administration to focus, in talks over ending the Syria war, on Iran’s moves there and the risk of a broader regional conflict embroiling Israel.

“The U.S. is not quite missing in action in the negotiations, but it’s certainly not carrying a lot of water at this point,” Ms. Flournoy said. “And it needs to be carrying a lot of water on this, not just for our own interests but for Israel — because Israel doesn’t have a seat at the table.”

Mr. Netanyahu is likely to resume his critique of the Iran nuclear deal in his meeting with Mr. Trump, Ms. Flournoy said. But she warned that even Israel’s national security establishment believed the agreement was worth preserving, in hopes of improving or extending it. “The worry is that Bibi pumps up Trump to walk away from the deal,” she said, using Mr. Netanyahu’s nickname. “I would hope that he would exercise some restraint.”


Palestinian protesters confronted Israeli security forces in the West Bank village of Tubas last month during a demonstration against Jewish settlements. Credit Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Peace With the Palestinians: Awaiting a Plan

The Trump administration has said it is nearing the release of its plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, and all signs point to a proposal that is far more favorable to Israel, and objectionable to the Palestinians, than United States initiatives in the past. The Palestinians, enraged by Mr. Trump’s policy shifts on Jerusalem, have refused to meet with American officials and have rejected any United States role in mediating the conflict.

Mr. Netanyahu could be expected to encourage Mr. Trump to move swiftly on the plan, said Dan Shapiro, who was United States ambassador to Israel under President Obama. A plan that benefits Israel at the Palestinians’ expense would only reinforce Mr. Netanyahu politically, underscoring his argument to Israeli voters that he is a peerless master of the Israeli-American relationship.

Mr. Netanyahu also may calculate that a one-sided deal from the Trump administration, Mr. Shapiro said, “will become a new standard American position — and a starting point for subsequent negotiations, encouraging the Palestinians to accept much a lower set of demands than they’ve historically been willing to.”


Mr. Netanyahu speaking last year via a video link to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference. He will appear in person this year, and can expect a warm welcome from the pro-Israel lobbying group. Credit Joshua Roberts/Reuters

American Jews: A Rift, And Growing Disenchantment

Mr. Netanyahu is likely to bask in a warm embrace at Aipac, but his standing among American Jews may be as polarizing as Mr. Trump’s among American voters.

To American Jews in the political center and left, and especially Reform and Conservative Jews, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing government has complicated their support for Israel, through policy moves like abandoning an agreement for non-Orthodox worshipers to gain access to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and forcing thousands of African migrants to choose deportation or jail.

Some observers of the two countries’ close ties have even begun asking if the tight embrace between Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu is truly a sign of the alliance’s strength — or is masking its weakness.

“The relationship may have peaked,” said Charles Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser who now teaches at Harvard.

Mr. Netanyahu’s aides insist he remains as mindful as ever of the need for a bipartisan approach to the United States, and he is likely to have warm words for Reform and Conservative Jews when he speaks to Aipac’s 18,000 members on Tuesday.

But Mitchell Barak, an American-Israeli political consultant, said Mr. Netanyahu’s cultivation of liberal American Jews had dwindled to little more than lip service lately — while rejecting their demands could only hearten his ultra-Orthodox supporters.

“He’s great at telling them how much he values them,” Mr. Barak said of less-religious American Jews, “till he gets home and votes for closing all stores on Shabbat, or not implementing the wall deal, or saying the ultra-Orthodox don’t have to serve in the army.”

Source: NYT > World

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