Imitation may be the greatest form of flattery, but flattery currently is not an attribute of the Netanyahu-Obama relationship.
Do you remember last winter, when Netanyahu imitated Obama’s campaign strategy?
The imitation did not end with the Netanyahu campaign’s copying of the color and design of Obama’s website. The same way the Obama campaign linked Republican presidential candidate John McCain to then president George W Bush, the Netanyahu campaign sought to portray Tzipi Livni as the status quo candidate while portraying Netanyahu as the candidate of change. Last November, Ron Dermer, one of Mr Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers, went as far as to state that “Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”
But while Obama actually sought to break with his predecessor’s foreign policy, Netanyahu has so far not given a new direction to Israeli foreign policy.
Obama may have served as a role model of how to conduct a successful election campaign, but that was pretty much it. Netanyahu merely copied the shell of “Obamaism,” but certainly not its content.
Obama has since become a popular president around the world. His Cairo speech helped improve America’s image among Arabs. Yet in Israel, Obama has become a highly unpopular American president. According to a recent poll, only six percent of Israelis consider Obama as a friend to Israel. Not even the Israeli left supported Obama’s call for a settlement freeze. Netanyahu seems to enjoy the broad-based support of the Israeli public when it comes to his settlement policy. So much for craving change.
Obama has been especially successful by speaking to the people directly when visiting other countries. Yet as a New York Times Op-Ed pointed out yesterday, “neither the president nor any senior administration official has given a speech or an interview aimed at an Israeli audience.” In other words, Obama is not connecting with the Israeli people as he probably should. When it comes to Israel, Obama is not employing his most powerful ‘weapon’ – connecting with ordinary people, listening to their concerns and re-assuring them of America’s support. In Israel, Obama is seen as a softie, one who is more eager to reach out his hand to a hostile state like Iran than to confront Israel’s #1 enemy head-on.
Now, I am not saying that improving relations with the Islamic world and working toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is a bad policy for the US administration to pursue. On the contrary: Improved relations with the Arab world is a prerequisite for starting final-status negotiations which, ultimately, will be in the interest of Israel’s long-term security and prosperity.
When it comes to thinking outside the box, seeking open dialogue and breaking with past policies that are obviously not working, it is time for Netanyahu to start imitating Obama a bit more. Israel needs its dose of change, too.