Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rejection of President Obama's proposal for the Israel-Palentine border caused a major divide, posing clear risks for the public perception of both politicians. As The New York Times reports, even Obama's own chief Middle East adviser Dennis Ross argued that it was unwise for the U.S. to look as if it were publicly breaking with Israel.
But which politician, Netanyahu or Obama, has more to lose from this public break?
Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast argues that Obama will win the ensuing public relations battle. Calling Netanyahu's behavior at the press conference with Obama a "tantrum," he suggests that the Israeli Prime Minister has underestimated Obama's strength. "Obama’s a stronger president now on foreign affairs than he was in 2009, partly because of the bin Laden coup and partly because the speech was generally well received across the American political spectrum," he posits. Netanyaho might be welcomed by certain Republicans "who want to embarrass Obama by backing the prime minister. But the applause will only mask temporarily what everyone knows—that he is in total denial about the future." If anything, his "tantrum" may have hastened what Tomasky considers to be the inevitable. And Roger Cohen writes in a Times' editorial on Netanyahu, "I do know he will be judged a failure if he refuses, now, to make a good-faith effort to see if Israel’s security can be squared with Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza."
Furthermore Obama, as the Times reports, has received the political backing of the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia, which with the United States are the international mediators overseeing efforts to end the conflict. The four issued a statement expressing “strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined” by Obama.
On the other hand, by no means does everyone support Obama's position. Internationally, The Globe and Mail reports that Ottawa is refusing to join the 1967 borders proposal, because of "sharp criticism from Canada’s staunch ally Israel." And in the Arab world, according to James Zogby at the Huffington Post, Obama's speech on the Middle East "fell flat ... the speech the Arabs heard was too tired and too careful, in no significant way advancing the discussion beyond the Cairo speech of 2009."
Domestically, The Wall Street Journal reports that Jewish donors have been warning the Obama re-election campaign that the president is at risk of losing financial support. It is difficult to assess how widespread the complaints are, according to the Journal, but the Obama campaign has asked Penny Pritzker, his 2008 national finance chairwoman, to talk with Jewish leaders about their concerns. Additionally, Obama is not merely splitting with his Jewish donors on the Israel issue, but also with his own handpicked Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, the Times reports.
And even if it is true that the opposition to Obama's proposal is partisan in entirety, it is still rather formidable, particularly as it comes from Obama's 2012 election contenders. Mitt Romney declared that, “President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.”
The world is now looking to both Obama's and Netanyahu's forthcoming addresses to AIPAC to gauge which poltician is under a greater pressure to back away from their original positions.