Why the US is fawning over Israel’s new government
When former US President Barack Obama used an old cliche to denigrate his political opponent, the late Sen. John McCain, he triggered a political controversy lasting several days. “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig,” Obama said at a campaign event in 2008. The maxim indicates that superficial changes have no bearing on outcomes and that modifying our facade does not alter who we really are.
American politicians are an authority on the subject. They are experts on artificial, rhetorical and, ultimately, shallow change. Once again, Washington’s political makeup artists are now busy at work.
Since this month’s dramatic ousting of his former mentor Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been presented as the alternative to Netanyahu’s right-wing, chauvinistic and rowdy political style. However, for this to happen, more makeup is required.
Much can be said about Bennett and his Yamina party of ultranationalists and right-wing extremists. Yamina is a decidedly racist political party. Its meager seven seats in the Knesset were garnered through constant appeals to the most violent and racist constituencies in Israel, whose oft-repeated chant of “Death to the Arabs” is a daily reminder of their sinister political discourse.
Bennett is often cited for this famous statement from 2013: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.” But there is more to the man’s politics than such an abhorrent declaration. Since Israeli leaders do not perceive any form of Palestinian resistance to be legitimate and, in their eyes, Palestinians are either terrorists or potential terrorists, consider the following “solution” offered by Bennett. As education minister in 2015, Bennett proposed the building of a “deterrence” wall, which would demand “that incitement be ended and that terrorists are shot dead before they have a chance to hurt innocent people. It means that a terrorist who is shot will be dead and never walk again. It means that Israel remains in control of its homeland forever, unmoved by terrorism.”
So why does the Biden administration want us to believe that Bennett is different? US President Joe Biden was the first world leader to call and congratulate Bennett following his inauguration. This act carried a deep symbolic meaning when compared to the fact that it took Biden a whole three weeks to phone Netanyahu following the former’s own inauguration in January.
A close aide to Israel’s new prime minister explained the nature of the amiable phone conversation between Biden and Bennett in an interview with the Axios website. “The White House wants to have close and regular consultation and engagement with Bennett and his team based on (the) candid exchange of views, respect for differences, a desire to work toward stability and security,” the Israeli source was quoted as saying.
Aside from the emphasis on candor and respect with reference to the US-Israel relationship, there has also been an equal and constant emphasis on the need for privacy in dealing with differences between the two countries. “Unlike its predecessor,” the Times of Israel reported with reference to Netanyahu, the Bennett government “would voice its criticism (of Washington) in private.”
Now that Bennett is in charge, he is clearly ready to play along. And why shouldn’t he? He is eager to present himself as the antithesis of Netanyahu. By making such a “concession,” he will surely be expecting Washington to reciprocate. For Bennett, it is a win-win situation.
Bennett understands that America’s political approach toward Israel is not determined by the attitude of Israeli leaders. For example, in comments made last month, Biden laid to rest any suggestion that the US would hold Israel accountable during his time in power. There has been “no shift in my commitment, commitment to the security of Israel. Period. No shift, not at all,” he said. If this solid pledge was made when the boisterous Netanyahu was still in power, no change whatsoever should be expected now that the supposedly agreeable Bennett is Israel’s prime minister.
American politicians are fawning over Bennett and his main coalition partner and future prime minister Yair Lapid. They are eager to move on from Netanyahu’s tumultuous years. Bennett is expected to visit the US in July, while Lapid has already been invited to visit Washington by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Meanwhile, a large Israeli military delegation headed by Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi is already in the US to discuss various subjects, including Iran and Hezbollah, while also “negotiating” yet more US gifts to Israel in the form of military hardware.
Bennett understands that the US political approach toward Israel is not determined by the attitude of Israeli leaders.
The US is keen on rebranding its relationship with Israel, not because Israel has changed, but because Washington suffered repeated humiliations at the hands of the ousted Netanyahu. Under Netanyahu, the US often found itself accused of not doing enough for Israel. Even Obama’s $3.8 billion annual military aid package did not spare him repeated verbal assaults. Biden is willing to do whatever it takes to avoid that sordid scenario.
Biden’s doctrine on Israel and Palestine is simple. He does not want to make an actual commitment to relaunching the peace process, for example. Nor does he want to be placed in a position where he is forced to make demands of, let alone put pressure on, Israel. Since Biden has little or no expectations from Tel Aviv, Bennett seems willing to play the role of the accommodating and sensible politician. He would be foolish not to do so, for, as per his own political “vision,” he merely wants to manage the conflict and prolong the occupation while, just like his predecessor, continuing to promote his own version of the deceptive notion of “economic peace.”
While the Americans and the Israelis are busy engaging in the familiar ritual of “putting lipstick on a pig,” the Palestinians remain irrelevant in all of this, as their political aspirations continue to be discounted and their freedom delayed.
- Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. Twitter: @RamzyBaroud