Netanyahu Is a National Security Risk—And Washington Knows It

Last month, an anonymous U.S. official stirred a tempest in a teapot when he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a chickenshit” in comments to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. The insinuation was that while Netanyahu will happily rile up his right-wing base on issues related to Palestine or Iran, he lacks the political courage to take meaningful steps to resolve either conflict.

State Department officials scurried to disavow themselves of the remark. But the incident revealed an increasingly common conclusion in Washington: Netanyahu’s foot-dragging on Middle East peace is not only frustrating for the United States—it’s dangerous.

Once a taboo subject in Washington, the value of the U.S.-Israeli alliance has increasingly come under scrutiny among even leading members of the foreign policy establishment.

As Anthony Cordesman—a Mideast expert at the center-right Center for Strategic and International Studies—observed, “It is time Israel realized that it has obligations to the United States, as well as the United States to Israel, and that it become far more careful about the extent to which it test the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

General David Petraeus, back when he was the head of the U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel.” Even President Obama has listed the conflict as a factor in U.S. wars in the Middle East that are “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

These comments by leading American figures were made four years ago—well before the Obama administration had had its biggest dustups with Netanyahu’s government. Two Gaza wars and another round of failed peace talks later, nothing has changed except Israel’s increasing willingness to flout international law—as it did in its massive assault on Gaza earlier this year, which killed some 1,500 civilians.

Now, even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry—a pro-Israel stalwartadmits, to the chagrin of Israeli officials, that the lack of progress in peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians is feeding support for the Islamic State. “There wasn’t a leader I met with in the region,” Kerry said of his efforts to cobble together an anti-Islamic State coalition, “who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation.”

One would think that such complaints from a key ally and patron would elicit some soul-searching in the Israeli government. Yet instead of charting a new course in his speech at the United Nations last September, Netanyahu fell back on an old, lazy recipe of demonization, equating Hamas with the Islamic State and the Islamic State with Iran. And he continued oft-used delaying tactics, inviting the current coalition of Arab countries fighting the Islamic State to draft a new peace proposal for Israel and the Palestinians—despite his longstanding rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative drafted over 10 years ago by many of those same countries. Officials in the Obama administration were reportedly “unconvinced” that Netanyahu’s proposal was sincere, given his lack of interest in direct talks with the Palestinians themselves.

In addition, just days before an October meeting with President Obama, Israel announced plans to construct 2,610 new housing units in East Jerusalem in violation of existing agreements. In a rare public rebuke, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said that the new settlements will alienate Israel’s “closest allies” —presumably including Washington—and “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

Uncowed, Netanyahu dismissed the criticism, describing the U.S. rejection of the new settlements as “against American values” and “anti-peace.” When an Israeli prime minister describes longstanding U.S. strategic interests—in this case, conditions that would enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state and a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—as “un-American,” it’s a clear indication that the United States cannot continue its current course of appeasing Israel’s every demand.

That’s a conclusion increasingly shared by Israel’s longtime allies in Europe. Sweden’s new government recently indicated that it will recognize Palestine as a state. The UK parliament followed up with a symbolic recognition vote of its own, and more European countries may soon do the same.

Groups in the United States and in Europe, meanwhile, have worked with Palestinian activists to organize a boycott of Israeli settlement products and academic institutions. Indeed, U.S. civil society—including many Jewish organizations—is now leaps and bounds ahead of the U.S. government when it comes to rethinking the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Nonetheless, Netanyahu now looks poised to mobilize his supporters in the U.S. Congress to vote against any nuclear agreement between Washington and Tehran.

Yet even as official Washington simmers with frustration at Netanyahu’s simultaneous demands for U.S. support and disregard for U.S. interests, officials rushed to put out the fire started by the anonymous “chickenshit” quip. As Foreign Policy’s Steve Walt put it, if Washington pretends that the “‘special relationship’ is hunky-dory, even when it is obvious to even casual observers that it is not,” then “Netanyahu’s not chickenshit—the White House is.”

Adil E. Shamoo is professor at University of Maryland and an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of Equal Worth—When Humanity Will Have Peace. His website is Peter Certo is the editor of Foreign Policy In Focus.

  • Larry S

    The Palestinian National Charter does not have room for peace:

    Article 9:

    Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase. The Palestinian Arab people assert their absolute determination and firm resolution to continue their armed struggle and to work for an armed popular revolution for the liberation of their country and their return to it . They also assert their right to normal life in Palestine and to exercise their right to self-determination and sovereignty over it.

    Article 10:

    Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war. This requires its escalation, comprehensiveness, and the mobilization of all the Palestinian popular and educational efforts and their organization and involvement in the armed Palestinian revolution. It also requires the achieving of unity for the national (watani) struggle among the different groupings of the Palestinian people, and between the Palestinian people and the Arab masses, so as to secure the continuation of the revolution, its escalation, and victory.

