Approving new settlement construction on the eve of his meeting with Obama wasn’t enough. Blaming Peace Now for the White House’s criticism of settlement expansion wasn’t enough either. Prime Minister Netanyahu just had to stick a finger in President Obama’s eye by accusing him of being un-American.
Following Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama last week, the White House criticized the surge in settlement of Israelis in the heart of Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood that abuts Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, perhaps the most religiously volatile spot in the world. The White House also criticized the announcement, days before the meeting, that a planning process for a new settlement in East Jerusalem -- a plan that the US administration and the entire international community urged Netanyahu to freeze – has reached fruition and is ready to be implemented.
Netanyahu’s reaction was to lash out at Peace Now, which dared to inform the Israeli public that the plan for new settlement construction has been published. Incredibly, Netanyahu accused the Israeli peace movement, a movement that advocates peace with the Palestinians so that Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democracy, of “lack of national responsibility.”
First Netanyahu blasted Peace Now in a special holiday interview with Israel’s leading television news station on Yom Kippur eve. Then, right after the holiday, he went on to attack the Obama White House in a series of interviews with the US networks. He told Bob Schieffer on CBS’ Face the Nation that the White House criticism “doesn't reflect American values.” He added, “it is against American values and it doesn't bode well for peace.” He even said “it is not the American way.”
The White House, clearly and justifiably enraged, reacted by saying that it seems “odd” for Netanyahu “to defend Israel's position by saying US position is un-American.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “American values are why this country's support for Israel has been unwavering.” He added, "The fact is, when it comes to American values, it’s American values that lend this country’s unwavering support to Israel. It's American values that have led us to fight for and secure funding to strengthen Israel's security in tangible ways."
Netanyahu’s choice to publicly quarrel with the president of Israel’s best ally, and to do it over settlements, triggered incredulity and even rage among Israelis. Oded Eran of the Institute for National Security Studies, a former ambassador to the European Union and to Jordan and formerly the Deputy Chief of Mission at Israel’s embassy in Washington, published a scathing commentary headlined “Please Don't Play It Again, Mr. Prime Minister.”
The best analysis of Netanyahu’s irresponsible conduct is published in today’s Haaretz by its US correspondent, Chemi Shalev. Under the headline “Netanyahu’s 'un-American' stink bomb: What was he thinking?,” Shalev writes “you have to ask yourself how [Netanyahu] could find it appropriate, at this critical juncture, to score such cheap points at the American president’s expense.”
As an organization that cares deeply about Israel’s national security and therefore cares deeply about its solid relationship with America, we are both ashamed and concerned. Netanyahu’s way is not the way of the Israel that we know and love.