Israel goes rogue: America’s inability to use its leverage over Netanyahu signals a worrying new chapter in Middle East history

 

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It’s no surprise that so many ordinary Americans think the rest of the world can go hang itself. What did they lose so many sons and daughters for in Iraq exactly? Or indeed in Afghanistan. As for Israel, it uses US tax dollars to obliterate Gaza and then turns around and accuses Washington of being unfriendly towards it.

Graciousness is not a priority for Israel right now. Yet the abandon with which its opprobrium was expressed over the weekend, specifically towards the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, for his failed efforts at least to interrupt the slaughter, was astounding. Not unreasonably, the White House pushed back. The National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, said she was “dismayed” at the way Mr Kerry had been treated.

Many of us wish America would voice  impatience with Israel a little more often.  Why not last week, for instance, when its ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, told a Christians-for-Israel summit in Washington that the “Israeli Defence Forces should be given the Nobel Peace Prize… for fighting with unimaginable restraint”.

Shortly before his doomed ceasefire mission, Mr Kerry was caught in a hot-mic moment saying that sitting around doing nothing while Gaza burnt was not an option. But a quick fix always meant embracing some of the demands of Hamas. This option – and the US’s meeting this weekend with Qatar and Turkey, who support engaging Hamas – was likely to provoke Israeli high dudgeon. And so it did.

Does Mr Kerry lack negotiating skill? Possibly. His push for a long-term peace between Israel and the Palestinians that fell apart in April (setting the stage for the bonfire we have now) was seen by many as doomed from the start, in part because Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu – who has long resented US condemnation of Israeli settlements – has never shown willingness to wind back those contentious projects.

But the other dynamic is dwindling American influence. There is a dangerous circularity here. The less good American foreign policy seems to achieve, and the higher its costs, the less inclined American voters are to support it. They voted for Barack Obama to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. They didn’t care to see him send missiles into Syria even if at the same time the perception of his dithering hurts his poll ratings. But as America seeks to be less of a policeman of the world, the world will inevitably grow less fearful of its baton.

Video: The latest from Gaza

US-Israeli relations, however, are supposed to be in a different category. After years of support for Israel, and the $3bn it provides in annual subsidies, America would surely have expected a more co-operative response from Israel. At the very least, it would have expected Israel to take its proposals for peace seriously.

That Mr Obama and Mr Netanyahu hold each other in low personal regard has not helped matters. Also, Israel is convinced that Iran is taking Washington for a ride on the nuclear talks.

But the failure of the US to use its apparent leverage points to an uncomfortable new diplomatic front: the US has neither the political will to turn off the tap from Washington to Israel, nor the strength to call its supposed ally’s bullish government back from further aggression in Gaza. For the moment, it is, as the Yanks might say, a “lose-lose”.

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