    Article 15:

    The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine. Absolute responsibility for this falls upon the Arab nation – peoples and governments – with the Arab people of Palestine in the vanguard. Accordingly, the Arab nation must mobilize all its military, human, moral, and spiritual capabilities to participate actively with the Palestinian people in the liberation of Palestine. It must, particularly in the phase of the armed Palestinian revolution, offer and furnish the Palestinian people with all possible help, and material and human support, and make available to them the means and opportunities that will enable them to continue to carry out their leading role in the armed revolution, until they liberate their homeland.

    Article 21:

    The Arab Palestinian people, expressing themselves by the armed Palestinian revolution, reject all solutions which are substitutes for the total liberation of Palestine and reject all proposals aiming at the liquidation of the Palestinian problem, or its internationalization.

    Article 30:

    Fighters and carriers of arms in the war of liberation are the nucleus of the popular army which will be the protective force for the gains of the Palestinian Arab people.

    PLO is less of a terrorist organization than its beginning. Hamas is a terrorist entity.

    PLO + Hamas = __?__

    • MissCostello

      Shocking! How DARE that wicked Hamas (DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT on behalf of the Palestinian people) fight to take their own country back? What a nerve! Why can’t they all just sit there and accept their rotten lot (as we all would do) at the hands of a brutal, illegal, immoral, revolting, apartheid dictator regime! I mean, it’s not like Israhel has EVER participated in any form of ‘terrrroism’ itself, has it? Certainly not! That’s ‘self defence’! All that stuff about the Irgun, Stern Gang, Haganah, from which Israhel was created ( nothings changed) is a pack of lies! NO ONE blew up the KIng David hotel in 1946 killing 92 people & injuring scores more, it blew itself up. Anyway, those Brits asked for it. Israhel can do no wrong, it’s always somebody else’s fault. Israhel – a TRUE light unto Nations! And here’s the proof! Right?

      • Larry S

        My post simply and clearly pointed out that the Palestinian National Charter has no room for peace with Israel. The Palestinians and Hamas cannot claim that they want peace without doing at least 2 to 3 things to start: 1 – change the charter’s belligerent commitment to destroy Israel and 2 – Announce to the Palestinian people that the Charter has been revised to allow for genuine negotiations for peace to begin. And 3 ensure that the charter and the public display and announcement includes Israel’s right to exist and to be a sovereign state.

        When this is done then all will know that they are legitimately seek

        • MissCostello

          Here’s something I’m “simply & clearly” pointing out: F*ck off!

      • GeoffMSmith

        Ditto the USS Liberty… very naughty of the US navy to put it in international waters but in the way of those Israeli fighter jets and navy ships, forcing them to kill 34 crew members and wound 171 others.

        • MissCostello

          Right. Especially when we all know the IDF is ‘The Most Moral Army’ in the Middle East. Who could doubt it……?

  • Schlomo Weinberger

    The Israeli policy does not have room for peace:

    “An intractable process, one that never seems to resolve itself, is either no process at all or a fraudulent one contrived to hide an ulterior motive. The so-called Israeli-Palestinian (at one time the Israeli-Arab) “peace process,” now in its sixth decade (counting from 1948) or fourth decade (counting from 1967) is, and probably always has been, just such a fraud.” – Dr. Lawrence Davidson

    Israeli goal was a political modification of the occupied territories that would free Israel from its legal obligations as occupiers of Palestinian territory and facilitate the pacification and eventual annexation.

    The present Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and some of his ministers have, of late, hinted at the truth. Netanyahu recently told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that criticism of his government’s expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem (which are illegal under international law), whether it comes from the U.S. government or Jewish groups such as J Street and Peace Now, are “words detached from reality” and “foster false statements [of hope] from the Palestinians,” therefore delaying the coming of “peace.”

    Easy to see the historical pattern of gradual ethnic cleansing, punctuated by periodic ‘peace’ just long enough to temper Palestinian outrage and provide the illusion of magnanimity.

  • MissCostello
    • Larry S

      You commit logical fallacies – this itself defeats your argument.
      FYI: logic: reasoned and reasonable judgment.
      fallacy: a misconception resulting from incorrect reasoning.

      • MissCostello


  • Kwei Quartey

    Umm, well actually, whoever said it was right. Nuttynyahu IS chicken***t

  • ponerology

    Two steps ‘Forward’, one step back. Deceive, deceive, deceive, then stall, stall, stall, then more dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, then use the loophole, loophole, loophole, and then back to deceit, deceit, deceit, using a slightly differently worded lie, lie, lie, …..interminably and ad nauseam.

    This is all theater of the mind and I’m sure the authors of this chick^nsh*t analysis very well know this.

    The ‘mass’ misconception is that the rabbinical judaics who run Israel (and who pull the strings of all political & financial institutions everywhere else in the world that is of any importance to the judaics) WANT the same kind of PEACE everyone else (a.k.a, the ‘goyim’) want.

    To the judaics, “peace” means the elimination of opposition, and therefore anyone other than judaics. The only non-judaics who are ultimately to be allowed to remain alive will be the ‘skeleton crew’ (a.k.a. the ‘golem’) who can serve the judaics as beasts of burden – this is what the genocidal, supremacist Talmud & Kabbalah commands of judaics. This is the goal and this is the mindset which corrupts everything it touches.