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Israel’s Growing Isolation—and America’s Decreasing Regional Power

3:35 PM, Sep 8, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
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Nonetheless, Obama came to office girded with the advice of regional experts who contended that the way to breaking the impasse and winning the Palestinians a state was to strong-arm the Israelis. While Netanyahu would likely prove less malleable than other potential Israeli leaders, few in the administration had any qualms about pushing around a right wing prime minister who’d given the last Democratic president a hard time. The Obama White House beat him up over settlement construction, hoping that this would weaken his position as head of a coalition government while also earning the American president bona fides from the Muslim masses.

The administration then made two miscalculations. First, given the nature of his coalition, Netanyahu could only be brought down from the right: He could only lose power by committing suicide and succumbing to all of Obama’s demands. Second, since the White House had against all precedence premised negotiations on the basis of a full cessation of settlement construction, the Palestinian Authority could not possibly entertain talks without Israel meeting those conditions.

Thus, it was Obama who cashiered the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Without any negotiations, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas had nothing to show his own constituency, and beat back the increasing influence of Hamas and other hard-line rivals. With his hands otherwise empty, what forced Abbas to take his case to the U.N. is not Israeli intransigence, but American incompetence.

It seems that the administration sees Israel’s value now largely as a scapegoat. According to Goldberg, Gates believes that Netanyahu is “endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel’s growing isolation.” But the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak and upset Egyptian-Israeli relations was not engineered in Jerusalem. Nor was the Mavi Marmara incident in which Turkey dispatched a flotilla loaded with terrorists to break the maritime blockade of Gaza. Even after a U.N. report effectively cleared Israel, the Obama administration still wanted Jerusalem to apologize to the Turks and now despairs of a breakdown in relations between its two allies.

However, the White House must shoulder some of the responsibility for Turkey’s actions since it encouraged the Turks to use their influence, especially in Syria, where the administration essentially tasked out its policy to Ankara. When Turkey’s “soft power” regarding Damascus was revealed to be limited, it had to find another way to project power in the region. Accordingly, as Tony Badran writes: “[W]henever the region’s populist leaders, nationalist or Islamist, wish to make a bid for regional leadership, they reliably use Israel as a proxy theater.” Turkey is free to pursue a scorched earth policy with Israel because instead of balancing an uncertain ally like Ankara, the White House has instead empowered it.

As one columnist at Maariv noted, “When quotes are leaked by former American secretary of defense … telling President Obama that Binyamin Netanyahu is ungrateful… this signal is picked up in our dangerous neighborhood.” But thanks partly to Gates’s leak, we know where the administration presently stands on Israel. But who knows its position on a post-Mubarak Egypt, a frothing Turkey, and an Iran marching toward a nuclear weapon? The fact is, Israel’s growing isolation is a function of America’s decreasing regional power.

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