The National (Editorial)
January 5, 2011 - 1:00am

An "unbreakable" bond doesn't have to be inflexible. This holds in any marriage, and it's especially true for the United States and Israel, a relationship that is quickly becoming abusive.

The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement to the Knesset on Monday that he was ready to extend a settlement freeze in the West Bank late last year, and that it was Washington who got cold feet, was the political equivalent of tossing an old friend under the proverbial bus.

His version of events may well have been true: the deal, to swap $3bn in American fighter-jets in exchange for a meagre 90-day settlement moratorium, was widely considered to be an American capitulation to the Netanyahu government. Whether the Obama administration revoked the offer or not is beside the point. Mr Netanyahu's public description of events weakens Washington's standing as a mediator and makes Mr Obama appear indecisive. That perception will only be compounded if Mr Obama fails to respond.

Mr Netanyahu's audacity demands a larger question: How can he, the leader of a nation of 7.4 million, so frequently behave as though he has the upper-hand when dealing with the world's lone superpower?

Domestic politics may explain Mr Netanyahu's motives but should not serve as a justification for his actions in Washington. Mr Netanyahu is facing a political crisis at home that is threatening his ruling coalition, a fact that no doubt frames his calculations and rhetoric.

The Americans are not without blame. Mr Obama may have offered too much and expected too little in return. He appears not to have developed a back-up plan in the event the offer failed. So now, for all the intensive efforts in the first two years of the Obama administration, there is not only no peace, there isn't even a peace process. That doesn't mean, however, the US is without options in attempting to broker a two-state solution.

For one, Israel is consistently among the top recipients of US aid. Each year it receives nearly $3 billion (Dh$11bn) in conditions-free grants. While the US federal government often specifies how money can be used when it provides it to states from Maryland to Montana, it rarely does so in its aid to Israel. It is not a question of whether Washington has the leverage; it is a question of whether it has the will to use it.

Granted, Mr Obama faces an uphill climb should he flex this muscle. But unlike in the past, he would have some new supporters. For one, Thomas Friedman, an influential columnist at The New York Times who has always been a strong supporter of Israel, is having difficulty defending Mr Netanyahu's behaviour. Aid to Israel is like "a hallucinogenic drug", Friedman wrote, that prevents it from seeing things clearly and making difficult choices.

America has paid to enhance Israeli security with the logic that it would provide cover for its leaders to make "concessions necessary for comprehensive regional peace". The US State Department reiterated this position last March. It should be clear by now that the US is not getting its money's worth. For Mr Obama, it's time to collect.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017