leaves tomorrow for an overseas trip that will put him, on Thursday, in Cairo, where he will give a major speech.
In this speech he is expected to send the signals that will indicate whether it’s a new deal for Israel.
While there will surely be no fighting words here, there could well be a sense of how far the present administration is going to move from standard policy, in which Israel gets the benefit of the doubt, to, in effect, doubting Israel.
offers a front page story
about how indications of the new tensions are swirling around the issue of West Bank development: Israel wants to build, Washington says no. This is a story out of Israel, meaning the Israelis are starting their pushback campaign. It’s directly about Thursday’s speech: It’s a warning. But the Times
has another, rather buried, story out of Washington, very clearly a response to the settlement dispute, in which the president says,
in an NPR interview, “Part of being a good friend [to Israel] is being honest.” After years of saying very little, of openly tolerating the clearly preposterous, that’s a deep cut. He goes on, in the interview, to reiterate his position regarding a “freeze on settlements.”
Part of understanding what’s happening in the US-Israel relationship is understanding who is saying what to whom. Because the language here is so ritualized and proscribed, the entire conversation takes place in subtext. The president will never say we’re cutting off Israel; we’re dumping them; we’re finished—but, on the other hand, he will.
The two Times
stories were both pieces of this real-fake conversation. The one from Israel said: “Don’t screw with us.” The one from the president: “Don’t fuck with me.”
The Israelis went to the Times
because that means business—it’s a direct message to the president and to the American Jewish community. The president went to NPR because, on this subject, he’s really talking to the American liberal base—including the Jews. This is another message to Israel. While Israel has always counted on this base, this president has a lot more clout with it than Israel does.
The secret is the liberal base. It’s a game changer if, in this group, the discussion about Israel becomes more fluid, the options more closely examined. Indeed, the conversation allowed.
Now, already, there is another subtext, a rising murmuring, about Thursday’s speech in Cairo: The president is addressing the Muslim world (this is language out of Israel where they talk compulsively about the monolithic Muslim world); even the Times
is using this language. The unsaid language is, of course, that the almost-Muslim
president is addressing the Muslim world.
This, however, is going to be a terrible Israeli mistake. American liberals are, especially on this red herring, going to rush to the defense of Obama. If the choice is between Israel and Obama, between Israel’s efforts to cast him as the other, and liberal America’s (which includes the Jews) desire to embrace him as their best reflection, then there is no choice.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Israel countdown seems to have begun. The